Hendersonville, North Carolina-based Tom Marzolf is a past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects who studied landscape architecture, art, and art history at Virginia Tech University. Marzolf is senior design associate with Fazio Golf Course Designers, Inc. Among the notable layouts Marzolf has designed with Fazio are the Ritz Carlton Members Course in Sarasota, Florida; The Greenbrier Sporting Club’s Snead Course in White Sulphur Springs, Virginia; the Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course in Atlanta, Georgia; the Green Monkey Course in Barbados;and Corales Golf Club in the Dominican Republic. Marzolf has also been a consulting architect for a number of golf tournaments, including the 2009 and 2010 U.S. Women’s Open, the 2006 and 2007 U.S. Opens; the 2002 U.S. Senior Open; the 2003, 2004, and 2005 U.S. Amateurs; and the 1997 and 2003 PGA Championships.
The most important aspect of golf course design is strategy. Playing golf is “placing” your ball so that you are always in the best position to play your next shot. Good players review the shot options by first studying the green. They consider the angle of the green’s position, its shape, the hole location, and best route of attack in order to plot their course backward from the green. They always aim for a spot that best allows for success on the next shot. In this regard, golf is very similar to a game of billiards, or a game of chess. Golf, at its best, is a thinking game. The smart player is rewarded for thinking, and the non-thinking player is penalized.
The golf architect creates the playing field for the sport. The best courses make players think and hold their interest longer. The element of strategy is designed into a good golf course by a skilled golf architect. Only the best strategic courses are among the top ten courses in the United States because strategy has lasting value. Without it, the game is reduced to a walk in the park. There is nothing wrong with a walk-in-the-park, average course with little strategic emphasis. A course like that may be fun and user-friendly. However, this type of course will never be considered great and could never serve as the course for a major championship. Life is short, and with my work, I have focused on trying to build courses of lasting value, which means that strategy must be included.
The second most important aspect is beauty.
The golf architect puts a golf hole together with the same elements of composition an artist uses to paint a picture. How the human brain breaks down a picture dictates the rules of composition. The design process includes the desire to create interest through beauty.
The average golfer may not understand strategy, but the average golfer will recognize beauty. A beautiful course will have value.
The best golf architects have a skill to combine beauty and strategy. This is a winning combination, and is the key to a successful career in golf course design. Without this skill, your work will be weak and soon forgotten. The average golfer demands beauty, and the game’s best players strive to be tested. Strategy creates the lasting challenge, which few can master.