It's only natural that a successful golfer who becomes involved with course design should approach the task through the prism of his own playing style. Jack Nicklaus's courses are often said to favour the golfer who hits a high fade, and it shouldn't be too surprising that a course co-designed by Colin Montgomerie would be a strict examination of the golfer's ability to hit fairways.
Montgomerie's first European course at Carton House, near Dublin, built alongside Stan Eby of European Golf Design, recently played host to the Irish Open. with the course's tight fairways and deep bunkers, Montgomerie accepts that his own game influenced the way it was created. "I hit the ball left to right, and inevitably you end up thinking that way," he says. "But Stan said to me 'We can't have every hole that shape, or we'll end up in the centre of Dublin!'"
Although the scores in the Irish Open didn't quite soar in the way he had predicted – Montgomerie said he wouldn't be at all surprised if level par ended up winning, but Stephen Dodd and David Howell finished tied on nine under – the designer's fondness for the penal is clearly reflected in the Carton course. No easing oneself into the round here – the first hole is a 460 yard par four, played into the prevailing breeze. "Some courses we play are too easy. This is a major course for major tournaments," says Montgomerie. "People have said that I am a good iron player – that's because I was on the fairways. Here, you have to hit fairways – you can't hold the green out of the rough. But there is a fairness here. If you're in the right place off the tee you can attack." Bunkers, he argues, should be hazards to be avoided, and the golfer should expect to pay a price if he fails. Even the practice facilities at Carton are intimidating – the author saw a series of balls emerge from a practice bunker, but the player was completely out of sight.
The Montgomerie course at Carton demonstrates once again the power the 'l'- word has over golfers and course designers.Many miles from the sea it may be, but its designers describe the course variously as an 'inland links' or 'linksstyle'. Montgomerie himself says the bunkering and run-off areas are links-like, and says that the openness of the site – and in particular its exposure to the wind – drew the designers to seek a seaside feel.
Long already at around 7,350 yards, Carton has been built with extension to 7,900 yards in mind, should there be further advances in club and ball technology. Montgomerie, though, takes the now-common view that technology ought to be frozen, and, more controversially, that there should be standardised equipment for tournament play. "We can't go back to the courses and equipment of 1996, but at least we can stop now," he says. "And I've always said there should be a pro ball. Pete Sampras didn't turn up for Wimbledon with his own tennis balls – we're one of the only sports that brings our own equipment to the table."
Will Colin Montgomerie go on to build many more courses, and achieve recognition as a course designer, or will he be another in the list of professional golfers who merely put their name to courses mostly built by someone else? Only time will tell. But one thing is clear: if he does go on to build other courses, they are likely to be penal, for nothing seems to excite him as much as discussing how good golfers will have to work hard to score well. "This will be the toughest course we play in Europe this year, and I would say it is as difficult as Augusta. I want players to have to say 'How am I going to make a par' and for par to be a very challenging score."
This article first appeared in issue 1 of Golf Course Architecture, published in July 2005.