15 Great Golf Course Architects You've Never Heard Of

15 Great Golf Course Architects You've Never Heard Of

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Get to know golf course architect Mike DeVries

Donald Ross. A.W. Tillinghast. C.B. Macdonald. Seth Raynor.

Robert Trent Jones. Pete Dye. Tom Fazio. Arnold Palmer. Jack Nicklaus. Tom Doak. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Gil Hanse.

These are the luminaries of golf course architecture. If you keep a list of your favorite golf courses, chances are most of them will have been designed by one of the names above.

But if you truly care about getting an education in golf course architecture, these are far from the only names you need to be aware of.

Given the cachet associated with the biggest names, it can be easy to overlook certain courses by architects whom you've never heard of, but in many cases, this would be a mistake.

Those name-brand architects are often active across the country, while the work of the ones you may not have heard of tends to stay mostly in one region. This is not universally the case, as you'll see with our list, but if you are planning a trip to a new-to-you destination and balk at certain course designer names, you may end up missing out on some great courses.

So, here are some names whose work you should seek out in addition to the "big boys."

Mike Strantz

Sadly, Strantz only enjoyed about a decade-long career, from his first solo design, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in Pawleys Island, S.C., in 1994, to his death in 2005. But his output was of amazing quality, and every single one of his courses is memorable. His Tobacco Road Golf Club, near Pinehurst, truly must be seen to be believed.

Other notable work: Tot Hill Farm - Asheboro, N.C.; True Blue Golf Club - Pawleys Island, S.C.; Royal New Kent Golf Club - Providence Forge (near Williamsburg), Va.; Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club (private; renovation) - Pebble Beach, Calif.

Todd Eckenrode

With Tom Doak, Coore and Crenshaw and Gil Hanse earning recent acclaim for their minimalistic and rustic aesthetics, Eckenrode and his Origins Golf Design firm may be the next to join that pantheon. His highest-ranked course to date is the terrific Barona Creek Golf Club east of San Diego, and his Country Club of the Golden Nugget in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which opened last year, has received rave reviews as well.

Other notable work: Links at Terranea (9-hole par-3 course) - Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.; Quail Lodge Golf Club (renovation) - Carmel, Calif.

Paul Albanese & Chris Lutzke

Albanese & Lutzke have been most active in the Midwest, gaining recent notoriety for their designs at a couple of that region's casino resorts: Sweetgrass Golf Club in Harris, Michigan; and Tatanka Golf Club in Niobrara, Nebraska.

Other notable work: Mill Creek Golf Club - Rochester, N.Y.; Eagle Eye Golf Club - Lansing, Mich.; Timberstone Golf Course - Iron Mountain, Mich.

Jim Engh

In terms of visual drama and a tendency to stray from the ordinary, Jim Engh's design style is the closest to Mike Strantz's as any living architect. He described himself "not as a golf course architect, but as an endorphin salesman." His courses tend to have aggressive slopes and mounds on and around the greens, as well as his trademark "muscle bunkers," which have their own unique look. He has been most active out in the midwest and West, with the Golf Club at Redlands Mesa in Grand Junction, Colorado and Tullymore Golf Club in Stanwood, Michigan being two of his best-known public layouts. We like when golf course architects push the envelope, and Engh is a master at doing just that.

Other notable work: The Sanctuary (private) - Sedalia, Colo.; The Creek Club at Reynolds Lake Oconee (private) - Greensboro, Ga.; Fossil Trace Golf Club - Golden, Colo.; Awarii Dunes - Kearney, Neb.; Hawktree Golf Club - Bismarck, N.D.

Lee Schmidt & Brian Curley

Schmidt and Curley might be the most prolific golf course architects you've never heard of, as they have built dozens of golf courses around the world. In fact, the greatest concentration of their work can be found in China - at its two massive Mission Hills complexes, in particular. But they have been active in the Western Hemisphere as well, having worked with Pete Dye on his designs at Casa De Campo, Kiawah Island and PGA WEST, and with Jack Nicklaus at some of his own designs in Asia. Their own output in the United States is impressive as well - Marriott's Desert Ridge in Scottsdale, Arizona; Marriott's Shadow Ridge in Palm Springs, California; and Ak-Chin Southern Dunes in Phoenix, Arizona among them.

Other notable work: Rancho Bernardo Inn (renovation) - San Diego, Calif.; Bali Hai Golf Club - Las Vegas, Nev.; Stoneforest International Golf Club (three courses) - Kunming, China

Lester George

George is perhaps best known for two private golf club designs in Virginia - the outstanding Kinloch Golf Club in suburban Richmond, and the wild, wonderful Ballyhack Golf Club in Roanoke. But his public designs and redesigns are what earn him a place on this list. His original course at Rock Manor in Wilmington, Delaware is known as one of the First State's best courses, his restoration of C.B. Macdonald's famed Old White TPC at the Greenbrier is phenomenal and fun, and he recently breathed new life into Independence Golf Club in Midlothian, Virginia, taking a Tom Fazio design that tended to brutally punish less-skilled players and make it into a more enjoyable test for all.

Other notable work: Providence Golf Club - Richmond, Va.; Country Club of Florida (private; renovation) - Village of Golf, Fla.; The First Tee of Chesterfield - Chesterfield, Va.

Tim Liddy

Liddy has long been one of Pete Dye's most trusted associates, having served as the construction manager and lead architect on many of Dye's best original courses and redesigns, including Bulle Rock in Maryland, Heron Point at Sea Pines Resort in South Carolina and the River Course at Kingsmill Resort in Virginia. But Liddy has his own standalone design firm as well, and has generated some excellent courses in his own right: the Trophy Club in Lebanon, Indiana; Rock Hollow Golf Club in Peru, Indiana; and redesigns of the Duke's Course at St. Andrews in Scotland and Princess Anne Country Club in Virginia Beach, Virginia

Other notable work: Wintonbury Hills Golf Course (with Pete Dye) - Bloomfield, Conn.; Big Fish Golf Club (with Pete Dye) - Hayward, Wisc.; Caesarea Golf Club - Caesarea, Israel

JMP Golf Design

As part of the JMP Golf Design group, Bob Moore and his associates Brian Costello and Mark Hollinger have flown under the radar somewhat, but their courses tend to strike a nice balance of quality and affordability. We mentioned Cutter Creek in North Carolina a few weeks ago as such a course. Other JMP designs you should be aware of include Gainey Ranch Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona; Callippe Preserve in Pleasanton, California; and Whiskey Creek Golf Club in Maryland, in collaboration with Ernie Els.

Other notable work: Golf Club at Chapel Ridge (with Fred Couples) - Pittsboro, N.C.; North River Golf Club - Beaufort, N.C.; Santa Lucia Preserve (private; with Tom Fazio) - Carmel, Calif.; Beijing Golf Club - Beijing, China; Manila Golf Club (renovation) - Manila, Philippines

Mike DeVries

DeVries joins Todd Eckenrode on this list as "Architects Most Likely To Become Household Names Soon." His Greywalls course in Michigan's Upper Peninsula has been known for a while, and his design at the private Kingsley Club in Traverse City has come to be known as the centerpiece of one of the best national golf clubs in the U.S., but it's his course at Cape Wickham on the remote King Island off Tasmania, Australia that will likely vault him up alongside the likes of Doak, Hanse and Coore & Crenshaw. With spellbinding ocean scenery and cliff-hanging holes, Cape Wickham occupies one of the most spectacular pieces of land for golf in the world, and has been ranked the 24th best course in the world by Golf Digest in just its first year of operation.

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Spectacular Cape Wickham in Australia

Other notable work: Mines Golf Course - Grand Rapids, Mich.; Pilgrim's Run Golf Club - Pierson, Mich.; Diamond Springs Golf Club - Hamilton, Mich.; Meadow Club (private; renovation) - Fairfax, Calif.

Tad King & Rob Collins

Does the King-Collins Design team deserve a spot on this list even though they have only designed one new nine-hole layout and renovated two holes on a second course? Given the high praise their Sweetens Cove Golf Club outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee has garnered - people are throwing the phrase "best nine-hole course in the country" around liberally - we have to believe that this duo will be getting more chances to apply their rustic aesthetic to existing courses and perhaps a new tract or two in the near future.

Other notable work: none (yet)

Who are your favorite less-heralded golf course architects? Leave us a comment below!

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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There is an architect well worth noting his work is mostly in Michigan, also was President of the American Society of golf course Architects. Jerry Matthews. His firm designed around 100 course in Michigan and 150 remodels, Also some in Virginia, Indiana and Alaska

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You forgot the late great Geoffrey S Cornish and his partner in design for 19 years William G. Robinson, and his brother John F Robinson - Golf Course Design. Together over we've done 400 new designs and renovations. We began the concept Long Range Planning and Contour Mowing to reduce maintenance.

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There are a lot of great golf course architects but my favorite is Spencer Holt, based out of Louisville

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Reading these comments is laughable. First, the list is for architects you've never heard of.
Second, the readers are suggesting architects who maybe did 1 good course. I vomited in my mouth when I read Ed Ault and Roger Rulewich. Neither have any courses listed on Golf Magazine or Golf Digest Top 100. A lifetime of mediocrity.

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Better check your facts- Roger Rulewich has quite a few highly ranked designs both with RTJ and solo

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I would second the motion of Kyle Phillips. His work at Kingsbarn is marvelous and he keeps turning out great courses around the world.

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Gordon Lewis, though I'm a bit prejudice, he's my brother. He's done 45 plus courses, most in SW Florida.

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I would nominate Andy Raugust. His Deer Ridge design in Central California is my favorite golf course of all that I've played, which includes the Pebble Beach courses, Pasatiempo, etc.

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Played a number of the above courses and have some of the others on my bucket list. The older I've gotten the more I appreciate the courses as much as the game. I know I'm not alone.

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Brandon Johnson did a great job at Old Tabby, making it more scenic as well as more interesting to play. The greens have terrific character and the bunkers play a strategic as well as an aesthetic role.

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Herbert Strong --Saucon Valley, Woodholme Country Club, Engineers Club

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15 Great Golf Course Architects You've Never Heard Of