Pebble Beach – Lexus Champions for Charity-22

Why Golfers Are Getting Too Pretentious When it Comes to Course Design

As some of you know, each year I post my annual Top 100 course list. We’ll be doing this year’s sometime next month, and as I’ve been starting to prepare for it – I was reminded of a bunch of negative comments I’ve received over the past couple of years of publishing it.

The comments aren’t totally unexpected, but it’s brought up a few issues that I don’t feel get talked about enough in the world of golf these days, so here we are.

First and foremost, here is the thing I love about golf course design: it’s all subjective.

Every course is unique in it’s own way. In terms of landscape, maintenance, design attributes, climate, length – there are all sorts of variables that go into a golf course.

There are certain traits that architecturally speaking can make a course “good”. Things like:

  • Holes that give you multiple options for how to play them
  • Variety in style and length of pars 3, 4s, and 5s
  • A routing that constantly changes direction
  • Green complexes that are memorable, and demand a thoughtful approach

This list could go on forever.

But all of those traits are just one aspect of what help you decide if you like a course or not.

There are so many other factors that go into whether you personally like a course:

  • Does a course feature the type of holes you like?
  • Is the course scenic and does that add to the experience?
  • Is it in a geographic area you like (desert, ocean, forest etc.)
  • Did you actually have fun playing the course?

It’s also important to remember your favorite course is not necessarily indicative of what you think the best course is.

The Old Course at St. Andrews at Sunrise.

The Old Course at St. Andrews at Sunrise.

For some of the design purists and students out there, the design elements may be the only things that matter. Take St. Andrews for example. Considered by many to be the absolute best golf course in the world. It’s got history, strategy, plays differently everyday depending on wind – the list of positive attributes is nearly limitless.

It’s also flat, not incredibly scenic, and some of the holes blend together.

A plus handicap, someone well versed in all of these architectural elements, or even someone on a bucket list, once in a lifetime trip probably won’t care about any of those last points: they’ll love the course – and for good reason!

But to someone who isn’t as astute, or has different values, they might prefer a course like Tobacco Road, which is over the top, gimmicky at times, and scoffed at by many people in the architecture community (although I feel like there’s been a resurgence of love for the course lately).

The 9th hole at Tobacco Road

The 9th hole at Tobacco Road

Put 10 random golfers in a vacuum. Assume they know nothing about either of those courses or their history. Have them play both courses? Do you think all 10 would choose The Old Course? Personally, I’d guess not.

Because we all have different opinions and things we enjoy on a golf course.

There is No Right and Wrong

First off, I don’t believe anyone is ever right or wrong when it comes to golf courses they like or don’t like. You’ll never hear me chastise someone for liking one course or not liking another. I might disagree with their opinion, but I’d never tell them their opinion is wrong.

If you’ve read my rankings post, you know the primary thing I look for in a course is fun. 

That means different things to different people. But the whole reason I play golf is because I enjoy it.

Choosing your favorites or making a top list isn’t a science. The large publications get as close as they can to making it one, and I always enjoy reading those lists, but when you’re doing one on your own, you basically go down the list and say “did I like this course more, or this course more.”

This leads to things that might contradict each other. For instance, if I ranked St. Andrews at #52, then why is North Berwick a course that has many similar characteristics in my top 10?

North Berwick is one of the most historic golf courses in Scotland, and one of the top 100 in the world.

The 16th at North Berwick is probably my favorite green complex in the world.

My answer? It doesn’t matter, I simply enjoyed North Berwick more! Sure I can give you some reasons why it might be (par 3s more memorable, more fun tee shots, increased quirkiness, better use of elevation, my favorite green in the world).

But in the end it’s simply my opinion.

Have you ever done a blind taste test with wine?

Maybe you have a $100 bottle and a $10 bottle. Every time I’ve done something like this, there are always people in the group who prefer the cheaper bottle.

Would you ever berate the person who didn’t like the more expensive bottle? Of course not, you’d say “thats great, now go buy a case of the cheap stuff!”

Why would it be any different with golf?

I like Dormie Club (a young mass produced Cab) more than Pinehurst #2 (a vintage Bordeaux) – it’s the same situation as the wine analogy above.

Dormie Club Hole 3

The short par 4, 3rd hole at Dormie Club

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to play a lot of different golf courses. But the fact remains, I’m not an architecture expert. Sure I probably know more than the average golfer, but when you really start getting into the subtleties, much of it is over my head.

Considering I know there are people out there who are much more knowledgeable than I, I’d rather leave much of the education to them – preferring on this site to simply share stories, commentary, and some pretty photos.

Not to mention the fact, that personally, I don’t view courses in a vacuum. It’s not just about the course and design. The scenery, setting, location, clubhouse… all of those things factor into my experience and help me choose my favorites

Historically Golf is Pretentious. But This is Getting Ridiculous…

In one of the comments I’ve received, someone who I respect in the golf world said:

“…It emphasizes what I have long believed that you are more interested in checking courses off your personal list than using your platform to educate and inform golfers of what makes a course great and enjoyable for all.”

First off, it always hurts a little to hear someone whose work you respect say things like that, and unfortunately I’m sure this post won’t help that.

While I addressed most of the points brought up here above, there are two things this makes me want to address.

First, “I’m interested in checking courses off my personal list.”

The whole reason I started this site was to document my journey of playing golf courses! That’s it! I was traveling a lot, starting to play some interesting places, and I wanted to be able to share my thoughts and maybe some cool photos in the process.

Is that selfish? Perhaps a little bit. But that’s what this site has been about since its inception…and elements of that are still there, despite the site and brand evolving over the years.

What has changed, however, is the way the site has been able to bring hundreds of golfers together, foster countless personal friendships, and open up golf opportunities for people who might not have had them otherwise. So for those reasons, I don’t feel bad about not properly “educating” my audience.

I also don’t think I need to “inform golfers about what makes a course enjoyable.” If you play an enjoyable course, you’ll know it. 

You’ll feel it.

The last thing I’m trying to do is dictate to anyone what course should be enjoyable to them, and as I mentioned above, I prefer to make my site about the photos, stories, and commentary – while leaving the education to the people who have studied it in far more depth than me.

And secondly, I think comments like this are worrisome in the world of golf.

In the last 5 years there’s been a resurgence in the interest of the history of golf. Specifically when it comes to the architectural side of things. We’ve seen golf brands adopting cues from the Golden Age, as well as other influencers in the social media and blog space as well.

I think this is awesome for the game of golf. As more people understand the history of the game, and get a cursory understanding of the design elements that can make a course good or bad, I think we’ll see a lot more people enjoying the sport.

It’s certainly added to my personal enjoyment as I’ve learned more about it.

As part of this resurgence, it’s also become cool to show off your knowledge of Macdonald, Raynor or Tillinghast. It’s on trend to drop comments about your favorite Redan, or argue about the best Biarritz.

NGLA

And God forbid, if you ever admit to liking a Nicklaus design from the 80s or 90s, you’re practically burned at the stake.

The vast majority of my experience since becoming part of the golf community has been so overwhelmingly positive. I’ve met some of the most generous people in the world. I’ve built friendships I could have never anticipated. I’ve traveled to places I never imagined I’d go.

love the golf community and the people I’ve met.

But lately, I’ve also noticed it’s on trend to belittle or diminish others because their opinions are different, their breadth of knowledge is more limited, or frankly they just like different things than what the cool kids think they should like.

It’s kind of like the hipster kid that listens to nothing but obscure indie rock, shitting on the dude who listens to Taylor Swift.

For as great as it is to see people embracing the history of the game – don’t do so at the expense of others who either don’t know, don’t care, or simply just want to enjoy the game we all love without any of the cliquy BS that can be so prevalent in the golf world.

I’m fully aware that I’ve rubbed some people the wrong way with what I’ve done here at Breaking Eighty and the Eighty Club. (although I still haven’t totally figured out why…). I’m sure this post won’t help that.

But the bottom line is my whole goal here is to provide helpful reviews, pretty photos, interesting commentary, and help people connect with other likeminded golfers, while hopefully playing as many fun golf courses as possible.

If that bothers you, then fortunately there are plenty of other golf sites and resources for you to check out.

But as soon as you start criticizing anyone for not seeing the world the exact same way you do, that’s when it all starts to go down hill.

We all love golf for different reasons. We love different courses, different holes, different balls, different clubs, different architects – and that’s what makes this sport so great.

So let’s start celebrating the differences of opinion, rather than lambasting them.

Sound good? Good.




There are 9 comments

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  1. Daniel Harry

    Preach!

    I stumbled onto Tetherow last year and absolutely loved it…yet anytime I mentioned it to another golfer, all I got was “ughhh that place he built in the middle of his divorce?”

    I love that it’s difficult and that I can hit the same exact shot on back to back days and have the ball be 50 yards different. I love the land, the green complexes (as tough as they are), and that it’s not another american parkland course. I love everything about it and I don’t care that no one else does, so I take trips here by myself and just play with the members like I did yesterday. It’s about enjoying the day and if you don’t enjoy Tetherow, that’s totally fine. I’ll be here with the people that do and we can play somewhere else another day. It truly can be as simple as that right Sean?

    Great post.

    • Sean Ogle

      Thanks for this Daniel! And this is a GREAT example. Personally? I love Tetherow. I think it’s straight up FUN golf. Sure there might be some brutal greens, but it makes for something unique and different.

      And it’s funny how simple it should be…

  2. Jerry Brown

    Sean, I think today’s “social media” has contributed to people’s tendency toward ‘pretentiousness’ and ‘criticism’ – because of how social media encourages participation BUT there is no immediate personal accountability as there is when we participate in human, person-to-person communication. If we don’t stay aware – when we’re on social media OR in person-to-person communication – we can have a tendency to project our personal issues w/o immediate accountability. I ‘hear’ your willingness to ‘go against the grain’ and rub a few people the wrong way, but I ‘hear’ awareness in your communication so as not to ‘pontificate’ or ‘project’ the “I’m right and your wrong” issue. I ‘hear’ your purpose of “what do you think, I’d like to hear from you.” ……..As you said, “it’s funny how simple it should be…”

    Speaking of how simple it should be, and having the willingness to go against the grain or anything “traditional”, would you like to review my recently published book, “Awaken Your Inner Golfer: Finding Your Flow?” You might find some of the Instinctive Golf Blogs on my website of interest. http://www.keepitsimplegolf.com

    • Sean Ogle

      Thanks for the thoughts, Jerry! I 100% agree that social media is a big part of this. On the one hand, I can’t deny that it’s because of social media that I’ve been afforded so many of the opportunities that I’ve had in the world of golf. And for all the positives it’s brought, it certainly isn’t without it’s downsides. We’ve lost a lot of the mystique of certain places, and it allows everyone a much easier venue to be a critic with no accountability – like you said.

  3. Tony

    For me, as important as the course itself is the welcome (or otherwise) received on arrival. Add to that, breakfast, locker room and practice facilities. Golf is way more enjoyable when the staff who run the course, care aboout visitor experience.

    I’ve played a UK course where our booked four ball was bumped till the members had all teed off. The fact that we were catching a flight after our round was explained but ignored. The course was ok, but the experience was tarnished.

    Favourite course played this year has to be Las Colinas in Southern Spain. Excellent golf and superb facilities.

  4. ReGripped

    When I got back into golf a few years ago after a long layoff, I was surprised at the elitism (a cousin of pretension) running through the game that I didn’t remember as a younger adult. When did so many people turn into Judge Smails, isn’t he the villain in that story?

    I think this elitist mentality often shows itself in golf course rankings where half of almost any list are private courses that will never be accessible by 99% of the golfing public. Does the gated nature bump them up in rankings and is that a valid reason to do so? If only a few people play Augusta, does that elevate it above top tier public tracks?

    I think “fun” that you hit upon in your piece needs to be much more of a weighted factor, at least compared to the pedigree or the gilded nature of a place. For example, there are more than a few people say that Seminole is all clubhouse and no course but how do we know when only a few play it? Half the reviews I read about Pine Valley is about how hard it is, should that factor in why its Top 10? For me I would rather play a fun course than a hard course any day.

    That being said there is no one answer to this. 10 golfers will play Sand Valley and half will like Mammoth and half will like SV and so the golf world turns.

  5. Jim D

    For me a big part of enjoying a course is influenced by how I played. Finally got to play Diamanté Dunes this week. I played terrible and therefore it wasn’t a great track. Came back today and was 19 strokes better. Funny how much I noticed the beauty and strategy. Now it is in my top 10, two days ago it wouldn’t make my top 40.

  6. Marc duncan

    Sean, you are spot on with your comments. It’s all about personal perception on what makes people’s top golf courses. It includes so much things from how you play, weather, history of the course, what you have read about the course, to the company on the course and that’s before you look at the architecture. Coming from the north east of Scotland playing rugged links courses and now living and playing all over the USA I have enjoyed so many different styles of golf course, from the pristine manicured target golf to the blended Sandhills at pinehurst they all have their own character. My personal favorite is the ocean course at kiawah, not just for the dye design and solidarity of the course but the whole adventure of playing there and taking in the beers in Charleston!


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