Are we in the midst of a golf architecture renaissance? The answer from both course designers and the golfers who occupy these brash new swaths of turf, is an unequivocal yes. What I take umbrage with is those who write it off as a byproduct of a sad global economy and the extra attention afforded to these firms when carving out a course. When you give an artist time to craft, the finished product will always be better; but even if you give a bad artist a lifetime, it’s far from certain that you’ll end up with good art.
If you have the chance to play a course, there are generally two holes that will shape how you remember it. The “signature hole” is such a broad brush term that I don’t know how to define it, but I do know that you’ve all seen it. It’s the hole with the pretty backdrop or the quirky length, probably gracing the front of the scorecard and always memorable. The other is the finisher. The strong 18th hole (or lack thereof); is an oft overlooked piece of real estate that can really make or break the lasting impression of a design.
Some do it great, like Sawgrass, Pebble Beach and Carnoustie. But countless others do it poorly. So, what makes a good finishing hole? I’d argue it’s no different from what makes every other golf hole great, with the exception of one thing, the preceding 1-3 holes.
The courses that finish great all have that one thing in common. Think about it, the majesty of Pebble’s 18th is amplified by taking dead aim at the Pacific Ocean on 17. After playing the toughest par 3 in golf (17th at Sawgrass), you come face to face with a brutal long Par 4 with no bailout in sight. Even here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re blessed with Bandon Dunes which after an amazing par 4 16th, can lull you with a straightforward 17th right before the long and difficult 18th. Even nondescript properties can keep you coming back with the right ending. Echo Falls in Snohomish, WA offer 16 plain Jane holes before smacking you right in the face with the best hole in the state (the obscenely hard par 4 17th) and finishing with the serene and fickle island green 18th.
What I’m seeing from the new wave of courses offers hope. The hope that a complete design and a quality experience is going to overtake the glitzy show that plagued the design industry in the 90’s. Chambers Bay (Trent Jones II), Tetherow (McLay Kidd), Pronghorn (Nicklaus) and White Horse (Dye-McGary) all but confirm this new golden age; not just with solid routings and great imagination, but with great finishes and a true sense of care for the complete golf experience.