What I like in a golf course

There are currently a handful of pictures of a course sitting on my laptop. I have plans to play another different course this weekend (weather permitting of course) and my camera will be in my bag.

But I figured that if I’m going to write about golf courses and express opinions of what I like and don’t like, I should probably at least make an attempt to talk about and explain what I like and don’t like.

Sports Illustrated writer John Garrity spoke to Jim Furyk last week at Hilton Head and one of the topics was golf courses. Furyk said this: “I’ve always said that if the golf course was built before 1960, there’s a really good chance I’m going to like it. If it was built after 1990, there’s probably a good chance I’m not going to like it.”

I don’t know that I draw quite that hard of a line as there are plenty of modern courses that I like, but there is something to his comment. I am a fan of courses designed by old dead guys.

A few of my truths:

Fun is good. Hard isn’t always good.

There was a time when I thought a course was good because it was hard or it was good because it was long. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I don’t really really like to make double bogeys that much. There are courses I have played, including some in the Twin Cities, that I find boring because they are relentless and feature hard hole after hard hole. I would much rather play a course that might not be as long (and some might say easier) that requires accuracy, has interesting greens and forces golfers to think about where they hit the ball. I don’t want to wear out my hybrids and fairway woods.

I like good/interesting greens.

I know this might seem obvious, but I want interesting greens that roll true and smooth with a decent amount of pace. I don’t like golf courses with big, flat, boring greens. I want to have to be concerned about going above the hole or hitting it on the wrong side of the hole. I want to be worried about short siding myself. And I’m good with a couple of greens that are fairly severe.

Life is too short to play bad golf courses

That is pretty much the mantra I live by. I won’t play awful places. You aren’t going to see my post photos from a place that is bad. And if you invite me to somewhere that is terrible, I might come up with an excuse to not play. Or the company had better be awesome. If I put photos up of a place, it’s because it is at least decent. Does that make me a golf course snob? Maybe. And if so, that is just fine.

I’m good with some quirk

I probably have a higher tolerance for what some people consider quirky or stupid holes. I’m OK with a blind tee shot or blind approach. I kind of think it is cool when a course has three par 5s in a row like Town & Country. I’m good with some extreme greens — though I don’t want 18 holes of it.

I don’t love trees

Trees are like many things, they are fine in moderation. I have little patience for spots where you are in the fairway, but are blocked out by trees. I don’t like courses that allow their greens (or other turf areas) to suffer because trees keep the green from getting enough sun or air circulation. My feeling is that if there’s a question on whether to keep a tree or get rid of it, you should get rid of it. If that makes me a bad Minnesotan, so be it.

I want to be able to walk

If you mandate that I take a cart, you won’t earn points with me. If your site is so severe that you pretty much have to take a cart, I might not be back. If you say I have to take a cart AND keep it on the path, I know I won’t be back. And I’m not exactly a fan of long green-to-tee walks. I do like compact routings that flow well.

I like variety

I want to hit a number of different clubs into greens. I like short par 4s that make people think about what club to hit off the tee. I like par 3s that don’t all play essentially the same distance. I like doglegs that go both directions. Don’t give me boring and straight and 400+ yard par 4s over and over.

If I’m playing a public course, I want value…

When I reach into my wallet, I don’t want to feel ripped off. Because of that, my playing resume doesn’t include too many publics that have triple-digit greens fees and maybe only one that would currently be more than $200 (Pinehurst No. 2). If I’m out of town and looking to play, I’m way more likely to go for the best course in a town in the $50-75 range rather than some $150 course. There’s a public course in town that I haven’t played yet simply because I haven’t gotten a good deal on it and I’m guessing it isn’t worth the sticker price.

… and fast play

Nothing makes me more upset than a round of golf that is a death march. If I have to wait on every shot, I lose both my patience and my focus. I know I’m very spoiled in this area after playing at a private club. But courses need to make more of an effort to keep things moving. If it is going to take 5 hours to play golf, I’m probably not going to be a repeat customer. I know, I want value and fast play and the two may very well run counter to each other. My feeling is that they shouldn’t have to.

I don’t care about your waterfall

When I go play golf, I’m there to play golf. I don’t want a 17-year-old grabbing my clubs from the car. There is a 100 percent chance I’m not going to use your bag drop. And I don’t really need somebody to clean my clubs afterwards. The primary ammenity I care about is the availability of drinking water on the golf course. Give me water every few holes and I’m good. A Diet Coke and maybe a hot dog at the turn is a bonus. A cold beer afterwards is pretty good. And I don’t care if it is out of a double-wide trailer. I don’t care about the size of your clubhouse or how large of an event you can hold. I care about your golf course. And that is it.

But I’m also not that hard to please

As a general rule, I can find good in most places that are at least decent. I enjoy golf, I enjoy the challenge, I enjoy people. As long as things aren’t too awful, I’m probably going to have a good time. After all it beats working.


9 thoughts on “What I like in a golf course

  1. I guess the good thing about the current economic environment is that more of your likes should be easier to find (faster rounds, better value). Totally agree about the “life is too short to play bad golf courses” bit. Nothing wrong with being a golf snob… 🙂

  2. Ryan

    Interesting post. I have never really given this topic a ton of thought. It’s really hard to nail down what exactly what makes a “great” golf course to me. All of the things you mentioned above are important to me as well, especially good greens, walkability, fast play, and variety.

    Two traits that many of my favorite golf courses have:

    1. Good starting/finishing holes — there is nothing worse than starting a round with a terrible opening hole. There is an unnamed central MN course(Jeff you know the one) that has a brutal opener that requires a 4 or 5 iron off the tee. I worked hard all week dreaming about teeing it up on the weekend, let me take out the driver!

    2. Short, par 4 — I think every good course should have a drivable par 4, which as you mentioned above, makes you think about whether you want to go for it and risk birdie/bogey.

  3. Dan Kelly

    Great post, Jeff. Agree WHOLEheartedly with about 95 percent of it. A few thoughts — if you can call them that:

    — Fun is essential. It is the one irreplaceable ingredient.
    I wonder which courses you’re talking about — one grinding hole after another. I hope you’re not thinking of Hazeltine, even though that description might apply.
    I’m thinking, locally, of two courses that are No Fun: Dellwood Hills and Mississippi Dunes.

    — Your statement about greens cannot be improved (at least by me).

    — I love “quirk.” There’s WAY too little quirk in most modern design — I guess because most modern golfers don’t appreciate it. A VERY occasional tree dictating play from a fairway counts as quirk — though it’s the kind of quirk even I don’t much like.

    — There is one course with a site so severe that it mandates (for me) a cart that I will return to as long as they’ll let me: Sutton Bay. Generally, though, I agree: cartball deprives golf of some of its charm.

    — Your waterfall, bag drop, club cleaning, etc. remarks: Right on, Brother! I can’t be fooled into thinking I’m part of the landed gentry — and wouldn’t be comfortable with it if I were!

    — I wonder which TC public course you’ve yet to play because you haven’t seen a deal on it.

    — How’d you get that course to sit on your laptop?

    1. Jeff

      I should probably rephrase the never seen a deal on said public course. You actually gave me a coupon on a receipt and I wasn’t able to use it before it expired.

      But I’m not paying $85 to play there. Especially after your review. Too many other options in town.

  4. Pat Craig


    Great post. We are similar in our likes and dislikes in golf courses. Except I think alot of water, trees, and forced carries make a great golf course.

    Just kidding. 🙂

  5. Evan Fleisher

    Well done Jeff!

    Had I written a similar post, I’d say about the same exact words you did…scary how closely these thoughts mirror my own.

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