Sep 23, 1937
Hillingdon, Middlesex, England


Donald Maclennan Arklay Steel was born on the northwest outskirts of London in 1937. An accomplished sportsman, he went to Cambridge University where he excelled at golf and cricket. He continued playing both after graduating, was an accomplished amateur golfer and came through qualification to play in the 1970 Open Championship at St Andrews.

But he was even better at writing about golf and he worked as a golf correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph from 1961 until 1989. It was as a journalist that he was invited by Ken Cotton, a golf course architect, to visit two courses near the English/Welsh border. The visit made a huge impression on Steel, who became a good friend of Cotton's and subsequently was made a partner in the firm of Cotton, Pennink and Lawrie. All three were exceptional golfers and kind men who were happy to help their young protege.

As he neared the end of his journalistic career, Steel set up his own design company. He favored a natural and traditional look and believed that only as a last resort should the landscape be transformed to accommodate a golf course. "Good courses protect the environment, bad designs disfigure it," he wrote in a 1974 article.

He neatly summarized his philosophy in the following statement: "Golf course architecture is a creative endeavour. It should be the art of the possible. Making courses impossible is easy. Spectacular holes undoubtedly lift any course, but enjoyment is the watchword and golfers find little enjoyment in losing balls attempting long carries over water or in knee-high rough. Too much modern architecture is the slave to color, irrigation, power and the lob wedge. It conforms to a sterile formula that is a betrayal of the belief that there should be more than one way of approaching any shot."

Whereas in a player a vivid imagination can prove fatal, Steel maintained a course architect must possess this quality and combine it with a true understanding of how nature works in fashioning a hill, hollow or slope.

So what makes a good course?

"The main essential ... is that it should provide an interesting challenge and fair test for every class of player; and it should make the best possible use of the land.

"A good golf course, no more than good music or good drink, does not necessarily appeal the first time it is played."

Bunkers, Steel thought, should catch the good player's good shots that aren't quite good enough. If a good player doesn't worry about a bunker, then it's in the wrong place. And a hazard that catches the bad shot of a bad player is "not particularly desirable."

Steel was fond of trees and believed that tree-planting could be more effective than bunkering. "How many holes can you think of where one single tree can 'make' it?"

Steel has worked in no fewer than 25 countries. He also has the rare distinction of having advised every club or course on which the Open Championship is, or has been, played: Prestwick, Musselburgh, St. Andrews, Muirfield, Sandwich, Hoylake, Deal, Troon, Lytham & St Annes, Prince's, Carnoustie, Portrush, Birkdale and Turnberry.

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