One of the most intriguing famous quotes about writing is attributed to T.S. Eliot:
"Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
Now, this is Golf Vacation Insider, not Poetry Insider, but nonetheless this quote seems to ring true of golf course architects and two related but distinct genres of golf courses that have sprung up in the last 25 years or so.
I'm talking, of course, about the replica golf course concept relative to its cousin, the "tribute course." Are these courses worth seeking out on your next golf vacation? Here are our thoughts.
First, there are "Replica Courses," such as...
- World Tour Golf Links - Myrtle Beach, S.C.
- Renditions Golf Club - Davidsonville, Md.
- Donald Ross Memorial at Boyne Highlands Resort - Harbor Springs, Mich.
The concept of golf courses that comprise 18 copies of famous golf holes throughout the world arose, no doubt, as a solution for the frustration shared by many golfers at being unable to play these famous holes because they were either located at exclusive private clubs, or the resort or public courses where they lived were too far away, too expensive, or both.
"Play Augusta National's Amen Corner, TPC Sawgrass' Island Green, Troon's Postage Stamp all in one place!" is an alluring tagline. But is it one you should fall for?
Probably not, for the most part. The main problem with straight-up replica courses is that they tend to feel disjointed, with many holes feeling totally out-of-place. In the case of World Tour in Myrtle Beach, the "Open Nine" begins and ends with replicas of the iconic first and 18th at The Old Course. Whereas the fescue turf of Scotland permits all kinds of interesting bounces, World Tour's site some five miles inland from the beach is, shall we say, a little mushy. The holes may look kind of similar, but they don't play anything like the originals.
Another pitfall of replica courses is that over time, their holes resemble the originals less and less, largely due to maintenance concerns.
Above, on the left, is a satellite image of the 14th hole at Tour 18 - Houston, which claims to be a copy of the third hole at Oakmont Country Club (right). Not exactly, and while the Tour 18 hole is fine in its own right, but the differences in the shape and size of the greens and the number and positioning of the bunkers make it a very different test than the one it seeks to replicate.
This is not to say that all replica courses are bad, period. Indeed, the Donald Ross Memorial Course at Boyne Highlands Resort is strong in its own right, and we also like Bear's Best Las Vegas. Perhaps it's no coincidence that these better replica courses come from one architect's work, and therefore flow much better than others do.
Then, there are "Tribute Courses," such as...
- Legends Golf Resort (Heathland Course) - Myrtle Beach, S.C.
- Old American Golf Club - The Colony, Texas
- Architects Golf Club - Lopatcong, N.J.
- The Greenbrier (Old White Course) - White Sulphur Springs, W.V.
- Bandon Dunes Resort (Old Macdonald) - Bandon, Ore.
Tribute courses tend to be a lot more subtle in their conceptions, and can take a few different, interesting forms. Many of them seek to capture a certain general style or hint at the courses of a faraway region. This is the case with the first two courses listed above. At Legends, Tom Doak sought to remind players of the great courses of the British Isles, particularly the lesser-known links and inland layouts. Huge undulating greens, great variety among the holes and bold bunkering make the course a joy to play.
Similarly, Old American is Tripp Davis and Justin Leonard's homage to Golden Age of American course design. For more, check out our blurb on it from last week.
Whereas a number of replica courses feel gimmicky to us, we enjoy the novelty of Architects Golf Club, where designer Stephen Kay crafted each hole as an homage to a different classic golf course architect. Figures like Old Tom Morris, Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones inspired the course, and each hole features a plaque with a brief description of the architect's philosophy and career, making the course a positive educational experience and a playing one. Our favorite holes are the par threes on the front, which take after Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor, respectively.
Speaking of those two influential designers, They may have been the original "tribute course" artists. Macdonald's seminal design, the National Golf Links of America, represents his own interpretation of great British Isles holes he had seen in his travels. There, he employed numerous templates which he would adapt for use at other courses. Raynor, his protégé, did this as well. The Greenbrier's Old White TPC is one of these examples and, unlike many of these courses, is accessible to the public. It is home to one of our favorite Redan holes, a long par three with a green that slopes from right to left, with deep bunkering short.
At Bandon, Tom Doak engaged in another level of interpretation with his Old Macdonald. Once again, the full range of template holes is on display, with particular emphasis on the width and playability that are hallmarks of both designers' philosophies.