For the first article in a new series from Golf Course Architecture, we asked Danish golf course architect Philip Spogárd – a principal of Spogárd & VanderVaart, whose work includes the course at European Tour venue Himmerland in Denmark – to list his ten favourite golf courses.
Creating a top ten is obviously a very subjective thing. My preferences in golf courses mirror my own design philosophy. Courses have to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye and offer great character, variety and different options on each shot.
There are many courses around the world which will most likely make the list once I get there, but this is restricted to courses I have played. Besides the top three, the rest could be ranked in any order. Here goes…
1. Cypress Point, California. Without a doubt the most special course I have been on. It is – to me – on a different level to any other golf course in the world. I love the way the landscape changes, with holes in the forest, dunes and along the rocky shoreline. I also really like the use of the dune behind the ninth green which divides the course into different ‘rooms’ and experiences. It has character, variation and the most beautiful area for any golf course. To me it is beyond perfection.
2. National Golf Links of America, New York. Probably the most fun golf course I have ever played. The variety between the holes – and the options you are faced with on the individual shots – is mind blowing. This is the kind of course you wish you could just play over and over again.
3. St. Andrews Old Course, Scotland. To me the most amazing feeling and stretch of holes in golf is the stretch coming from hole thirteen and back towards the town. There is nothing like it. The Road Hole. The eighteenth. You feel humble and indebted to the past which have allowed us to play this beautiful game and create courses for others to enjoy.
4. North Berwick, Scotland. It has many of the qualities of the above-mentioned courses but perhaps on a slightly smaller scale. It is stunning, quirky and fun. So many unique holes and greens. And besides that, the most welcoming golf experience where everyone truly feels like a ‘member for a day’ when they visit the club. Something many clubs could learn from.
5. Woking, England. I have a special fondness for the Surrey heathland courses and Woking – to me – is special. It has a rich history and arguably the best eighteen greens (as a set) you will find on any course.
6. Kingsbarns, Scotland. A monumental achievement in modern golf course architecture. The vision to create the course and the landscape deserves so much recognition. For many years my career goal was to design ‘Kingsbarns #2’. It might very well still be.
7. Royal Melbourne West, Australia. Just a wonderful golf course with so many interesting holes. The bunker style of the sandbelt courses just makes these courses so dramatic and different.
8. The Island, Ireland. Working in Ireland I have been fortunate to play a fair share of the courses on the east coast. The one that really blew my mind was The Island. It is often not mentioned among the ‘finer’ neighbours, but the course offers so much (more) variety and beauty. It is quirky in ways – almost like North Berwick – with some truly unique and absolutely wonderful golf holes.
9. Formby, England. A course with a few weaker holes, but I still remember the stretch of holes starting on the third. Every time you reach the next tee you think it can’t possibly be as good as the previous holes – just to present you with an even more awe-inspiring golf hole in front of you. This build-up creates an immense feeling of excitement while playing the course, especially for the first time.
10. Ålands Castle Course, Finland. One of my own. It is a course that tries to achieve moments of what you experience on the courses mentioned above. It offers strategy on every shot. It offers fun, dramatic and heroic shots across the sea. The routing takes the golfer through various ‘rooms’ in the landscape – building up momentum and changing the mood and scenery throughout. It is based on golf being fun and providing the golfer with the motivating factor to play golf: achieving the feeling of success.
A number of courses were close but ultimately missed out on the top ten. In no particular order, Pebble Beach, Shinnecock, TPC Sawgrass, Muirfield, Maidstone, Valderrama, Portmarnock, Kingston Heath, Streamsong Red and Blue, Pinehurst, Sunningdale and Walton Heath.
And three places I would like to go if I could choose freely… Pine Valley, Bandon and Royal County Down.