Long before we could view golf courses on our phones, architecture enthusiasts compiled their own fantasy courses for entertainment, reflection, and debate among friends. These collections of favorite holes from around the world attempted to create the impossible: the perfect golf course. An Eclectic 18.
My first inspiration was the “Doak Gazetter” in the back of The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses. There, for a price equal to a month’s rent, you could read about the holes that architect Tom Doak deemed most worthy of architectural study. A more affordable (that is, free!) source of inspiration was Ran Morrissett’s Dream Course on Golf Club Atlas. Ran always highlighted the best parts of golf—as you would expect from someone who helped put the word “quirk” on the map for golf course enthusiasts.
Further back in time, The World Atlas of Golf by Pat Ward-Thomas and Golf Courses of the British Isles by Bernard Darwin offered similar material for study. If you aspired to be a golf course architect, you found these books, studied them cover to cover, and dreamed about the mythical golfing grounds they depicted.
I certainly did. And later in life, as I pursued a career as a shaper and architect, I was lucky enough to experience the courses of my dreams first-hand. (Now is as good a time as any to shout out all the secretaries, superintendents, pros, and members who offered me the friendliest of welcomes over the years. Thank you!)
My most important travels have been in the United Kingdom. A visit to the Home of Golf has long been the ultimate right of passage for aspiring architects. C. B. Macdonald famously recounted his own pilgrimage in his book Scotland’s Gift: Golf, and American designers from A. W. Tillinghast to Ben Crenshaw, Robert Hunter to Gil Hanse, Perry Maxwell to Pete Dye have followed in his footsteps. While a hang-out with Old Tom is no longer on the itinerary, the courses are still there, inspiring as ever.
No. 16 ("Calamity Corner") at this year's Open Championship venue, Royal Portrush Golf Club. Photo credit: Evan Schiller
A few months back, The Fried Egg’s Andy Johnson asked me whether I would like to write a deep dive into the golf holes of the UK. That conversation sent me back through a few thousand photos from golf trips past. As the list of worthy holes grew, the idea hit: how about an all-UK Eclectic 18?
Routing an eclectic golf course
Turns out that compiling a formal Eclectic 18 is an excruciating exercise. Are you basically required to use the Road Hole at the Old Course for No. 17? Does the sequencing and routing matter on a hypothetical course? Do you just pick the flat-out best hole for each number? Or should an Eclectic 18 ebb, flow, and peak at the right moments like a great song? Does par matter? (Just kidding! Please: this is the UK, land of quirky golf. Besides, just imagine what Andy’s reaction would have been if we had insisted on a balanced 72.)
Eventually I saw that no solution would be perfect. I had to leave out entire courses that absolutely must be played and studied. Pure personal bias was everywhere—and in ways I would have never expected. My initial drafts featured a surplus of right-to-left holes and an odd disposition for par 5s over par 3s.
To mitigate my biases (and also maybe to have someone to share the blame if our Eclectic 18 ignores your favorites), I enlisted the help of someone less frightened of a virtual pantsing: Clyde Johnson. A friend, fellow shaper and emerging architect, and loonatic travel partner, Clyde has a keen eye for what makes a great golf hole. No less important, he currently resides in St. Andrews, Scotland, and has surely seen more courses in the UK than anyone I know.
Together, Clyde and I came up with a set of ground rules for creating our Eclectic 18:
- Courses from the United Kingdom only
- The UK consists of Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland
- No repeats: a course may be used just once
- Jaeger and Clyde will each compile their own list, then they will create a consensus list
- If one insists on including a hole that the other has not played, masterful persuasion will be necessary
Over the few months, we will unveil one hole of our consensus Eclectic 18 UK per week. Each installment will break down what makes the hole worthy of inclusion and study. We will also get into larger issues, such as how to balance your study of the most natural links on the one hand and the great inland courses built by the first golf architects on the other. As we do all of this, we hope you will think along with us about what makes an ideal golf hole, and perhaps be inspired to Google flights prices and weather for your own “research” visit. (May we suggest winter? Just look at our photos. Lovely.)
Ultimately, we hope that you will end up designing your own Eclectic 18, and we expect it will be nothing like ours. To borrow a phrase from Patric Dickinson in A Round of Golf Courses, “Discovery: the one magical secret of golf!”
Proceed to Hole No. 1 in the Eclectic 18 UK: “Railway” at Prestwick Golf Club.
Jaeger Kovich, an up-and-coming architect, has spent the past eight years working for Tom Doak and Gil Hanse. His introduction to the field-based approach to golf course architecture came at Dismal River in the Sandhills of Nebraska, where he first met co-author Clyde Johnson. After another two years with Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design building “that course that never opened” in China (Simapo Island), Jaeger has kept busy as one of Hanse’s “Cavemen.” He took on significant shaping duties in the renovations at Ridgewood, Aronimink, and the Creek, but he has also played a prominent role on Hanse and Wagner’s original designs at the Cradle, Streamsong Black, Pinehurst No. 4, and a few others. The New York metropolitan area local now balances his thirst to see more golf courses with helping Hanse on a new-build course at Les Bordes in France and consulting for his own Proper Golf business at places like Donald Ross’s Oyster Harbors Club, A. W. Tillinghast’s Suburban Golf Club in New Jersey, the Village Club of Sands Point, and more.
Clyde Johnson began his career working for Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design. After a summer at Dismal River, he spent 19 months with the “art department” at Tara Iti in New Zealand and three years helping restore Woodhall Spa in his native England. Most recently he participated in the overhaul of the Ocean Course at the National in Australia. Between shaping gigs for Renaissance, Clyde has developed a consulting client-base of his own—St. Enodoc, Seacroft, Enniscrone, etc.—bringing his design and shaping philosophy to some of the most historic and natural links courses across Great Britain and Ireland. The author of a self-published book on the golf courses of New Zealand’s North Island, he is working on another to promote cool courses of less than 6,000 yards. Clyde’s contribution to the Fried Egg’s Eclectic 18 arrives fresh from a Kiwi summer recreating Alister MacKenzie features at Titirangi for his own Cunnin’ Golf Design project.