Artificial Intelligence, Golf Course Architecture and Other Musings

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With the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) becoming mainstream near the end of last year, I could not resist experimenting with this new technology. This article takes you through a journey of what might be possible now and in the near future.  I began with image generation, more specifically DALLE-2, developed by OpenAI.

My first attempt at testing the generative image capabilities was to upload a few well known golf images to see what variations the AI would return.  Here are a few highlights of the output.

Augusta National – 12th hole
Pebble Beach – 7th hole
Sleepy Hollow – 16th hole
Cabot Cliffs
Norfolk Golf & Country Club – 5th hole

A few of these variations are extremely realistic looking and very well plausible. Others appear to be wild impressions of golf imagination. I can speculate use cases such as uploading a photo of a soon-to-be renovated hole for design inspiration, or perhaps photos of a raw site with AI golf holes routed across the land.

For the next test, I leveraged the more powerful text-to-image capability of DALLE-2. With the simple prompt of “Golf Course Oceanside Scotland“, the results output to my screen where very intriguing.  Aside from a few odd looking flags and questionable pin positions, these examples look incredibly realistic.

Perhaps you prefer a few mountains on the horizon? Here is “Golf course on the ocean with mountains in the distance on a clear sunny day“.

AI, The Golf Architect

This interesting imagery is all well and good, but it begs the question “what does the golf course architecture establishment think of AI?”, or more importantly, “Can AI design a golf course?”

Thankfully a post on the Golf Club Atlas discussion board delves into the topic, which includes thoughts from the likes of Tom Doak and Ian Andrew. The thread is an interesting read, wading into the topic of golf architecture as art, whether AI could “understand” what it was designing and whether traditional (ie. human) golf course architects will go the way of the Dodo. Good news, we’re not there yet.

There were also a few potential real world applications contemplated, including simulating golfer traffic patterns, analyzing the microclimate of a site, or performing soil analysis.

The most amusing tidbit from the thread actually has nothing to do with AI. It was Tom Doak’s description of a golf hole design contest he adjudicated in college at the request of his Landscape Architecture classmates. The winning submission was described as an “island green with no bridge and a tiger chained to the flagstick”. To bring this fanciful image to life, I entered the description into the AI. The output looks more akin to mini golf than real golf, which to some degree is fitting given how bizarre this scenario truly is.

ChatGPT, The Golf Writer

OpenAI is also responsible for developing ChatGPT, an AI-powered language model. With this technology posing a threat to the human written word (sorry fellow Beyond the Contour authors), I saw it fitting to continue my experimentation. First off, the simple task of golf themed poetry in the form of haiku:

Swing whispers through air,
Ball dances, seeking the green,
Hole-in-one dream lands.

Not all that bad. How about a revision with more of a Scottish influence?

Amidst the heather,
Swing whispers through Highland glens,
Ball dances with grace.

The next exercise I attempted is admittedly more complex. I prompted the AI to describe a golf hole in the style of Bernard Darwin. ChatGPT produced a lengthy 331 word description. For the sake of brevity, I’ll share the first two paragraphs.

Amidst the rolling emerald landscape of the grand old course, there lies a hole that captivates the golfer’s heart and mind. It is the fourteenth, a beguiling par-four that demands precision and strategy from tee to green.

As you stand on the elevated tee, the breeze whispers gently through the ancient pines, creating a sense of serenity that belies the challenge ahead. In the distance, the fairway gracefully undulates, subtly concealing its subtle undulations and hidden traps.

I shared the full output on our Beyond the Contour Slack channel. I’m happy to report it did not pass as legit Darwin prose.

So what make of all this technological wizardry? If your objective is a bit of fun and creativity then AI fits the bill. Can this sort of generative AI be legitimately used in the golf industry? Well it depends. If your requirements are basic, such as drafting a golf themed menu for the next nine-and-dine event, or drafting copy for an upcoming event announcement, then AI can be a helpful tool. More advanced applications in the world of design, journalism or literature are not as clear. However, it is foreseeable that this technology will eventually be more widely used as a tool to assist in the creative process.


  • Jason Bernardon

    Based in Southern Ontario, Jason is a corporate real estate professional with a passion for golf course architecture, golf history and environmental conservation.

1 thought on “Artificial Intelligence, Golf Course Architecture and Other Musings

  1. Fascinating read! Exploring parallels between AI and golf course design is intriguing. The blend of technology and creativity opens new fairways of thought.

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