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For decades, the model for golf course aesthetics has been Augusta National Golf Club. The annual telecast of the Masters has shown a seemingly impossible range of shades of green on the grounds, from the pines to the greens to the fairways.

People are looking at golf courses differently and realize there is nothing wrong with 6,500 yards if it means 10 percent savings to build, a lot less to maintain and faster to play. Courses will look less green, less meticulous around the edges and a lot less soft.

Some golfers are already familiar with this type of fast-and-firm natural golf, which is the norm at overseas destinations like Scotland and Australia, and at a handful of American courses, like the courses at the Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon. But the vast majority of golfers, who have come to equate conditioning and visual stimulation with the quality of the golf experience, likely will find it difficult to accept this shift. But there is little to fear. There is plenty for golfers to embrace at the golf course of the future, especially if you consider the differences.

In the old model, you would hit a drive and get in your cart, which you have to keep on the path because the call for green turf is keeping it off the fairways. Then, upon reaching the approximate area of your shot, you would have to estimate the distance, grab three or four clubs and walk to the ball. Once arriving at it, you see that the ball is actually behind the mark created by your drive on the lush fairway. You lash at a hybrid, and the shot lands short and right of the green, into the rough. You then spend several minutes looking for it in the thick, over-maintained grass before chopping it out.

In the new model, your drive would bounce along the firm, minimally watered fairway, upon which you could drive your cart. The extra roll would leave an approach with a 6-iron instead of a hybrid. You then land your shot short. But instead of being swallowed by the rough, the ball bounces on the turf then rolls along the subtle slopes around and on the green, feeding toward the hole just as the architect intended.

Which type of golf would you prefer to play? The game thrived for 400 years on seemingly inferior attributes: firm, brown, natural. Ultimately, no matter how much we love to look at a rich color palette, our senses are dulled by man-made concoctions. We love golf because it's us versus nature - and the leaner the turf and more rugged the hazards, the more satisfying it is to overcome the obstacles they present.

Ironically, the course of the future resembles the classics of the past, which are less expensive to maintain. In 1922 A.W. Tillinghast built two courses on 280 acres for Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York. By contrast, the 18-hole Concession Golf Club in Sarasota, Florida, which opened in 2006, sits on a 520-acre site.

Ask any golfer which round would be more memorable, and the answer will be nearly unanimous. The reasons for choosing Winged Foot have little to do with how many sets of tees it has, how green the fairways are or whether the bunkers were hand-raked that morning.

Rather, Winged Foot's appeal is the design of the holes, which ask players to make risk-reward decisions and execute satisfying shots that are at the heart of the game. Sitting in the grill room after a round on the West course, players can reflect on whether they should have gone for the green on the short par-4 6th or how the tee shot on the par-3 10th was just a little too aggressive.

These core design principles will not go away in the course of the future. Architect Bruce Hepner of Renaissance Golf Design, a firm with a philosophy rooted in the past, spends a lot of time consulting at smaller-footprint courses, simplifying maintenance demands while accentuating the most satisfying design features. In short, he eliminates the "silly things that have everything to do with cost and nothing to do with what makes golf fun."

Hepner envisions a future with more courses like Renaissance's recent transformation of an old course for the Colorado Golf Association. Renamed CommonGround, the $4 million layout outside Denver has $40 green fees and has proven to be wildly popular, thanks to a combination of affordability and classic design elements inspired by Renaissance's love for ultra-simple Chicago Golf Club.

While the recent trend in the industry has been to build courses in increasingly far-flung locales, the success of CommonGround hopefully will start another movement: sprucing up existing courses near metropolitan areas to produce no-frills, low-cost layouts that are fun, in order to both attract new golfers and-more importantly-keep them in the game.

For a small investment, these easily accessible facilities can offer large rewards for a game in need of sustainable solutions. "We need to remember the kind of golf we all played as kids," says Hepner, "and how we learned the game through things like caddying or playing public courses. Just because it is not perfectly maintained doesn't mean you can't make good golf out of it. That's a mentality that has to change-and will."

Savvy golfers always enjoy playing a course designed by Jay Morrish or Tom Weiskopf, whether the course was designed by the duo as a team or by each individually.  One of the biggest reasons is that their layouts usually include their hallmark, the drivable par 4. The option-filled holes are fun to play for all levels of players.  Before and after their partnership, which ran from 1985 to 1999 and included 25 designs, Morrish and Weiskopf also have 40 other designs combined.

Routed around the eponymous creek, Rockwall, Texas with large greens is one of the best courses in the Dallas Metroplex. It is also one of the most challenging, which is why it has often hosted qualifying rounds for USGA championships. Westin La Cantera Resort in San Antonio is the former host site of the Valero Texas Open, this layout is not as easy as Tommy Armour III made it seem when he shot a PGA Tour record of 254 during the 2003 event.

You're gonna need a bigger boat for the following haul of the best public courses around the world designed by Greg Norman, the Great White Shark. While Norman was known for his aggressive playing style, the courses he has designed require a variety of approaches and occupy many different settings, from his tropical layouts like Mexico's Playa Mujeres to mountain gems like Red Sky Ranch in Colorado to pure links like Doonbeg in Ireland. But no matter where your Shark sighting takes place, Norman's courses will fill you with the same sense of excitement and exhilaration that he brought to the playing career in which he won 91 tournaments, including a pair of majors. TPC San Antonio, Texas (AT&T Oaks) is the Shark's newest layout, is the new home of the PGA Tour's Valero Texas Open and is also part of the new JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort.

The Players Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass, is Pete Dye’s best-known design, thanks in no small part to the Broadway-or-bust 17th hole, arguably the most famous in golf. The hole is such a landmark that people regularly stop by the pro shop just asking to ride out and look at it. Of course, they can play it as well, for a chance to deposit one or more of 120,000 balls that are retrieved from the pond every year. That Joe Golfer can play it is the best part of TPC Sawgrass. In fact, Dye has designed more great public layouts than any other top architect, enabling millions to enjoy his trademark design features like railroad ties and varied bunker styles.

His top public layouts show remarkable range, from the faux links at Whistling Straits to the desert gem at PGA West. But what they all have in common is an undeniable fun factor that allows players of all abilities to try to pull off as many heroic shots as they want. “Even the most stringent conservative may be a gambling maniac when it comes to golf,” Dye once said. “I want to make sure risky shots are presented as often as possible.” If you've never played a Dye course, what are you waiting for? Go play one of Dye's best, for a golf experience you'll never forget. Just remember to bring plenty of balls.

French Lick (Indiana) Resort, Dye's latest course, which opened in April, is his longest. His namesake layout at the refurbished resort in his home state of Indiana measures 8,102 yards, with room to stretch to 9,000 yards. Located on top of a ridgeline that offers 30-mile views, the course eases you into the round with an opening par 4 of 519 yards before offering four other par 4s of more than 500 yards and a 301-yar par 3.

Arnold Palmer brought golf to the masses, so it’s only fitting that the masses can play many of his best courses. The Arnold Palmer Invitational is held at Orlando’s Bay Hill, the course he is most associated with. Ironically, Bay Hill is not an original Palmer course (it was designed by Joe Lee), although he has put plenty of his own touches on the 7,267-yard layout to make it his own.

Part of the Grand View Resort (Nisswa), Deacon's Lodge takes advantage of the wild landscape of north central Minnesota's Brainerd Lakes vacation area. Named for Palmer's father, Deacon, the layout winds through and around 500 acres of lakes, wetlands and forests. The resort also has two other highly regarded 18-hole layouts as well as a fun nine-holer that was built in the 1930s.

Rees Jones is best known for his renovations of major championship courses—11 in all. But he also has produced scores of original designs. While these layouts may not have the high profiles of redesigns like Bethpage Black or Hazeltine National, they are no less challenging or fun to play. 

Ask anybody who has teed it up on the scenic Stoney Creek course at the Wintergreen Resort in Virginia, there is a good reason that Jones is the go-to guy for prepping major championship venues: He knows how to make a golf course tough but fair. After a good round on one of his courses, you’ll feel like you’re ready to play in a major.

While golf history is an important part of the Pinehurst (North Carolina) experience, visitors are making a mistake if they don't tee it up on the modern No. 7 layout, which dates to 1986 and offers more elevation changes than most of the other courses at the resort.

Nicklaus the designer started early, helping Pete Dye build Harbour Town Golf Links, which opened 40 years ago. Since then, Nicklaus' design firm has built 341 courses in 39 states and 34 countries. Many of his best courses, including Muirfield Village, are private. But he has designed a great many public layouts, from the Challenge at Manele in Hawaii to Punta Espada in the Dominican Republic.

Over the years, Nicklaus’ design philosophy has evolved. Early on, he built courses that reflected his game: Many of his courses favored shots like towering 2-iron approaches that few mortals could pull off. Now, Nicklaus has demonstrated a range of designs that make him not only one of the most prolific architects in the game, but also one of the best. So much so that the Golden Bear’s legacy may hinge as much on the 18-hole masterpieces he has left behind around the world as the 18 major championships he has won.

May River (Bluffton, South Carolina) perfectly captures the essence of the kinder, softer Nicklaus style that has emerged in recent years. Part of the Lowcountry community of Palmetto Bluff, the course features large natural waste areas bordering the wide fairways. The layout features a terrific mix of holes, no two of which are even remotely alike. But the best hole may be the 336-yard 7th. After a long iron or fairway wood off the tee, you're left with wedge approach to a narrow green surrounded by wetlands. It's the scariest short iron you'll ever hit.

Augusta National Golf Club is one of the most iconic sporting arenas in the world, on a par with Yankee Stadium, Wembley Stadium and Churchill Downs. A visit to this hallowed ground is near the top of every golfer’s bucket list. And the only experience better than attending the Masters is a coveted invite to play the course that was designed by Alister MacKenzie, with input from the club’s founder, Bobby Jones. Playing the course is the only way to appreciate the true genius of MacKenzie, who was a war surgeon before becoming one of the best architects in the game’s history.

A recent restoration by Tom Doak has returned Pasatiempo Golf Club, Santa Cruz, California icon to its former glory. While MacKenzie often left behind plans for others to implement at other courses, his role at Pasatiempo was very hands-on. He lived along the 6th fairway and made constant tweaks after it opened in 1929.

Geoff Shackelford. A Simpler Game. Links Magazine. Winter 2010.
Modern Classics. Links Magazine.

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