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Year of Birth1961
Year of Death
Place of BirthNew York, USA

Tom Doak was born in New York and was raised in Stamford, Connecticut. He played junior golf at Sterling Farms Golf Course, a five-minute stroll away from his front door. As a youngster Doak accompanied his father on business trips, visiting Harbour Town, Pinehurst No.2 and Pebble Beach whereby he became fascinated by the architectural variation between golf courses. He began reading dusty old golf course architecture library books unearthed by his mother. His obsession had well and truly begun.

Doak went on to study Landscape Architecture at Cornell University where he won a scholarship to travel to the British Isles to research the classic links courses. After graduation he literally lived on the links, first caddying at St Andrews and then spending the next seven months on the road, playing and examining every notable golf course he could find.

In his 1992 book, The Anatomy of a Golf Course, Doak acknowledged: “Those travels left me with a love of good golf courses, and a fair grasp of the principles of sound design; yet I never would have been able to make the leap from student to architect without the guidance of Pete Dye and Alice Dye and their sons, Perry Dye and P. B. Dye. After I had bugged them by constantly writing letters for a couple of years, they let me come to work for them, in the most menial capacity, on the construction of Long Cove Club in the summer of 1981. For four years afterward I followed along from Plum Creek to PGA West to Riverdale Dunes and Piping Rock, gradually becoming more involved in the construction of their courses, and occasionally getting to contribute my own two cents worth to the final design. Of all the things I learned from Pete, the most important was just how much work was involved in getting a great golf course from the dream to the ground.”

Doak’s first solo design, High Pointe Golf Club in Michigan, opened in 1989. His Williamsburg lay-of-the-land public course has since closed, but this design bucked the trend of 1980’s blueprints and paved the way for minimalist, sustainable courses.

Gil Hanse (who also won the same scholarship) was his first employee. Doak has also trained others through his internship program, many of whom – including Mike DeVries – are creating an impact as designers or shapers.

Renaissance Golf Design is one of today’s foremost architectural firms with a portfolio that includes more than its fair share of World Top 100 ranked courses. Opened in 2001, Pacific Dunes was Doak’s first layout to receive global recognition, a collaboration with Michael Clayton at Barnbougle Dunes followed. The arrival of Ballyneal in 2006 cemented Doak’s place in the top architectural division. Today, he’s hot on the heels of his hero, Alister MacKenzie – it’s possible he may equal the good doctor’s design achievements in years to come.

"Starting in his college days, Doak freelanced design articles for Golf Magazine and later became a contributing editor and handled the publication's rankings of golf courses and golf holes," wrote Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten in The Architects of Golf. "He also developed a reputation as a topflight golf course photographer. He authored and self-published The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses in 1988, what one observer called a 'no-holds-barred' rating of all courses Doak had played. Others more critical felt it could be called the controversial guide to golf courses."

In addition to the creation of an impressive collection of golf course designs, Doak has written more reflections on golf course architecture than just about any other author. His musings are both frank and insightful, but more importantly they are exceedingly readable, thought-provoking and demystifying.


This edited excerpt is from a short Tom Doak article entitled “Play it as it Lies” which appeared in the book Masters of the Links by Geoff Shackelford:

“American golfers have become so used to pandering designs that they don’t even understand some minimalist ideas. The whole point of golf architecture is to discover and then present to the player challenging shots inherent in the landscape, but today anything remotely challenging is quickly criticised as ‘unfair.’

Many of the things which can make a golf hole interesting have been removed from the modern designers’ palettes. Today, even our best designers seldom produce a great golf hole, because they apply so many standards of ‘fairness’ that all holes begin to look and play alike.

It’s easy to talk about ‘working with the land’ but most architects use the land as an amateur interior decorator uses furniture, as a raw material to be moved around the room until everything looks perfect. Many modern designers now pay lip service to minimalism, but then back away by saying that they are seldom given pieces of land with natural features to use.

The minimalist’s objective is to route as many holes as possible whose main features already exist in the landscape, and accent their strategies without overkilling the number of hazards, Sometimes, though, the best solution for the course as a whole may require major earthmoving on a handful of holes to connect the others.

That’s minimalism too. And the key to success in those instances is to move enough earth to make the artificial work appear natural, not to move as little as possible.

In general, though, the minimalist moves earth to reduce severe slopes, not to create them. If you want to judge whether a particular designer is really comfortable in the minimalist style, ask him what he does when a hole has no natural feature to build upon.

The real minimalist will respond that he’s never faced that situation – he’ll always find something, whether it’s the length of the hole, or a small hump, existing vegetation, or simply the direction of the prevailing wind – and expand upon that to create an interesting golf hole.”

Books by Tom Doak:

The Anatomy of a Golf Course published in 1992: “On one level, this is a lucid look inside the mind of a golf architect. On a second, more important level, it’s an instruction book – it tells you exactly how to read a course.” George F. Peper

The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses published in 1996: Billed as “the ultimate insider’s guide to golf courses, Doak’s laser-like reviews may cause a chuckle or provoke an argument, but he is not afraid to challenge the reputations of some of the game’s most expensive resorts and revered clubs, while at the same time divulging his own far-flung favorites.”

The Life and Work of Dr. Alister MacKenzie published in 2001: “Considering the fact that he was one of the greatest golf course architects in the history of the game, Dr. Alister MacKenzie has long been something of a puzzle — if not a mystery. He liked to wear kilts, but he wasn’t a Scotsman. He graduated from medical school, but he never made a living at it. He designed spectacular courses, but he was not a good golfer.”

The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses Volumes 1 to 5: Volume 1 published in 2014 (Volume 4 is still to be released). Written by Tom Doak and based on his own personal observations plus input from three co-authors: Ran Morrissett, Masa Nishijima, and Darius Oliver. The series is a much-extended version of his original 1996 title where once again the author juxtaposes both criticism and approval. The Confidential Guide revealed

Tom Doak's Little Red Book of Golf Course Architecture published in 2017, edited by Bob Crosby: "The comments by Tom Doak collected in this book were taken from his posts at, a website devoted to the discussion of golf architecture and related topics... Tom's posts at GCA brought something different. They were by turns critical, sympathetic, and remarkably honest, all in a conversational voice not found in Tom's more formal, long-form writing."

Notable Courses

Aetna Springs

Aetna Springs

Pope Valley, California

    Atlantic City

    Atlantic City

    Northfield, New Jersey



    Holyoke, Colorado

    Ballyneal (Mulligan)

    Ballyneal (Mulligan)

    Holyoke, Colorado

    Barnbougle Dunes

    Barnbougle Dunes

    Bridport, Tasmania



    Los Angeles, California



    Cincinnati, Ohio

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