Golf started off unregulated by much convention. There wasn’t any earthmoving machinery and the game was played with rudimentary equipment over the ideally suited narrow strips of dune land between the edge of Scottish beaches and the farmland just a little further inland. At St Andrews, in the space of 300 metres, you go from the beach, across one of the best pieces of land for golf imaginable to heavy wet farmland where the last thing anyone would want to build is a golf course or play golf.

It was little wonder the early game gave us so many great, yet unconventional, holes.

Prestwick offered up ‘The Himalayas’ and ‘The Alps’, two wild and great blind holes. The Old Course has only two par-3s and two long holes but the par adds up to 72. Very often the chosen way at a St Andrews hole is to play down an adjoining fairway. The 11th hole plays directly over the 7th fairway and for those hoping to avoid ‘Hell Bunker’, the best line for the second shot on the long 14th is often down the 5th fairway. Only four greens, the 1st, 9th, 17th and 18th, are not shared with another. Golf is an inventive game when it has to be. To progress it will need to continue to invent and many answers are learned from courses built long ago.

The last par-5 at venerable Merion, the site of David Graham’s US Open win, comes at the 4th hole. At North Berwick’s 13th the approach is played across a stone wall to a green directly on the other side and two holes later, ‘The Redan’, is both blind and one of the most copied holes in the game.

Blind shots have not hurt Royal County Down's reputation at all. PHOTO: Getty Images.

By the time Alister MacKenzie was influencing and shaping the best championship courses in Australia the conventions were more settled but many forget Kingston Heath, for example, was a par 74 with six par-5s. Metropolitan had six par-5s as late as 1967. MacKenzie’s Royal Adelaide had only three short holes. The Lakes finishes with a par-3.

At some point golfers determined to dislike and criticise blind holes. Probably it coincided with the most popular form of the game switching from matchplay to card and pencil golf.

There has been a significant change to Australian golf since Jack Nicklaus redesigned The Australian in 1977.

Blindness was deemed ‘unfair’ and therefore unworthy yet Royal County Down, universally accepted as one of the best courses in the world, is littered with unseen targets.

For every convention there is a great course smashing it to pieces.

Cypress Point’s 15th and 16th holes are par-3s and if you wanted to mount the argument they are the two best short holes in the world it would be far from unreasonable. MacKenzie’s Pasatiempo finishes with a short hole and Royal Lytham starts with one. Royal Melbourne’s West Course may the best course in the world yet it doesn’t really have a par-5 on the back nine. Well, it does if you think 435 metres is still a par-5 but watching Adam Scott hit a 2 iron and a 9 iron to the 12th may dissuade you of that notion.

Tom Doak built consecutive par-3s to begin the back nine at Pacific Dunes and only two par-4s on the back nine yet the course ranks in the top-20 or 30 in the world.

You barely notice because, just like Merion not having a par-5 after the 4th hole, the quality of the architecture reaches such great heights.

So many golfers it seems judge a golf course by the quality of their own unique experience. They are swayed by ‘perfect’ conditioning, views of the ocean, the trees, the reputation of the club or just simply the nebulous ‘feel’ of the place. Maybe they played it late in the afternoon when the sun was setting and the perfect mix of light and shadow make everything right with the world. Maybe they simply play well or poorly and judge accordingly.

There has been a significant change to Australian golf since Jack Nicklaus redesigned The Australian in 1977.

North Berwick's blind shot to the 13th green beyond the wall. Fair or unfair? PHOTO: David Cannon/Getty Images.

It took a while but that huge change ushered in an era of alteration, both big and small, to golf courses all over the country. The 1980s was the beginning of a rush of new course construction and the best of those new courses have made for a noticeable change in the rankings of the country’s best layouts.

The two courses at Barnbougle, Cape Wickham and Ocean Dunes on King Island, St Andrews Beach, The Dunes, The Moonah Course at The National on the Mornington Peninsula and Kennedy Bay in Perth all elevated the merits of golf course architecture to the very top end of the rankings. More importantly, all except the Moonah Course are accessible to the public player. For the first time in Australia every golfer was able to access high quality architecture and not just members of the best dozen or so clubs in the country.

Access should, in theory, lead to more debate and more knowledge but still so often the first comment of many concerns the condition of the course and if the quality of the playing surfaces was the most important measure of the merits of a golf course.

Aside from the reality condition comes and goes golfers should be measuring the architectural quality of the holes when determining the merits, or demerits, of a course.

Did the holes ask interesting questions, ones likely to be enduringly interesting? Was the construction well done and, in the words of Alister MacKenzie, ‘indistinguishable from nature?’ Was the course fun? Did the routing make the most of the natural features of the site? Did it stimulate golfers to expand their repertoire of shots?

For golf to thrive it is the architecture of golf courses that needs to make the game fun and interesting.  

* Former touring pro MIKE CLAYTON has been writing for Golf Australia magazine for more than two decades. He is also part of the Ogilvy Clayton Cocking Mead (OCCM) design teamand you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelClayto15