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10th Commandment: Provide Abundant Beauty & Preserve Nature
Of all the things golf offers – camaraderie, friendly competition, exercise, etc. – one of its greatest assets is natural settings, which is one element that all golfers enjoy, regardless of ability.
While I'm always amazed just how oblivious those of "scorecard" mentality are to beauty, believing the numeral "3" on a scorecard to be the universe's most perfect creation, the best golf courses have abundant beauty – God, owner and site willing.
The most natural beauty is, well, natural beauty. Nature is better than man at creating beauty. Designing to preserve the best natural features makes sense. Golf course architects were doing this long before regulators made them do it!
The benefits include creating a "sense of place" and minimizing the cost to build – and maintain – the course. While courses have been built to look like Florida in the desert, or vice versa, the initial construction cost is higher and maintaining "faux desert" in areas prone to heavy weed growth costs more forever! While novelty courses attract play initially, courses that stand the test of time pass the "comfortable as a favorite sweater" test, usually by highlighting nature.
Preserving natural site characteristics creates a unique course, unlike other courses. Highlighting natural features in a controlled sequence enhances them. Golf course architects have an advantage here, as golf has a precisely controlled sequence, starting from controlled viewing points.*
However, golf courses, despite the eloquent prose of golf architects and writers to the contrary, are largely manmade. Clearly, architectural features make or break the course.
At two courses with good natural sites – Wild Wing Avocet and the Giant's Ridge Legend courses, the owners did a "favorite hole survey" as part of marketing. At both courses, I followed my commandment of preserving nature, in part by using more fairway and greenside bunkers in less wooded areas, and letting trees dominate on holes where they existed.
The 11th hole at Giant's Ridge is a favorite. It has North Woods water and trees – but golfers like the sculpted bunkers as much as anything.
What do you think were the results? "Survey says!"**
The favorite holes were from less beautiful areas, but with the most bunkering!
Golfers instinctively like the contrasts of manmade elements like white sand against green grass, shadows versus light, and water against land.
Therefore, I strive to make my manmade bunkers, etc., attractive first, and a replica of nature second! While these sometimes mean the same thing, to modern golfers accustomed to having nature "cleaned up" a little bit, a manicured look seems preferred, except where the site is so wild that some ruggedness fits in better.
* Think of an urban plaza, where people enter and leave from all directions, at all times of day. In golf, each hole starts from a controlled viewing point, and we arrange features to look good from that point.
** To my readers in 2050: While I am sure game shows will still exist in your era, perhaps with full nudity and on-air decapitations, this is a reference to a recent game show called "Family Feud," where the host compared the contestants' answers to those of an audience survey. And, while that show wasn't SPECIFICALLY about golf architects, I think a few did compete, or at least seemed to be perpetually auditioning for the show!