5 Great Examples Of Amateur Golf Course Architecture

If you have even a passing interest in golf courses and golf course architecture, chances are names like Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast, Robert Trent Jones, Tom Fazio and Pete Dye are pretty familiar to you.

But what about George Crump?

Henry Fownes?

Fred Hood?

These three men designed three courses known as some of the very best in the world, and yet these were their only forays into golf course architecture.

Unfortunately, Pine Valley (Crump), Oakmont (Fownes) and Kittansett Club (Hood) are exclusive private clubs offering limited possibilities for outside play.

But we've uncovered some of the best amateur-designed courses you can (and should) play:

Royal Isabela Golf Club - Isabela, Puerto Rico

Royal Isabela is one of the best-kept secrets in the Caribbean. For those seeking quiet luxury with golf as a main activity, it is a near-perfect retreat. Visitors and members have brothers Charlie and Stanley Pasarell -- former pro tennis players -- to thank. Granted, when designing the golf course, the Pasarells did not go it completely alone; they were assisted by experienced architect David Pfaff in laying out the course. But since Pfaff passed away in 2013, the Pasarells have continued to make changes to the course, and are said to want to build one or two more courses on the property in time.

Tidewater Golf Club - North Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Ken Tomlinson is not a household name in golf course architecture circles. Nor should he be - he is a longtime area tax attorney by trade. But his foray into golf course architecture (with Rees Jones having worked on the initial routing of the course) has endured as one of the best few courses in the entire 60-mile, 100-course, "Grand Stand." The setting of the course certainly does not hurt - long-range views across the marsh to Cherry Grove Inlet on the east side of the property and more wetlands scenery on the western edge add great character to the course.

Wolf Creek Golf Club - Mesquite, Nev.

There are a number of worthy golf courses not far from the Strip in Las Vegas. So why do so many visiting golfers make the 90-minute journey to Mesquite for at least one of their rounds when visiting for a golf vacation? Because the scenery at Wolf Creek has to be seen to be believed. Developer Dennis Rider let the course take full advantage of the site's many dramatic ups and downs, as well as mountain scenery in the distance. The course is utterly unwalkable - five holes feature drops of more than 100 feet off the tee - and very difficult, with a slope of 154 from the back tees. Nevertheless, Wolf Creek's aesthetics make it worth seeing pretty much no matter what. In fact, it is one of the courses you can play in the new EA Sports golf video game.

Pebble Beach Golf Links - Pebble Beach, Calif.
Sure, much has changed at Pebble Beach since Jack Neville and Douglas Grant's initial version in 1919, but the bones remain largely the same as when the two well-respected amateur players were dispatched to carry out the wishes of notoriously thrifty early developer Samuel F.B. Morse: a spectacular and popular seaside golf course whose grass could nevertheless be kept at an acceptable length by grazing sheep. Neville and Grant's single greatest contribution here is the legendary 100-yard par-3 seventh, which many more experienced latter-day architects have admitted they would likely have dismissed as a possibility.

The Classic at Madden's - Brainerd, Minn.

Even though this course was laid out by superintendent Scott Hoffman (with some help from the late Geoffrey Cornish), you'd never guess it - strategy, challenge and scenery all combine at the Classic to form a golf course that justifiably features in many publications' top-100 lists for public and resort golf courses. Its location in the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" is fitting - water hazards come into play on all but three holes.

Of course, there's a flipside to all this - there's a reason architects get paid significant sums to design golf courses. The five courses listed above are exceptions that prove the rule: if you have the money to built a golf course, it's worth it to shell out the extra funds to ensure it's done properly.

If developer Mike Nemee and wife Michelle had taken this advice, their ill-fated Trinitas course northeast of Stockton, California might still be around today. As it was, they designed and had the course built without first obtaining the proper permissions (a factor with which professional architects are almost universally very familiar) from Calaveras County.

While open, the course received mixed reviews - the scenery it enjoyed was stunning, but many golfers labored to get through the punishingly difficult course. It was forced to close in 2012, only four years after it had opened.

What are your experiences with amateur-designed golf courses? Any hidden gems we haven't mentioned? Any absolute stinkers you recommend avoiding? Read what your fellow subscribers are saying and chime in below!

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor and the Managing Editor of the Golf Vacation Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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5 Great Examples Of Amateur Golf Course Architecture
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