Macdonald's Master Golf Course Designs

After studying the courses of Scotland, the famous golf course architect CB Macdonald settled on a total of 21 strategies whose design essence could be repeated and adapted. Each one, he felt, tested a great player while offering strategic options for the less-accomplished. Here are six of his most well-used templates.

1. The Redan

Original hole: North Berwick (West) 15th 189 yds
National Golf Links 4th 187 yds
Also used at: Shinnecock Hills 7th, 188 yds

Perhaps the most copied of any golf hole, North Berwick’s par-3 Redan sets the green at an angle to the player, with the high point front right and the low point back left. A shoulder to the right of the green funnels balls back to the centre while the low area to the left feeds down into a deep bunker. The essence here is that you can rarely land the ball on the green and get it close; you have to pick a spot other than where the flag is located, and let it release to the hole. Redans – and mirror-image reverse Redans – are typically 180-210 yards.

The Redan green at the 15th hole at North Berwick in Scotland.

The Redan green at the 15th hole at North Berwick in Scotland.

The Redan green at Shinnecock Hills’ 7th hole.

The Redan green at Shinnecock Hills’ 7th hole.

2. The Alps

Original hole: Prestwick 17th, 394 yds
National Golf Links 3rd 426 yds
Also used at: Greenbrier Old White 13th, 492 yds

Old Tom Morris’s original Alps hole uses a dune to make the approach blind, and this is the feature Macdonald used to create this template. At Prestwick there is a bunker hidden from view between the mound and the green, and some Alps holes preserve this. The design places a premium on hitting the fairway off the tee, and the golfer’s only relief is that most Alps greens are generally receptive and gathering ‘punchbowl’-style shapes. 


3. The Eden

Original hole: St Andrews 11th 174 yds
National Golf Links 13th 174 yds
Also used at: Yale GC 15th, 190 yds

The Eden template is inspired by the fantastic green complex of the 11th. Here we see two deep bunkers at the front of the green, Hill to the left and Strath more centrally. The green is wide but shallow, demanding accuracy of distance control. As per the original, Eden hole greens also tend to slope from back to front, meaning any ultra-safe long miss demands an extremely tough chip back down the slope. As at St Andrews, where you often have to set the ball out over the Strath bunker, you can often use wind to intensify the challenge of an Eden hole.

4. The Cape

Original hole: None
National Golf Links 14th 393 yds
Also used at: Mid Ocean Club, 5th, 433 yds

A rarer template in that Macdonald created it from scratch. The original Cape design was essentially characterised by a green jutting out into water on three sides, as per his original green siting at the 14th of National Golf Links. This element typically gave rise to a tee shot over the water that invited you to cut off as much as you dared, an aspect that has become the modern defining element of a Cape hole and one we see at the 18ths of Pebble Beach and TPC Sawgrass. Ultimately the 14th was lengthened to be surrounded by sand on three sides, and this has also become a characteristic of modern Cape holes.

5. The Road

Original hole: St Andrews 17th 495 yds
National Golf Links 7th 478 yds
Also used at: Chicago GC 2nd, 481 yds

In assessing the Road hole many focus on the road, wall or bunker, but really it’s the undulations around the green that make it work. There are gradients that funnel the ball either into the bunker or away from it, and the hole is long enough that golfers are forced to play a shot that deals with those undulations. The original hole itself doglegs right around the hotel, and the closer to the danger you get, the cleaner your line in to the green. Macdonald and Raynor did not have the Hotel on the right of the fairway, inside the dogleg, but would often replicate its effect with out-of-bounds or bunkers in a corresponding position.

6. The Short

Original hole: Royal West Norfolk 4th 129 yds
National Golf Links 6th 141 yds
Also used at: Chicago GC 10th, 139 yds

Typically 130-160 yards, Shorts  are defined by reasonably large but severely undulating putting greens which are well protected on all sides – in Royal West Norfolk’s case, by a dramatic sleepered front and dropaways. These holes were designed to be a test of short-iron accuracy and putting. Macdonald became a fan of the square green and often used them for Short holes, putting bunkers all around them. These holes became popular partly because you can fit them in anywhere – simply excavate the bunkers and pile it up to build the elevated green.

Nick Wright