The 16th hole of Streamsong’s Red Course in Polk County, Fla.
North American golf-course architecture is returning to the purer days of golf, when good old-fashioned links-style courses reigned supreme. Which means you might actually have to start walking — and thinking — like a real golfer again.
In the mid-’90s, when a greeting-card mogul named Mike Keiser announced his plans to build a golf resort on an isolated stretch of the Oregon coast, many observers had this message for him: “A golf course in the middle of nowhere? Clearly you’ve gone crazy. Hope you get well soon.”
Then, in 1999, when Bandon Dunes Golf Resort opened, condolences quickly gave way to congratulations. In fact, the first course proved so popular that Keiser built another, and another — and another. By 2010, his unlikely destination sported four acclaimed layouts, including Pacific Dunes, which supplanted Pebble Beach as number one on Golf Magazine’s list of Top 100 public courses.
Given Keiser’s success, interested observers no longer question him; they just want to see what he’s up to next. They got an eyeful last May when he cut the ribbon on yet another Bandon layout (the property’s fifth) — a 13-hole, par-three course called Bandon Preserve. Like its four full-length siblings, Bandon Preserve is a links-style course built on sandy terrain in a coastal setting, with flagsticks buffeted by ocean breezes. And rather than cart paths, players abide by a throwback ethos that embraces walking and creative shot-making. When you play Bandon Preserve, it helps to have a knack for the knock-down iron as well as the ground-hugging bump-and-run.
While it’s only a few months old, Bandon Preserve is already a darling of golf-architecture critics, who can’t get enough of Keiser’s projects and who now regard the man for who he really is: a pioneer in a growing trend, not an outlier with misguided notions. Look around — from the Oregon coast to the sand hills of Nebraska to the outer reaches of Nova Scotia, a new age has dawned in golf-course design, one that leads the game into the future by borrowing elements from its past. Gone are the days of the outlandish modern layout clogged with carts, encroached by houses and crowned with monster clubhouses that look like hokey knockoffs of the Taj Mahal. No one wants to build them anymore. Instead, today’s leanings point toward something simpler: rugged layouts, often etched in remote locations, their designs reminiscent of ancient Scottish links. Think of it as golf for purists, a refreshing change from golf as a real-estate play.