Top 100 Architects

Top 100 Golf Course Architects Welcome to our Top 100 Golf Course Architects section, launched in April 2019.

When comparing Donald Ross and Perry Maxwell, Tom Doak was very clear: “Saying one was better than the other seems pointless to me. Both were great talents, and I’ve always said I prefer to rate courses, not architects.”

However, we’ve been ranking and rating golf courses now for more than fifteen years and by doing so we subconsciously evaluate the architecture involved and therefore the architect or architects who fashioned each course.

We’re passionate about rating golf courses, so we decided to do the unthinkable – something that’s never been done before – and define a scoring system such that we could reasonably identify the Top 100 Architects.

We have enough golf courses rating data to sink a small battleship. All we had to do was to add up the points and at first we thought the task would be relatively simple. But, as always, the devil was in the detail.

For instance, Pete Dye designed the Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo; so allocating those points was easy. However, we found it trickier to work out how to allocate the architectural points for collaborations and for courses that have been altered down the years through restoration, renovation or extending an old nine-hole course to eighteen holes.

We decided that we’d allocate most points to the original architect or architects and fewer points to restoration architects and fewer points still to renovation architects. Some course renovations have been “re-renovated” by undoing the original renovation work, which may have been poorly implemented. In these instances we didn’t award any points to the original renovation architect.

It’s not exactly rocket science, but what we were able to do was to identify the world’s best architects by awarding the most points for courses ranked in the World Top 100 and fewer points for courses ranked in our other tiers of continental, national and regional ranking tables.

We’ve stopped short of actually ranking the architects, as we felt that might be a step too far. But we’ve loosely sequenced the order in which the architects appear within our ten paginated pages of ten architects.

We’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not we’ve arranged these undoubtedly talented designers in the right order, or whether we’ve included – or not included – the right architects.

In the detailed analysis we found that some architects scored rather better than we expected. This was largely due to the fact that “headline” design firms almost always promote their headliner, even though it may have been an associate designer who performed most (sometimes all) of the “real” work.

Harry Colt was often credited as the primary course designer when the work was actually done by one of his partners; Hugh Alison or John Morrison. Consequently Morrison, in particular, is underrated. The same can be said for Charles Banks who completed a good number of Seth Raynor’s courses after his death, and Arthur Croome who assisted Tom Simpson, Herbert Fowler and John Abercromby, but received little or no credit. Donald Ross and James Braid have hundreds of designs to their names, but both architects left much of the physical work to others.

Establishing true architectural provenance is extremely difficult and in many cases impossible. But we’ve tried our best to unearth evidence and give credit where we think it’s due.

Sadly, we’re unable to acknowledge the many largely anonymous construction heroes who actually performed the hard work in bringing many of Ross and Braid’s golf courses to life. Similarly, there are many talented associate golf course architects employed by big-named design firms. These architects have helped to elevate the standing of the companies they represent and are the unsung architectural champions. Maybe one day their efforts will be acknowledged.

The pages that follow contain one hundred biographical profiles of golf course architects who have positively impacted golf course design. From the pioneers, such as Allan Robertson and Old Tom Morris, through the "Golden Age" of design when the likes of Colt, Alison, MacKenzie, Tillinghast and Raynor left us with a cornucopia of classic courses; to the modern architects such as RTJ, RTJII, Nicklaus and Fazio, whose global portfolios are literally bursting at the seams.

Then there’s a small group of architects who are creating a new Golden Age revival, such as Coore and Crenshaw, Doak, Hanse and DeVries, who all took inspiration from those early 20th century masters and also, perhaps, the likes of Pete and Alice Dye.

Eagle-eyed observers may notice that we have not separated a few architects from their partners. We found it impossible to split up these partnerships, so we created a single page for these pairings, counting each duo as one.

We expect our collection of the world’s Top 100 Architects to remain relatively static. We may re-calculate biennially based on changes to our course ranking tables, but we don’t expect any major changes year-on-year. In the future we may also extend the initial collection.

If you’d like to help us to improve or correct any of the profiles then please contact us. We don’t profess to know everything so any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

Top 100 Golf Courses - Top 100 Architects

Harry Colt

Harry Colt studied law at Clare College, Cambridge. Twelve months after his 1887 enrolment, he joined the committee of the Cambridge University Golf Club and in 1889 became the club's first captain.

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Alister MacKenzie

Alister MacKenzie was born in England, but his parents were Scottish and the family holidayed every year close to where his father was raised in the traditional Clan MacKenzie lands of Sutherland.

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Jack Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus will forever be associated with greatness on the golf course, but it’s his design work that should also be remembered in equal measure to his magnificent competitive achievements on the links.

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Coore & Crenshaw

Coore and Crenshaw Inc. was established in 1986, but five years passed before the partnership made a real architectural impact when the Plantation course at Kapalua burst onto the scene in 1991.

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Tom Doak

Tom Doak studied Landscape Architecture at Cornell University where he won a scholarship to travel to the British Isles, he then spent seven months on the road, literally living on the links.

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Robert Trent Jones Jr.

As a teenager, RTJ2 worked for his father, learning how to run a bulldozer. His dad paid him the union rate for the job and he used the money for flying lessons, obtaining his pilot’s license aged sixteen.

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Pete Dye

Pete Dye captained the college team in his youth before going on to qualify for the US Open in 1957. He won the Indiana State Amateur, took part in The Amateur in 1963 and played in five US Amateurs.

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Tom Fazio

Born in the northwestern suburbs of Philadelphia, Tom Fazio entered the business of golf course architecture as a teenager in 1962, assisting his uncle George in course construction.

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A. W. Tillinghast

A.W. Tillinghast’s father took him to St Andrews in 1896 and introduced him to Old Tom Morris. His golfing passion developed rapidly following lessons from the old master and four-time Open Champion.

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Donald Ross

Donald Ross worked with Old Tom Morris at St Andrews in 1893 then spent part of the following season at Carnoustie before returning to serve under the Dornoch club secretary John Sutherland.

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