In just a couple of weeks, the book will close on a fascinating decade in the history of golf course design, and one whose story begins in the previous one. The recession that took hold in the late 2000s drastically changed the golf course construction industry in the United States and, in many cases, globally. This decade will ultimately produce a fraction of the number of the courses the Oughts brought us.
While the drying-up of new work has put some architects out of business and caused others to rethink their business models, the result for golfers has been somewhat less dire. Since so few courses have opened in recent years, it has made almost every successful new opening feel like a significant event, especially since most golfers are aware that many more courses are closing than opening each year. The general shift away from new builds, plus the threat of closure hanging over courses that have traditionally sought just to maintain the status quo, has prompted a renovation and restoration movement that has provided work for many architects while raising the average quality of the golf courses available to not just private club members but the general public as well.
But this list is all about new golf courses, and these 24 new builds are representative of the decade soon to close:
Barnbougle Links (Lost Farm) - Bridport, Tasmania, Australia
Bill Coore’s first design venture Down Under compliments the earlier Barnbougle Dunes by Tom Doak and Mike Clayton and solidified the reputation of this low-key resort on Tasmania’s north coast. Lost Farm sports 20 holes (including two par-3 bye holes on the back nine) that wend their way through towering sand dunes. It wraps along the shore of the windswept Bass Strait separating this island state from mainland Australia.
Thracian Cliffs - Kavarna, Bulgaria
Gary Player’s most distinctive design threads its way over 210 acres of bluffs overlooking the Black Sea. There are a few heart-stopping moments on this resort course, though none more dramatic than at the par-3 sixth hole, 231 yards from the back tee, over the edge of doom down 95 feet to the green.
Yas Links - Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
World traveler Kyle Phillips' first Middle East venture is the first and only links layout in the United Arab Emirates. Yas Links occupies a sand-capped site that was a marshy, riverfront sand bar half way between downtown Abu Dhabi and the city’s international airport. It is widely regarded as being among the top 100 courses in the world.
Almouj Golf Club - Muscat, Oman
As new construction has slowed down in the United States, it has seemed to pick up in some farther-flung places. Take Oman, for example: this Middle East petro-state is starting to compete with the likes of the UAE and Qatar as a golf destination. Almouj, designed by Greg Norman, hosted the European Challenge Tour's final event starting in 2015, followed by a speedy promotion to the main European Tour schedule in 2018.
Bonifay Country Club - The Villages, Fla.
The Villages mega-complex continues to metastasize throughout central Florida, now covering parts of three counties and five zip codes that are home to more than 125,000 retirees and people over 55 years of age. Naturally, there are golf courses, 50 and counting, mostly designed by the firm of Clifton, Ezell and Clifton. Bonifay is one of a dozen Villages championship courses, now with 27 holes. With holes snaking between compact clusters of houses, manmade lagoons and landscapes car and golf cart boulevards, there's not much to distinguish it from hundreds of other Florida residential layouts, but evidently, the denizens don't mind as long as they can get a tee time.
Cabot Links - Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada
The first course at this resort opened up eyes to the possibilities of premier links-style golf on Cape Breton Island’s western shore. Rod Whitman, a proponent of the design/build trade for decades, has finally come into his own with these holes fronting the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In the process, a moribund town previously based upon fishing and coal mining has become a world-class golf destination.
Challenging entrenched notions of what golf in a particular state or region could be like is a theme of the recent era of course development and design, and Streamsong is a prime example. Its original two courses are laid out on otherworldly spent mining land, with pure sand as the medium and wide open spaces surrounding it for as far as the eye can see. For Florida-bound golfers, the prospect of playing somewhere subtropical but simultaneously almost Irish in look and spirit with designs by Tom Doak and Coore & Crenshaw (plus Gil Hanse, as of 2017) has proven irresistible.
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Preserve) - Bandon, Ore.
Bandon Dunes Resort owner/developer Mike Keiser never ceases to surprise – in this case, with a 13-hole par-3 layout by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw that perfectly compliments the resort’s other four 18-hole layouts. It’s walkable, fun and occupies ground between dunes and the Pacific Ocean with the resort’s most engaging landforms.
The Cliffs at Mountain Park - Marietta, S.C.
Here is a total anomaly from the rest of the Cliffs Communities: a standalone golf course, with lots of short grass and optional routes. Designer Gary Player and longtime associate Jeff Lawrence converted uplands of the Saluda River Valley into a walkable core routing devoid of homesites and filled with interest.
Gamble Sands - Brewster, Wash.
Between his career-launching work at Bandon Dunes and this site in central Washington, Scottish-born designer David McLay Kidd admitted that his work had gotten too penal. Gamble Sands sees him back in peak form, with a fun, playable and visually powerful fescue-laden public layout that sits atop a ridge overlooking the Columbia River.
Cape Wickham Links - King Island, Tasmania, Australia
Well, nominally Tasmania, but King Island is a pretty remote outpost of 1,600 residents in the middle of the Bass Strait south of Melbourne. You’ll need a tolerance for small airplanes, most of them charter, to get here, but the trip is worthwhile thanks to architect Mike DeVries’ stunning use of natural dunes on this public access layout along a wind-blasted coast.
Tara Iti Golf Club - Northland, New Zealand
This is Tom Doak’s second world-class course on the North Island of New Zealand; Cape Kidnappers was his first. But unlike that public property, Tara Iti is strictly private, though playable by outsiders on a one-time basis at a hefty fee. The 570-acre setting offers rolling sand dunes and long views out to the South Pacific, ideal for a links course that features wind, stunning vistas and firm, fast ground game.
Rockwind Community Links - Hobbs, N.M.
Take an underperforming municipal layout, repurpose it complete with imagination, improved soil conditions and low-irrigation plantings and you have what innovative golf architect Andy Staples champions as a "community links.” The first of these, in Hobbs, New Mexico, now serves as a thriving golf course, practice and learning center and (for non-golfers) a public park.
Rio Olympic Course - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Gil Hanse’s ascent into the top ranks of golf architects was solidified with his selection to build this showcase for international golf. It fulfilled its promise spectacularly during the Rio Olympiad but has been less successful in drawing play from city residents. That has more to do with national politics and economics than with the golf course, which was designed to require relatively minimal maintenance.
Bluejack National - Montgomery, Texas
Tiger Woods’ first U.S. course, with considerable help from his go-to design guy, Beau Welling, is a success. A generous land plan ensures homes are set back and not intruding upon the core golf course, which sports sparse bunkering a la Augusta National – only 38 in all – and vast expanses of short-grass roll-out behind the greens.
Tom Doak, always eager to break the mold, created the country’s first fully reversible resort golf course with this creative layout. More accurately, it's two of them, running in opposite directions over the same fairway corridors to meet up with greens in both directions. It’s a dizzying achievement, quite ingenious, and somehow it works on a property that’s a relaxed, golf-intensive resort.
Big Cedar Lodge (Mountain Top) - Ridgedale, Mo.
Short courses went from being an afterthought or gimmick to being decidedly on-trend in the 2010s, to the point where practically every national-scale golf resort now has one. Big Cedar Lodge actually has two - Jack Nicklaus' nine-hole Top of the Rock, which opened 20 years earlier, is the other - plus a fun putting course. Whereas Top of the Rock has a flashy, funhouse quality, the walking-only Mountain Top is more open in feel and softer in look. It also has the purest greens on the property and a cheeky complement of 13 holes.
Pinehurst Resort (The Cradle) - Pinehurst, N.C.
Acre-for-acre, this minuscule nine-hole, par-3 layout might be the best use of golf ground in the country, and certainly the most efficient, given the intimacy of the layout and availability of tee times to anyone who wants to walk on (without having to stay at the Pinehurst Resort). It sits right next to the resort’s famed clubhouse and features rock-em, sock-em greens with more contour than anyone would dare on a full-blown 18-hole tract. Small wonder it’s busy sunup to sundown.
Michlifen Golf & Country Club - Ifrane, Morocco
Here’s an alpine resort set in northwest Africa’s Atlas Mountains, a mile above sea level. Jack Nicklaus didn’t shy away from exposing golfers to the raw drama of the site, including closing holes on each nine draped over the edge of a 3,000-foot free fall.
Sand Valley Golf Resort (Mammoth Dunes) - Nekoosa, Wisc.
Resort developer extraordinaire Mike Keiser goes inland, and this appropriately named design by David McLay Kidd is more than a complement to the central Wisconsin retreat’s first course by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw. It’s arguably become the resort's main attraction, thanks to wild width off the tee and multiple paths to the putting surfaces.
Old Toccoa Farm - Mineral Bluff, Ga.
For much of their careers, architects Dave Axland and Dan Proctor have been active west of the Mississippi, often toiling in the shadows of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, for whom they've worked on several tracts. But their first East Coast commission, tucked into the northern Georgia Mountains, is a bold spiritual cousin to a course that shook up the golf world in the early 21st century: Mike Strantz's Tobacco Road in North Carolina. Old Toccoa Farm's two-character site of mountain tumble and riverside flats makes for a varied, constantly stimulating and fun golf experience with the right amount of subtle breathers in between wild thrill-ride holes.
FLC Quang Binh Beach & Golf Resort (Ocean Dunes) - Quang Binh, Vietnam
That sound you here is the golf boom taking place on the Vietnam coast, nowhere with more impact than on this 5,000-acre property 330 miles southeast of Hanoi. The design team of Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley, masters of the multi-course Asian development (e.g. Mission Hills in China), opened the Forest Dunes Course here in 2018 and followed a year later with the Ocean Dunes Course. With miles of coastline along the South China Sea and a thirst for tourist dollars, there’s sure to be more fine golf at Southeast Asia’s most aggressive development.