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Geoff Ogilvy: My Perfect Golf Course

By Brendan James December 17, 2014

It hasn’t been built yet. And it probably never will be; the perfect golf course, that is. But we’ve come close a few times, with the Old Course at St Andrews the nearest so far. Ironically, that might have something to do with the fact that the Home of Golf is the course that has seen the least input from humans. It just evolved into the ‘perfect’ course, which is, by its very nature, the way of evolution.

Sadly, the Old Course isn’t perfect any more. Not for leading professionals anyway. We hit the ball too far these days. So the definition of ‘perfect’ has changed. Plus, if I were told I had to choose one course to play every day for the rest of my life, it probably wouldn’t be one at St Andrews. I would opt for something not quite so close to such extreme elements. I’d like some nice weather every day.

The Old Course at St Andrews is as near to perfection as you can get, according to Ogilvy.

The Old Course at St Andrews is as near to perfection as you can get, according to Ogilvy. PHOTO: Getty Images

For me then, the perfect course is probably a combination of all the best features of, say, the top courses on the rankings. Ideally, I’d amalgamate the common attributes of Pine Valley, Oakmont, the Old Course, Shinnecock Hills, Royal Melbourne, The National Golf Links, Augusta National and Cypress Point.

With one or two exceptions, these courses are not generally that difficult until the weather turns nasty or the pins are placed
in really tough spots. That makes them – again generally – playable for golfers of all standards. There’s width to the fairways, and without any real difficulty found around the greens. Everybody can have fun.

Fun … that’s important. What the top professionals find difficult, the average amateur finds relatively easy. In other words, the further the average guy gets from the hole, the harder golf gets. For the pros, the game gets harder the closer we get to the hole, generally anyway.

“…my perfect course is going to incorporate width off the tee. It isn’t going to be too long. And most of the challenge will be found in the shots to the greens.”

That’s why courses like Augusta National, Cypress Point and Royal Melbourne are playable for al l. The real challenges there are around the greens. They aren’t much of a ball-striking test if all you want to do is get close to the putting surface in regulation. So bogeys are relatively straightforward if that is what you aim for. Pars, birdies and eagles call for more precision and correctness, which is as it should be. As soon as you start taking risks, things should get more difficult or dangerous. But if all you want to do is play to your handicap, then that should very achievable.

The church pew bunkering on the 3rd hole at Oakmont Country Club, site of the 2007 US Open. PHOTO: Getty Images

The church pew bunkering on the 3rd hole at Oakmont Country Club, site of the 2007 US Open. PHOTO: Getty Images

So my perfect course is going to incorporate width off the tee. It isn’t going to be too long. And most of the challenge will be found in the shots to the greens.

My greens will be large and incorporate interesting undulations. Nothing too silly though. They will be firm. Golf is infinitely more interesting when the ball bounces and rolls after it lands on the ground. And, while I’m not one who pays much attention to Stimpmeter readings, my greens will be slower than today’s accepted standard.

We need to get away from the modern obsession with ultra-short grass on both the greens and the fairways. All that does is create so many unnecessary issues. I have to think, for example, that just about every superintendent the world over would really like to see his greens running two feet slower than has become the norm.

So my greens will be firm and run at, say, no more than ten feet on the Stimpmeter, which is, as I think about it, just about what you see on a seaside course in the United Kingdom when it is set up normally. Firm enough that the ball will roll nicely. And firm enough that, when you are coming in from the wrong angle, you are faced with a bit of a predicament. Nothing impossible, but enough to make you think.

On the fairways, I’d want some undulation too. Golf is so much more interesting when you have to hit balls off slopes. If the grass is cut too short you lose that, the balls running to the bottom of the slopes. Hitting from flat lies time after time is not nearly as much fun as when the ball is either above or below your feet. That’s true around the greens, too.

Geoff's course will have a halfway house serving sausage sandwiches just like they do at Sunningdale. PHOTO: Getty Images

Geoff’s course will have a halfway house serving sausage sandwiches just like they do at Sunningdale.
PHOTO: Getty Images

As an aside, I’m betting that chipping yips hardly existed in golf before fairways were cut too short. Nowadays I see all kinds of players having all kinds of problems playing from lies that are way too ‘tight’ for their ability level. That’s fine for the pros, but the average guy finds golf difficult enough playing in a big flat field in which he has a perfect lie every time. So there is no need to add difficulty with hyper-fast greens and fairways, crazy-deep bunkers and thick rough, which is why my perfect course will have none of the above.

As for bunkers, they will be difficult but easy to avoid if you want to avoid them. Yet again, the Old Course and Royal Melbourne are my models here. If your goal is not to hit into a bunker you can go months without doing so. But if you challenge the course and take on the bunkers, the penalty is at least three-quarters of a shot. And, once you are in the sand, any difficulty will be presented by the shot, not the lie. I like hard shots from easy lies rather than easy shots from hard lies.

Moving right along, I think carries are a great part of golf, but I don’t think they should ever be forced upon the player. Going for it or not should always be a choice. The Old Course has all kinds of temptations. You can go for the ‘hero carry’ on so many holes. But if you don’t want to, there is a different route available. That’s perfect.

The same is true at Augusta National. Take the par-5 13th hole. The ‘hero carry’ is there for you on the second shot. But you can also bumble up short of Rae’s Creek then chip over it. You just have to be prepared to add one shot to your score. The average guy can shoot 90 every day on a course like that and have the time of his life. So there will be no forced carries on my perfect course.

Unfortunately, much of modern course design is actually going the other way. Courses that are 8,000 yards long and narrow, with perfect, soft greens are really not that difficult for the average PGA Tour professional. But they are unplayable for an 18-handicapper.

My perfect course will also be part of a welcoming and friendly environment. There will be no cart girls, but there will be a Sunningdale-type halfway house where sausage sandwiches will be available. There will be a small range where you can hit a few 5-irons before you wander to the 1st tee, carrying your own bag. At the end of the round, you will be able to get your own car from the carpark and you will be able to walk around with your dog on a leash if you so wish. I don’t know why we don’t do that in Australia.

In other words, on my perfect course there will be no wasted manpower, no wasted energy and no wasted money.

Speaking of which, my perfect course will be playable with a half-set of clubs. Don’t get me wrong though, I want to be able to go out with my 14 clubs and have a great time. But I also want to be able to play in three hours with four clubs and have just as much fun. My perfect course will cater to whatever version of golf you want to play.

The best attributes of Augusta National would also find a way into Geoff's perfect course. PHOTO: Getty Images.

The best attributes of Augusta National would also find a way into Geoff’s perfect course. PHOTO: Getty Images.

Most of the golf at my perfect course will be match play. There will be a monthly medal so that everyone can maintain a handicap but no more than that. There will be no obsession with numbers on cards. In my experience, everyone is much happier when they play match play. Stroke play is a necessary evil for professionals, but for amateurs it should be the exception not the rule. Adding up scores isn’t often fun.

And everyone will walk. Courses that can only be played in a cart, where you have to smash a driver off every tee and take five hours to get round because it is so long are anathema to me. Perfect golf is as much about the social experience as it is about the playing. Hiking from green to tee is not my idea of fun. It is, in fact, horrible.

To sum up, my perfect course will be a beautiful place to be, a nice environment for spending time with friends, a great place to walk around and fun for all golfers – testing for me and ‘easy’ for an 18-handicapper. I don’t want to feel bad for someone for whom long rough and long carries are too difficult. I want everyone to have a good time.

That would be simply perfect.

 

16 Comments on "Geoff Ogilvy: My Perfect Golf Course"

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  1. David Barr says:

    The article describes the almost perfect golf course from an enlightened elite golfer. I might add, as a very old turfgrass agronomist and nowadays a real hacker, a few comments. Firstly, I suggest that greens be smaller with subtle undulations, to put a premium on accurate shots to the green, whilst still being large enough to resist wear from golfers usage. Then I would also suggest gentle, grassy undulations around the green to return the need for the short chip shot which has been partly eliminated on some modern courses with very large greens. And finally, I would suggest forward or “fun”tees, making the holes more reachable for beginners or oldies like me, and incidentally, making golf more enjoyable for many.

  2. Simon khan says:

    Great article Geoff. Love a mix of par 3s shortest 130-140 longest near 200 y . Greens in proportion to length of hole . Visual intimidation but should be able to avoid -eg ,road hole bunker/ 7th west Royal Mel

  3. Paul Devenport says:

    I grew up on a course close to this…Paraparaumu Beach, NZ. Well said mate, I couldn’t agree with you more.

  4. Grant Gibson says:

    Well said Geoff … You always have great comments.. Go low in 2015 bud

  5. Richard Payne says:

    Excellent article. I’m originally from UK where matchplay against your mates is generally the norm. Moved to Sydney, such a shame and so dull that the culture is individual cards. Five comps EVERY week at my club, other two days are ladies and corporates! Just crazy. Any thoughts on how to shift the culture, help players realise how much more fun matchplay is? And that it creates a more relaxed environment out on the course, so more enjoyable for all.

  6. MJ says:

    Geoff, the biggest problem with your perfect course is the walking only. While I would love to be able to walk 9 or 18, due to my health I am not able. I do have a minor problem with the no cart girls. I mean you did want to have beauty at this course.

  7. Andy Schwabe says:

    We have a 108 year old course, the Oshawa G&CC that has all the characteristics Geoff describes. It’s “only” 6600 yds but great fun to play with undulating fairways and greens, so there is often not a flat lie or a straight put. It’s an extremely walkable course as well with greens and tees close together so most of our members walk, and play in under 4 hours is very common.

  8. Nicholas Bell says:

    Geoff

    This is almost exactly how we approach (or are trying to approach) golf at Muskoka Highlands Golf Links in Bracebridge Ontario. We don’t irrigate our bluegrass fairways which keeps them hard and fast which allows for some extra yardage….but also can get you into trouble if your not careful. They are cut at 3/4″ which allows the ball to rest on those sidehill lies and allows the intermediate/beginner golfer to have a more “fluffed” lie. Greens here roll at 9-10.5 most days on the stimpmeter. It is tough to get the golfer to switch to the matchplay method but in time we will break through to them. We allow our guests to bring their dogs to play with them during the round so long as they clean up after them and they don’t damage the putting surface. Pretty sure we are the only course in Ontario….maybe even Canada that allows this.
    Great article!!!! If your ever in Ontario come play!!
    Nic Bell

  9. Domingo Hospital says:

    To be perfect, perfect, this great course should be played with a proper golf ball, a liquid center ball that will automatically bring back proper wooden woods and more blady irons, including the one and two irons that also automatically will bring back the forgotten flights and backspins. Then it will be true fun and true golf test and the balance between mental and fisic effort would be restablished. North Berwick??

  10. Don MacKay says:

    Geoff – you must play Muskoka Highlands – it fits your description so nicely!!
    Regards,
    Don MacKay

  11. Antonio D'Arcangelis says:

    This is absolutely BRILLIANT. Agreed on almost all counts.

    • Richard Payne says:

      Excellent article. I’m originally from UK where matchplay against your mates is generally the norm. Moved to Sydney, such a shame and so dull that the culture is individual cards. Five comps EVERY week at my club, other two days are ladies and corporates! Just crazy. Any thoughts on how to shift the culture, help players realise how much more fun matchplay is? And that it creates a more relaxed environment out on the course, so more enjoyable for all.

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