Golf Architecture Resources For Beginners, Intermediates, And Nerds

Reading Time: 14 minutes

Getting into golf architecture is a common barrier for most golfers. Everyone experiences golf architecture on the daily, but so few get into it. When someone wants to learn more, there is two ways that will help. One, going to see and study golf courses in your area, in your country, or worldwide. But this is not always feasible financially or in a timely manner. The second, however, is more attainable. Studying, learning, and researching has never been easier, both with access to the internet and the ability to find books, which can provide a key impact into someone’s journey through the world of golf architecture.

Below is a comprehensive guide to resources, books, and anything else applicable that could prove useful. For your own resource, The Fried Egg provided a wonderful resource to find free golf architecture books online, many of which will be discussed below. For those interested, that resource can be found here.

The Basics: An Introduction

“Grounds for Golf” — Geoff Shackelford

This is one of my favourite starter golf architecture books as Geoff is one of the clearest, most concise golf writers of his generation. In this book, Geoff walks you through a bit of history. Perhaps most interesting, Geoff provides a little perspective on larger concepts and how they’re applied in the field through his experience working on the construction of Rustic Canyon. This book is a wonderful warm handshake to start any golfers deep dive into golf architecture. Illustration by Gil Hanse

“Anatomy of a Golf Course” — Tom Doak

This book by Tom Doak is also a great first read and an excellent companion to “Grounds for Golf,” although slightly more analytical than Geoff’s style of writing. As a result, he goes deeper on the concepts he uses in his design practice. There is a lot of talk about his first course High Point (unfortunately, it no longer exists) and how he came to the routing and built the greens, as well as numerous other details that make up a great golf course. Together, this is an excellent read from a modern architect’s perspective.

I suggest reading both before moving on to the next step as these two work together to provide a great base for anyone looking to further study golf architecture.

Next Steps: Tools For Intermediate Passions

As opposed to the introductory section, the second step is far more of a “choose your own adventure” type, where you can mix and match whatever you want. For beginners, the two books above are paramount for setting the groundwork. Now, you can pick and choose what interests you before moving on.

“The Golden Age of Golf Design” — Geoff Shackelford

A well-thoughtout overview of the golden age of golf design from 1900-1940 featuring some great images that provides a lot of jumping off points for future study. This book is foundational for most golf libraries—in my opinion—as it serves a dual purpose of being a functional travel guide and a great resource to see how the golden age architects plied their craft. The main theme? How these architects managed to product such quality golf without not moving as much dirt as their more contemporary counterparts.

“Masters of the Links: Essays on the Art of Golf and Course Design” — Compiled by Geoff Shackelford

A rare chance to compare the modern practitioner of golf design against the masters of yesteryear. Specifically, Bill Coore’s essay entitled “For The Boys” is a must read to understand the relationship between what good shapers do for any architect. Additionally, the details about Talking Stick’s O’Odham course make this a must-read.

“The Art of Golf Design” — Geoff Shackelford & Michael Miller

A great overview of classical architecture with images painted by Michael Miller. This book is much more focused on the visual impact of golf architecture and how golf architecture and art are intertwined. This book is worth buying just for just for the wonderful paintings alone, but Geoff’s commentary on the holes selected is very much worth the price of entry. It is currently one of my favorite golf coffee table books as even the non-golfer can appreciate the wonder images and the stories about them.

“Scotland’s Gift” — C.B. Macdonald

This is a great work from one of the founders of the USGA and one of the first true golf architects in North America. It has a great discussion of early golf and the history of the game. It is also worth reading for a look into one of the first great minds to apply their hand to the craft of golf course architecture in North America. His discussion of template holes and the creation of short courses is foundational in understanding the roots of North American golf architecture.

“The Evolution of Golf Course Design: Exploring the People, Influences and Events Which Has Shaped Its History” — Keith Cutten

This book is the quintessential golf architecture history book thanks to the bird’s eye view of the development of golf course architecture. Derived from Keith’s thesis for his masters in Landscape Architecture, he leaves no stone unturned this look into the history of golf architecture. The reading list and the chapter on women in golf architecture make it worth the purchase for anyone deeply intrest in golf architecture as these two topics are not normally covered in books relating to the subject.

“Spirit of St. Andrews” — Alister MacKenzie

This book is almost the last will and testament of Alister Mackenzie. It was completed after his death from manuscripts written throughout his life, including discussion about all of his great works and most importantly a more fleshed out version of his “13 principals of good golf architecture”. For us Canadians, Dr. Mackenzie touches on St. Charles, Hamilton, and Jasper Park Lodge. Furthermore, it also has a great set of stories about his life in golf, highlighting one of golf’s great characters and acting as a fabolous portrait of The Great Doctor. The final chapter on Dr. Mackenzie’s final years and how he got better at golf further in his life is something we can all strive for.

“Golf Architecture in America”  — George Thomas

In this tome, George Thomas goes into great detail to describe his philosophy for building world class golf. It was completed the same year as his most famous golf course Riviera, with the specific details on “the course with in a course” making this book worth the purchase alone, let alone the other great details. A must-read for anyone heading to Southern California to see his work.

“The Course Beautiful”  — A.W. Tillinghast

Another book from a Philadelphia school architect, joining George Thomas (amongst others) on this list. This book combines a lot of A.W.’s writing from his diverse collection. He has three books of this nature, although thisis the most detailed book on the actual specifics of architecture. His thoughts on trees and the routing of a golf course are as fresh and relavent as the day he put them to the paper. This is one of the few anthologies that makes the list but its a snapshot of a period in time when the world best architects wrote almost as much as they built as they were trying to grow knowledge of the game along side building it and growing it.

“Sand and Golf: how terrain shapes the game” — George Waters

Now director of research for the USGA, this book was built out of his thesis for his masters in Landscape Architecture. This text describes how the soils of golf shape the game that we experience and the importance of sand to the game of golf. This text on sand based golf is one of the few architecture books that uses soils as its base for discussing golf, which is shocking as a shaper and architect myself, due to how much they impact every choice i make while building golf.

“The Links” — Robert Hunter

This book is often overlooked by people looking for people looking for only books by the classic more famous architects, although those seekig “big name” architectsd are overlooking Hunter’s assistanance in Meadow Club, Cypress Point, Valley Club, and more. Regardless of Hunter’s involvement in Mackenzie’s west coast swing, this is one of the most important books written on the subject at hand. “The Links” specifically details construction methods as Hunter was a construction associate himself, and as a result, the book dives into “American Golf Construction”‘s involvement in Cypress Point, and Pebble Beach prior to the 1929 US Open. Furthermore, this book is one of teh few thatr influences Bill Coore to become one of the best to ever do it. If you read one book from this section, this would be my choice.

“The Architectural Side of Golf” — H.N. Weathered & Ton Simpson

The contents of this book are all most essential in the study of golf architecture as it includes a discussion of the first few bunkers placed for stratigic reason at Woking, as well as the theories behind the use of contour and hazards. It is a little bit of a deep dive and requires repeat study to gain a total appreciation for the work but I would be remiss to omit this from this section.

“Golf Courses of the British Isles” — Bernard Darwin

This book is a discussion and description of golf in England and Scotland before and after The Great War. This book is essential in how it is a piece of history and an important touchstone of how the great links have evolved over time. Of course, it helps that Bernard Darwin helped Harry Colt lay out Rye, which to this day is still one of the best links in the United Kingdom. The other added benefit is the amazing watercolours that are used to illustrate this book by Harry Rountree, acting as a foundation for manyt great golf architect’s and their own personal drawing styles.

“Some Essays on Course Architecture” — Harry Colt

This book is probably the most dry of the section, but it is the only one published by one of the greatest architects of all time. This discussion of golfing land is worth the slog alone, and acts as the perfect stepping stone to the next step. But, I felt that it fit this section due to my personal belief that Colt is one of the greatest architects of all time and its short length make it an wonderful edition to any golfing library.

“Bury Me in a Pot Bunker”  — Pete Dye

This book is a very good description of Pete Dye and his work. Unlike others in this section, Pot Bunker reads more like a biography than an architectural text book as it traces the story of his life in golf course architecture through his projects and the stories behind them.

Deep Dives & Further Resources: For The Golf Nerds

Congratulations! You are hooked. Now that you’ve read enough in the first two sections, here is the “deep dives” to really dive into the subject. Unlike the first two sections, this is less detail about trhe actual architecture, and more geared towards your own interests and potential travels.

Travel guides & regional websites

  • “The Confidential Guides to Golf Courses Vol 1,2,3,5” — Tom Doak, Ran Morrisett, Masa Nishijima, and Darius Oliver

A travel guide series by some of the greatest minds in golf. These books are almost essential to good golf travel that I debated putting them in the basics section, but the $300 for the set made me think twice. If your serious about golf, you should own these books.

This is one of the ‘OG’ sections of Golf Club Atlas, where writing and discussion on golf courses and golf course architecture found a home on the internet. In this section, Ran Morrisett—who is currently the man in charge of the Golf Magazine top 100 rating panel—goes on deep dives on his favrorite golf courses in the world. This is a great section to consult for inspiration of where to travel and what constitutes a great golf course. He is also a contributor to the aforementioned confidential guide series.

  • “The 147 + 2 Custodians of the Game” — Ran Morrisett

This is another section of Golf Club Atlas highlighting great golf around the world. Its a great resource for planing trips as this is how Ran describes it in his own words.

“The purpose remains to highlight courses whereby when you walk off the 18th (or 9th!) green, you feel invigorated rather than exhausted, and the allure of returning to the first tee is strong. Harry Vardon’s words, ‘Don’t play too much golf. Two rounds a day are plenty,’ spring to mind. Elation beats frustration and these courses remain immensely enjoyable throughout all stages of life: from childhood, where one discovers the magic of the game; through the hubris of youth, where one aspires to become its master; through adulthood, where one seeks recreation and refuge from worldly demands; and through the later stages of life, where one may age gracefully while still enjoying this inscrutable game.”

If that does not describe a list of courses you want to see, I do not know what does.

Sean a long time member of the message board component of Golf Club Atlas and has made it his goal to play and highlight many of the great courses of the United Kingdom. His focus is not only on the big boys that you heard about on a yearly basis when and where The Open Championship has played, but on the more hidden and subtle courses that make UK golf the best in the world.

This is a great series by The Fried Egg. Slightly neglected in their rise to prominence for other big-name features that they run, but is still worth checking out if you’re heading to Philadephia, Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts, or Wisconsin.  Theres as also a map of courses to check out in the Bang For Your Buck section but it has not been updated in recent months.

Architects, History & Compilations of Writing

  • “The Little Red Book of Golf Architecture” — Tom Doak

This is a collection of Tom Doak’s musings on golf architecture. It’s a great read, but it is more of a curiousity to me than a foundational text. It’s worth the price of admission for sure but I think it’s better to get later in your career than earlier.

  • “Getting to Eighteen” — Tom Doak

This is Tom Doak’s book on how he routes gf courses it’s very interesting but it’s also around $300, and is a limited run. It is an interesting read and certainly worth the effort, but only for those most dedicated to the craft and curiosity.

  • “The Midwest Associate: The Life and Work of Perry Duke Maxwell” — Christopher Clouser

This is the quintessential book on the life and work of Perry Maxwell, who, in my opinion, is one of the most under-discussed architects of the Golden Age. His life is an inpisrational tale of a man who starts his career in banking and through the encouragement of his wife, he finds his true passion in golf construction and architecture.

  • “Discovering Alex Russell: The Man and His Legacy” — Neil Crafter & John Green

This book goes into detail about another MacKenzie associate Alex Russell, who brought Mackenzie’s work to life in Australia. Among the many reasons to read this book, its proof of the conept of a golfing nation starting from good roots, and as a result, has a better chance of staying on the right track (as Australia’s golf culture has). Alex’s work became the blueprint for what good golf in Australia looks like to this day. When people talk about the natural and unique golf in the nation of Australia they are talking about the wonderful work of Alex Russel.

  • “Discovering Donald Ross” — Bradley Klein

This is the quintessential book of the life and work of Donald Ross. Its a must read if you find yourself pulled to the work from the old man from Dornoch.

  • “The Nature Faker” — Wayne Morrison

The biography of William Flynn one of the members of the Phildelphia School of Architecture, who is best known for his work at Shinnecock Hills and his ability to always build natural looking, yet incredibly challenging golf courses. This is a hefty read, but a must-have for Flynn fans.

  • “The Life and Work of Wayne Stiles” — Kevin Mendik and Bob Labbance

This book is a must have for any golfer in the Northeast. Wayne Styles, along with his design partner John Van Kleek, are two of the most underrated architects of their generation due to the regional nature of their work and their focus on building up young architects that worked foir them. This book is wonderfully formatted, with the first section being a biography and the section section breaking up their work by state and region.

  • “The Old Man: The Biography of Walter J. Travis” — Bob Labbance

This is the wonderful biography of the architect and great player Walter J. Travis. A wonderful read on an interesting figure and a great architect, Travis’s work in golf architecture is probably the most provocative of his generation with wild greens and inverted bunkers. His work is essential to any study of golf in the Northeast. For Beyond The Contour‘s full book review, click here.

  • “Evangelist of Golf” — George Bahto

This is the quintessential book on the life and work of C.B Macdonald. This book would be in the first section if not for the price being north of $1,000. If you have the chance it is worth the read and study.

  • “Golf Has Never Failed Me” — Donald Ross

This book is Ross’ version of Tom Doak’s Little Red Book. Lots of great insight into the mind of Donald Ross, but its historical nature makes it a deep dive.

  • “The Game of Golf” — Willie Park Jr.

This book is one of those ones you buy for one chapter. Park’s thoughts on golf architecture are limited to a small section of this book, but if you enjoy his work it is worth the read.

  • “A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf” by  James Hansen

This book is here to explain how one man lead golf down the wrong path for 50 years. This is not a happy read, but it is essential to understand how we got to the current state of golf architecture.

  • “The Toronto Terror” — James Barclay

This is the biography of the most famous architect from Canada: Stanley Thompson. A must-read for Canadians, Thompson’s influence still spreads far and wide, dominating Beyond The Contour‘s top 100.

  • “In Every Genius There’s a Bit of Madness” — Ian Andrew

This book is a wonderful companion piece to “The Toronto Terror” as its more of a deep dive into Stanley Thompson’s five best golf courses.

  • Golf Architecture series — Paul Daley

a collection spanking 6 volumes of the best and the brightest in golf course architecture.

This collection of monthly interviews by Ran Morriset runs the gamet of people that have influenced the modern game of golf its an essential section to hear from the best in the game in their own words

This is a section on Golf Club Atlas that is devoted to essays and writing on golf from the message boards membership. Don’t let this vague description scare you away from this section as it contains some of the best writing on golf architecture by amatuers and professionals alike.

Websites and Blogs of Interest

This website is one of my favourites as it has a clear focus on golf in the United Kingdom. I particularly love their detailed profiles of the golf architects that built golf in the UK and their wonderful book guide is a great companion to this piece.

Looking past the generic name of this website, this is one of the most detailed and thoughtful collection of course descriptions on the internet. Of particular interest, the regional top 100 lists celebrate golf courses rarely discussed elsewhere. Additionally, I would also be remiss if I did not highlight their architects section.

Aside from the numerous writing contributions from Geoff that are highlighted above, his blog continues to be a great resource for those looking to know more about golf (and golf architecture, too).

This is one of the best homes for modern architectural writing. The team, lead by Andy Johnson, has a bunch of articles that provide context to a large list of the suggested reading here. There is also an article that shows you how to get access to some of the suggested reading here for free.

Podcasts of Note

  • State of The Game hosted by Geoff Shackelford, Rod Morri, and Mike Clayton
  • The Fried Egg hosted by Andy Johnson and Garrett Morrison
  • Cookie Jar Golf hosted by Bruce, Sam and Tom
  • Talkin Golf History hosted by Connor T. Lewis
  • Feed the Ball hosted by Derek Duncan

Societies and Other Resources

I hope this helps you in you’re personal journey in golf architecture. If you need any more help and direction in your personal journey in golf architecture don’t be afraid to reach out to me.


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