Attending the 2023 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting as a principal architect for a golf course design firm made me think about the impact of macroeconomics on the design process. While we pride ourselves on being free-thinkers and striving for timeless design, we also appreciate how political and economic influences have shaped the evolution of golf course architecture throughout history. essential to consider. By examining key time periods, we gain insight into the interplay between these external factors and design trends.
The Golden Age of Golf Course Building: During Prohibition, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution encouraged the establishment of American country clubs. These early clubs, characterized by large grounds and secluded clubhouses, were constructed using manual labor and horse-drawn scrapers. The resulting craftsmanship and aesthetic appeal of these courses is now hailed as the golden age of golf course architecture, testifying to a time when efficiency took a back seat to beauty, artistry and deep isolation. I’m here.
Post-World War II Boom: After World War II, the American Dream flourished and leisure became more abundant. This led to a surge in golf course construction with the introduction of bulldozers and other modern machinery. While the use of machinery streamlined the construction process, the green and bunker features and nuances cherished in early designs began to fade. The focus shifted to meeting the increasing demand for golf courses rather than preserving the unique features of the landscape.
Era of urban sprawl: The rise of consumerism and the desire for larger housing in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s fueled urban sprawl and led to rapid golf course development. Many of these courses are primarily designed as property developments, with the primary purpose of selling residential land adjacent to the golf course. This trend has resulted in the encroachment of residential golf holes and neighboring houses onto the course layout. During this period, “containment mounding” was a popular design feature that not only provided a bowl-like feel, but also served as a convenient and cost-effective way to dispose of excess dirt. The impact of the larger development market was undeniable as the focus shifted from pure golf course design to real estate integration.
Financial crisis and modern times: The 2008 financial crisis brought urban sprawl and the golf course development market to a sudden halt. Fewer courses were built and design trends shifted to travel and tourism driven projects. In modern times, deconstructed, rough-looking bunkers with decorative wavy edges emerged. While these features are visually appealing, they require a significant amount of time and effort to build. A decrease in overall course construction may be contributing to this trend, as longer construction times are more realistic when less work is involved.
Golf course designers need to recognize that they are not immune to macroeconomic influences. Timeless design is always an aspiration, but our choices are guided, at least in part, by an invisible hand. Moving forward, our design studio will remain committed to creative yet practical solutions for our clients.
Colton Craig is the owner and principal designer of Oklahoma City-based Craig and Coyne Golf Design (Craigandcoyne.com).