What Makes a Good Golf Course?


We are avid golfers and have been traveling this winter playing different courses. Some courses we enjoy and others are not much fun to play.

We read your column regularly and wondered what your thoughts were on what makes a good golf course?

Bob and Diane, MA


Bob and Diane,

We appreciate your loyal following and hope that we have been able to help you enjoy your game through some of our Putting Tips and Q&A’s.

First off, we have to understand why we play the game of golf.

I believe that the attraction of the game of golf over the last 500 plus years is not in the trappings but in the fact that it allows us to satisfy a subconscious urge to evaluate ourselves.

There are some wonderful by-products such as playing with our friends, getting exercise and being outdoors in a wonderful environment etc. These by-products are available elsewhere but we choose to attach them to the very personal challenge that golf presents.

In light of the above, I believe a good golf course is one which is memorable, is an appropriate challenge and while coming up the 18th fairway you wish that you could play another 9 holes rather than breathing a sigh of relief that it is all over after 5 hours.

Please share your comments with us below: what do you believe makes a good golf course?


26 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Golf Course?

  1. It seems to me that what constitutes a good golf course is very much in the eye–and the age– of the bveholder..
    What I considered a good course years ago is a very different layout than what I enjoy going nine holes on today at the age of 95.
    That’s just one of the things that makes golf such a great game.

  2. Affordable, something under $40 a round, consistent greens throughout the course, challenging without a lot of rough, walkable or rideable in 3 1/2 hours or less. I’d pay a ten dollar premium if I were guaranteed a pace of play of three and a half hours.

  3. My favorites tend to be the older, more classic designs; often referred to as “out and back” courses. I grew up in PA and love the older courses there. My current club in my new home in WILLIAMSBURG, VA has two totally different designs, both challenging, scenic and never the same. The newer course has some tricked up holes that can ruin a scorecard on a given day, not always a good design scheme

  4. My criteria for a good course:

    1. You must use every club in the bag or almost every club at least once.
    2. Require some left-to-right and some right-to-left shots to capitalize on a tee shot.
    3. Provide a fair level of risk-reward on about 4 to 8 holes.
    4. About 6 easy, 6 medium and 6 hard pin positions daily.
    5. No blind hazards without signs telling you where they are.
    6. Bunkers must have enough sand that you don’t dig into dirt, must be firm enough to avoid numerous plugged lies and soft enough that a SW won’t bounce off a hard crust causing skulls.
    7. Greens that are firm but will hold a full wedge with less than 5 feet of roll.
    8. Green speeds appropriate for the severity of slopes and tiers. You should be able to stop a putt hole-high from front, back, left or right.
    9. Green speeds that are consistent on all holes and never less than 8 on a Stimp meter.
    10. Greens that are smooth enough that if you roll 10 balls down a fixed trough, you should be able to sink 7 out of 10 ‘putts’ when you aim the trough properly and release the balls from the proper height.
    11. Provide multiple tees to allow players of all length and ability to select a set of tees that allows them to play 18 holes in less than 4 hours 15 minutes.

  5. Highly rated courses (high slope) are often too difficult for the average player to enjoy or play well. Indeed, as a 4 handicapper at age 66, I am similarly tested on this type of course. I should have “all of the shots” for a hard layout for someone of my caliber and experience, yet, at the end of the round I usually feel like I don’t want to come back. Give me the older style “public” layout where I learned to play on 50 years ago. This means that many of the newer courses are being built for scratch players and pros. From an economic perspective, these newer course ventures would be more profitable if they weren’t so punitive.

  6. I play an owner run private 9 hole course which is very reasonable in cost. Also kept in reasonably good condition. They have a number of tournament type events for those who are interested as well as others which give members a chance to play with different people ( scrambles ). As well 9 holes gives one the ability to play without taking up the whole day ( approx 2hrs to play 9holes. This is why i like to play this course.

  7. I am fortunate to play mostly at public Division 1 university course. It is very playable for me; par 72 , 70.4/123 and 6338 from the whites (it’s 73/125 and just over 7000 from the blues) suits me just fine. The front is very walkable; the back not so much. The distance from green to tee on the back is not bad but there is a lot of up and down hills on the back. I am about a 15, but I have parred or birdied every hole on this course at one time or another. I have shot 78 and am quite capable of shooting 98 on this course.

    This course gives me everything I want in a course-a good variety of terrain and combination of open vs tight, long vs short, and easy vs challenging holes. It is usually in very good condition despite the high amount of play it gets, a testament to the staff.

  8. First and foremost, a good course has to be fair. If you hit a good shot you should be rewarded. For the average golfer, it should allow opportunities to use all the clubs in your bag, including your driver. This means reasonable landing areas of the tee. The second requirement is that it has to be maintained well. Greens and fairways should have well maintained grass. who wants to hit off of dirt fairways or have putts bump along. Finally, the course should be esthetically pleasing. Golf is an opportunity to shut out the rest of the world for a few hours, the surroundings should be pleasant. Frank, shame on you for talking about 5 hour rounds. If you say it, people will begin to believe that a 5 hour round is acceptable. 4 hours should be everyone’s goal!

    • Hi Doug, thanks for your comment! Frank’s comment about a 5 hour round was to point out that it is unacceptable and that you are very glad that the round is over after 5 hours. Anywhere from 3-4 hours depending on the playability of the course should be the goal, and that includes your stop at the Halfway House 🙂

    • 3-Hour rounds should be the goal. My wife and I play 18 holes in two hours and twenty minutes in Pensacola when we have an open course in front of us. We tee off at 3:30 PM.

      I frequently play in three hours or less in Palm Desert, CA, too. The key is being an early tee time.

  9. I play three ( 3 ) courses on a regular basis and each is unique to the others. One is easily walkable and very scenic. Another is at the top of small mountain and is a bit more challenging to score well. The last course is 18 holes and is a great test when I am looking for a fair challenge of my golfing skills.

    My point is that a great course can be found anywhere if you approach the game with open mind and you are looking for a test of yourself against nature and are willing to enjoy the round regardless of the score.

  10. Dear Frank, Bob, and Diane:
    With respect to the question, I believe Frank has hit the nail on the head.
    We play for the personal challenge golf means to us. And in that light, we judge a course by the challenge it presents us along with the scenic beauty that sourrounds it. These factores aré what, for us, makes the course memorable.
    I am a member and play regularly at such a course, the Mayan Golf Club, just South of Guatemala City, Guatemala.
    You may want to see some of it on the following web site: http://www.mayangolfclub.com.
    I am 72 and have been playing for almost 64 years. I lives in the USA from 1956 to 1970. Attended Mt. Hermon School in Northfield, MA and Washington&Jefferson University, where I Played 4 years of college golf.

  11. a good golf course doesn’t have to be perfectly groomed. It has to have fun holes and be very walkable for me. I am a 6 handicap who wants a fair test, but don’t want to spend the day looking for balls and being beat up. When I was a kid forty years ago I played a scruffy 9 hole city course of about 3,000 yards and played 27 holes a day – I learned how to play the game there. We need more of those places to grow the game. Not what has been built recently.

  12. My favorite course never makes me feel rushed by the group behind, slowed down by the group in front, and often feels like our group is the only one there. There are no flat lies and my scoring average is horrendous, but I always leave with the feeling that I WILL do better next time.

  13. My personal preferences are;
    1 Unique visual beauty
    2 Design that enables you to hit every club in your bag
    3 Second cut rough that enables you to find your ball and advance it even if you can’t reach the green
    4 Walkable- without a 100 yard hike to the next tee box
    5 Provides a challenge but doesn’t require special knowledge to read a putt or select a club, ie, you can see what’s required.
    6 Uniform bunkers so you don’t need to carry multiple sand wedges with different bounce.

  14. If you are playing on a vacation, there are many websites with golf course reviews. I travel to Palm Desert, CA and the main review sites are http://www.GolfNow.com and http://www.greenskeeper.org . Once you have selected and played a course, you can submit your own review. You can also find a player’s review that you concur with and then read all the reviews that player has written. I have expanded my course selection in the Palm Desert area dramatically. Where I used to pay big bucks to play 5 hour rounds on resort courses, I now play 3 hour rounds on PRIVATE courses for one-third the price of the resort courses.

  15. I used to think harder was better. Now, as a senior player, my favorite courses are those that challenge me, but don’t beat me up for small mistakes. Some of my friends max drives are probably less than150 yards. It is no fun for them when even from the front tees they cannot reach the fairway with their best effort. Super fast greens are OK for high level play, but none of us enjoy 5-6 3 putts per round. I don’t make my living at golf. All I want is to enjoy the day.

    Steve Schultz

    • I concur, short but fun wanting to look forward to playing the next hole and not having to carry a cannon in your bag for one hole, don’t anticipate every going on tour but like the challenge of the course and the short irons

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