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Design Roots

The Golden Era of Golf Course Architecture

old tomThe evolution of the game of golf began more than five-hundred years ago among the windswept sand dunes of the Scottish links land. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century; however, that man began to tinker with nature’s playing fields. Golf course architecture was first practiced at the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland by Old Tom Morris who laid out many golf courses throughout the British Isles, including the fabled links of Muirfield, Royal Dornoch and Royal County Down in Ireland. In addition, Donald Ross, who later became one of the most influential and prolific American architects, studied under Old Tom at St. Andrews.

Charles Blair Macdonald, often referred to as the Father of American Architecture, also studied at St. Andrews. He returned to America and laid out Chicago GC, America’ first 18-hole course, and in 1911 designed the historic National Golf Links of America on Long Island, NY which is generally considered to be the first championship-style course in America.

In 1899, Scotsman, Donald Ross, moved to the U.S. where he met the wealthy Tufts family who owned a winter retreat named Pinehurst, NC. It was here that Ross developed his architectural skills and gained an excellent reputation in golf course design. By 1925, he employed nearly 3,000 workers to construct his designs and became the leading force in America’s Golden Era of Architecture during the 1920s and 30s.

He designed nearly 300 courses before his death in 1948, including Pinehurst No.2, Seminole, Oakland Hills and Oak Hill. During the same time period, a number of other talented architects were designing outstanding courses in the U.S., Australia and the British Isles. Foremost among them were Englishman Alister Mackenzie, and Philadelphians Albert Tillinghast and George Thomas Jr. who joined Ross in spreading the strategic school of classical design. As a group, by the mid-1930s, they had designed a legacy of classical courses, including Augusta National, Cypress Point and Royal Melbourne (Mackenzie); Winged Foot and San Francisco GC (Tillinghast) and Riviera and Belair (Thomas). By 1935, they had created a legacy of classical golf courses that would serve as the standard of excellence for American golf course architecture

It is the classical architectural style of these great golf courses that serve as the foundation for the development of the design philosophy of Steve Smyers, Golf Course Architects. It is our appreciation of the work of these esteemed architects and our passion for the game of golf that stands behind our enduring commitment to excellence in golf course design.

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