Top 100 Golf Course Architects

03 April 2019 Respond to this article

Top 100 Golf Course Architects

Top 100 Golf Course ArchitectsNot just any Old Tom, Dick or Harry has made our collection of Top 100 Golf Course Architects. Instead, if you thought Old Tom Morris, Dick Wilson and Harry Colt might make an appearance then you won't be disappointed as they all make the cut.

Tom Doak was very clear in his views on ranking designers: “Saying one was better than the other seems pointless to me.”

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, which can be accessed here:

Top 100 Golf Course 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 (where we were buried for many weeks over the winter) 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.

One hundred pages contain 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 but first we need to come up for air. This project, simple as it may seem, has taken many, many months to get to this stage.

A number of the architect biographies remain to be completed, as we’re still finishing off the research, others may contain factual inaccuracies. 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