How do I get started with GCA?

So I want to learn more about GCA. Like truly want to know how to enjoy design and architecture. But here’s the catch, I have no idea how to get started. I know there are so many aspects of GCA. I’m going to start with The Fried Egg podcast series “School of Golf Architecture”. But I’m also looking for other suggestions or ideas of how to learn about this.

Thanks in advance!

I got started reading off of @thefriedegg’s list here.

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All you need to know right here.

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I like when I can read about something and also experience it too.

I got my start after playing Old Mac when I was newly back into golf and then reading Dream Golf right after. Once you get past the fellating of Mike Kaiser’s business acumen, it has digestible summaries of golf history, sort of cliffs’ notes on links golf and how golf came to the US from CBM. Especially the finishing chapter on the history behind template holes (and the courses they came from) that went into Old Mac’s design helped put into context for me why some of the holes were so memorable and why they were interesting to me.

Since you’re in Dallas …

You could go play The Tribute. It’s pricey but kept in good shape. Read about the Open rota courses/holes it uses before you go out there, so while you’re playing, you’ll know where some of the historical design philosophies come from.

You can also read TFE’s brief summary on Stevens Park before you go play it again. Hole 14 is more or less a redan, and Hole 16 is from Tillinghast’s Great Hazard template first used at Pine Valley.

If you make it down to Pine Dunes, it also has a ridiculous redan hole and an absolutely stunning Great Hazard hole, also a pretty cool volcano green par 3, and a couple drivable par 4s - all which have both classic design principle nods but also unique strategic considerations. It’s just generally is like a redneck version of Pinehurst or Pine Valley. There are also some good news articles on the development of the course and importance of sandy soil that will resonate with older writings about links golf. Near the time of playing it, read about and learn about and look at pictures of the courses in the Pinehurst area and Pine Valley.

Before you go out to Cedar Crest again, read about Tillinghast, and while the course has changed a lot, think about what you see out there that is similar to his more famous courses. Also generally read about the history of the course itself.

Before you play Golf Club of Dallas again, read TFE’s review of Southern Hills and Hanse’s restoration, that talks about Maxwell’s routing using the spines and valleys of the land, and ask @mctrees02 for a similar summary of how he used the land at GCD to creatively use the land movement. Then go play it and see it for yourself.

If you ever get an opportunity to play Trinity Forest, read TFE’s articles on that course before you go, including C&C’s own signature template of the wide par 5 with OB all down one side - then when you do get chance to travel to other places and play their other courses, you’ll see the use of that design elsewhere.

You may not be able to play many classics living here, but can still start drawing connections to course design principles and major U.S. GCA history as well by playing some courses in this area.

Also, if you want to borrow some books, hit me up.

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I would start perusing golfclubatlas.com. Avoid the discussion group until you’ve read up on the informative pieces they have.

In terms of books, my personal two favorites to start with…

Golf Architecture In America: Its Strategy and Construction - By, George C. Thomas Jr.
My personal favorite. Easy to read and absorb for someone with little gca knowledge.

The Spirit of St. Andrews - By, Alister MacKenzie
Another fairly easy read for someone just getting into gca.

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To piggy back off of @DuckDuckHook, once you get a working understanding of how and why an architect goes about their business, pick one whose course designs interest you and learn as much as you can about them. Whether that be a newer architect like Doak, Hanse, or C&C or one of the Golden Age greats such as Ross, MacKenzie, Tillinghast, Raynor, MacDonald, Maxwell, or Thomas, you can’t go wrong.

Whereas the early 20th century will forever be known as the Golden Age of American Golf Architecture, the early 21st century will hopefully be known as the Golden Age of Golf Architecture Information and Appreciation. We are fortunate to live in a time where we can easily access the writings of both current and golden age architects.

golfclubatlas.com is a pretty dense website to start with but once you get the hang of it, there’s a lot to learn there. I’m still a bit mesmerized by the many architects that stop by their discussion group from time to time to talk about design. Tom Doak is such a frequent contributor that another member put together a book (Doak’s Little Red Book of GCA) comprising the best of Doak’s posts over 10+ years in their discussion group.

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For me, it was Doak’s Anatomy of a Golf Course, the first book I read that was really about GCA–before that I was obsessed with books about courses, but it was hard to find anything that wasn’t just pictures and fluff. Doak’s book is short, really well written, and very clear. The Thomas and Dr. Mac books are excellent, but a little bit out of date. Shackelford’s Grounds for Golf is good, but … not as good as Doak.

There’s a ton of stuff on the web, the problem is … it’s overwhelming. Where do you start? What do you choose? How do you dive in? Anatomy of a Golf Course is a nice brief overview of a little bit of everything GCA wise and the bonus is that with web access now you can get even better looks at all the holes he’s describing in the book. You don’t have to just look at the b+w picture of Royal Melbourne to get an idea of what he’s saying, you could dial up a drone flyover. But it’s still, IMO, the best place to start.

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I really dug into The Fried Egg podcast about 4 years ago. It is really beneficial to hear an interview format with the guests. More room for Q&A and hearing additional context on things.

The site is a wealth of information as well, but the podcasts are a great resource.

I would focus on the following specifically for getting deeper into GCA:

  • The Yolk with Doak episodes
  • The Superintendent episodes
  • Anything with Geoff Ogilvy; He did a two-parter last year on playing the Masters and his post-US Open pod this year was fantastic.
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Thanks for all the info, guis.

I’m going to start with Doak’s book and go from there. My goal is just to really understand the basics and build from there.

You’re right, @matthew823…there is a ton of stuff and it’s overwhelming. That’s where my struggle is. I want to have a good, solid foundation and then explore more.

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I was the same two years ago. Such an interesting topic that can be so dense that I feel like I’ll always be a “novice” of sorts. I’d recommend perusing GolfClubAtlas, search courses that interest you and read about them. Also, look at this link

Lots of interesting topics there. Also, look up “Yolk with Doak” on your podcasts app, great content from TFE.

Where do you live? (aka what golf courses are near you)

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Great thread

I’m reading Doak’s book at the moment, only about 30% in but it’s good. Bought a copy for my brother as a Xmas present on the strength of the first few chapters

Also got the Keith Cutten one, which is a magnificent book

Honestly just read through the forums on golfclubatlas pretty regularly. After a while you’ll learn a lot. Just make sure to remember that designing golf courses is more art than science so don’t take every opinion you read on there too seriously.

thanks for starting this thread and for those that have posted with resources and recommendations. I’m also hoping to start down this rabbit hole and you have all provided a nice starting place.

Let’s start with podcasts. I agree the Fried Egg is Phenomenal. The Yolk With Doak series is great, as is their new “School of Golf Architecture” series. Also as mentioned above anything by Geoff Ogilvy; the two-part episode where Ogilvy talked about Augusta in particular was brilliant and made me watch the Masters totally differently; I plan to re-listen to it every year before watching the Masters. Also anything with Bill Coore or Gil Hanse, who are phenomenal interviews (they have done some with No Laying Up and others as well). The Fried Egg also has a great series of posts on template holes and a youtube channel with some great videos with commentary; the recent one with Gil on Winged Foot in particular is great.

I also really like the Feed the Ball Podcast. Derek Duncan is good but not as interesting of an interviewer to my ear as Andy Johnson. However, the “Salon” series that they did during COVID where Derek interviews golf course architects together with Jim Urbina (golf course architect, former Doak associate) is really superb; Urbina takes Duncan to the next level and makes them really fun. The episodes with Bill Coore on Greens, Gil Hanse, and Jeff Mingay on the Old Course in particular are phenomenal but all of the Salon ones are great. Then you can go back and listen to Derek’s interviews with whoever you find interesting.

Golf Course Atlas is great but the forums are hard to penetrate. I think the feature interviews are very good as are some of the “in my opinion” pieces. This post by architect Andrew Green and coauthors on how Donald Ross and William Flynn each routed different golf courses at The Country Club of York is the most informative thing I have read on routing besides Getting to Eighteen. You really have to stare at the maps for a while but once you understand it (finding youtube videos on reading topo maps may be useful) it is super cool.

As for books, the two clearest “beginner” books are Doak’s Anatomy of a Golf Course and Shackelford’s Grounds For Golf (I love reading Shackelford on architecture; unfortunately he writes less about it these days). Doak’s Little Red Book made up of his collected posts on Golf Club Atlas is also a great read that you can breeze through. As mentioned, MacKenzie and Thomas are classics. A number of older architects like Simpson, MacDonlad, Tillinghast, and Ross also have books I have yet to read. The Cutten book is also great, as is anything by Brad Klein. The really old editions of the World Atlas of Golf have great color illustrations of classic courses; you can get used ones for fairly cheap online (make sure you get the 70s or 80s editions). Once you have read a few books, the TalkinGolf podcast had some “book clubs” on some of the classic architecture books that are fun once you read them; they have a recent one on the Good Good Golf podcast on the World Atlas of Golf that is great.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention Tom Doak’s absolutely brilliant Getting to Eighteen. It walks you through how he routed his first 18 golf courses. It is an 18’’ X 12’’ book (meaning when its open it is three feet wide!) with phenomenal production values. It includes the topographical map of the site, multiple routings over the topo map, and discussions of why he put each hole where he did. It’s utterly fascinating if you are an architecture nerd even if you have not seen any of the courses. Unfortunately, it is $300 which is stupidly expensive, but I know of no other book like it and it’s a limited edition that will probably only be more expensive in future years. (Oh yeah he’s supposed to do a second version on his next eighteen courses…plan on dropping another $300 then.).

That should be enough for now. Happy to make more suggestions and would love to hear if there are some things I have missed.

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What he ^ said.