Replica Golf Courses: Next-Best-Thing or Novelty?

One of the most intriguing famous quotes about writing is attributed to T.S. Eliot:

"Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.

Now, this is Golf Vacation Insider, not Poetry Insider, but nonetheless this quote seems to ring true of golf course architects and two related but distinct genres of golf courses that have sprung up in the last 25 years or so.

I'm talking, of course, about the replica golf course concept relative to its cousin, the "tribute course." Are these courses worth seeking out on your next golf vacation? Here are our thoughts.

First, there are "Replica Courses," such as...

  • International World Tour Golf Links - Myrtle Beach, S.C.
  • Tour 18 - Dallas
  • Tour 18 - Houston
  • Bear's Best - Atlanta
  • Bear's Best - Las Vegas
  • Renditions Golf Club - Davidsonville, Md.
  • Donald Ross Memorial at Boyne Highlands Resort

The concept of golf courses that comprise 18 copies of famous golf holes throughout the world arose, no doubt, as a solution for the frustration shared by many golfers at being unable to play these famous holes because they were either located at exclusive private clubs, or the resort or public courses where they lived were too far away, too expensive, or both.

"Play Augusta National's Amen Corner, TPC Sawgrass' Island Green, Troon's Postage Stamp Hole, all in one place!" is an alluring tagline. But is it one you should fall for?

Probably not, for the most part. The main problem with straight-up replica courses is that they tend to feel disjointed, with many holes feeling totally out-of-place. In the case of World Tour in Myrtle Beach, the "Open Nine" begins and ends with replicas of the iconic first and 18th at The Old Course. Whereas the fescue turf of Scotland permits all kinds of interesting bounces, World Tour's site some five miles inland from the beach is, shall we say, a little mushy. The holes may look kind of similar, but they don't play anything like the originals.

Another pitfall of replica courses is that over time, their holes resemble the originals less and less, largely due to maintenance concerns.

Above, on the left is a satellite image of the 14th hole at Tour 18 - Houston, which claims to be a copy of the third hole at Oakmont Country Club (right). Not exactly, and while the Tour 18 hole is fine in its own right, but the differences in the shape and size of the greens and the number and positioning of the bunkers make it a very different test than the one it seeks to replicate.

This is not to say that all replica courses are bad, period. Indeed, the Donald Ross Memorial Course at Boyne Highlands Resort is strong in its own right, and we also like Bear's Best - Las Vegas. Perhaps it's no coincidence that these better replica courses come from one architect's work, and therefore flow much better than others do.

Then, there are "Tribute Courses," such as...

  • Legends Resort (Heathland Course) - Myrtle Beach, S.C.
  • Old American Golf Club - The Colony, Texas
  • Architects Golf Club - Lopatcong, N.J.
  • The Greenbrier (Old White TPC Course) - White Sulphur Springs, W.V.
  • Bandon Dunes Resort (Old Macdonald Course) - Bandon, Ore.

Tribute courses tend to be a lot more subtle in their conceptions, and can take a few different, interesting forms. Many of them seek to capture a certain general style or hint at the courses of a faraway region. This is the case with the first two courses listed above. At Legends, Tom Doak sought to remind players of the great courses of the British Isles, particularly the lesser-known links and inland layouts. Huge undulating greens, great variety among the holes and bold bunkering make the course a joy to play.

Similarly, Old American is Tripp Davis and Justin Leonard's homage to Golden Age of American course design. For more, check out our blurb on it from last week.

Whereas a number of replica courses feel gimmicky to us, we enjoy the novelty of Architects Golf Club, where designer Stephen Kay crafted each hole as an homage to a different classic golf course architect. Figures like Old Tom Morris, Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones inspired the course, and each hole features a plaque with a brief description of the architect's philosophy and career, making the course a positive educational experience and a playing one. Our favorite holes are the par threes on the front, which take after Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor, respectively.

Speaking of those two influential designers, They may have been the original "tribute course" artists. Macdonald's seminal design, the National Golf Links of America, represents his own interpretation of great British Isles holes he had seen in his travels. There, he employed numerous templates which he would adapt for use at other courses. Raynor, his protégé, did this as well. The Greenbrier's Old White TPC is one of these examples and, unlike many of these courses, is accessible to the public. It is home to one of our favorite Redan holes, a long par three with a green that slopes from right to left, with deep bunkering short.

At Bandon, Tom Doak engaged in another level of interpretation with his Old Macdonald. Once again, the full range of template holes is on display, with particular emphasis on the width and playability that are hallmarks of both designers' philosophies.

Do you have replica and tribute course experience? Any big additions to our lists? As always, let us know in the comments!

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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Commented on

Unfortunately, 9 of the holes at International World Tour closed recently, slated for redevelopment. Though there has been talk of reopening them now that the course is has undergone a change in ownership.

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When in the USN I had a chance to play the Old Course; what a thrill. I have twice played the International in Myrtle, and thought the replica of the OC 18th was good. I also enjoyed Amen corner of three holes. By the way, the I has 27 holes.

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Tour 18-Houston is nice but lost some of its initial charm when Harbor Town made them take down the lighthouse. That was a REAL effect of being there.

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Some of the tribute courses are OK but I go to the real thing for the whole experience...a pint in the pub (or more), the wind, the gorse, the caddies, the history, etc. I realize everybody isn't able to do this but it's why I went. Too old and crippled up to go now but I have the memories.

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You list old american in the colony, tx among your tribute courses. Old American is NOT a tribute course. However, The Tribute is very near and IS a trbute to famous scottish courses such as St Andrews and prestwick, and others.

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I have played International World Tour in Myrtle Beach. The holes copied sure do look like what you see on TV. It was fun to play as well.

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I've always enjoyed them as a chance to play some famous holes that I'll likely never get to play for real, knowing that it's only a taste of it, not the real thing. Of the courses listed in the article above, I've played International World Tour, Renditions, and Architects. I also have a soft spot for them since my only hole in one to date was on Rendition's replica of the 7th at Winged Foot.

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After playing Tour 18 - Houston I talked with a staff member and he said their replica of #17 at TPC Sawgrass isn't 100% accurate because if it was "people would be putting off the island all day long and the rounds would last 5 hours"
Very much enjoyed the Amen Corner area and getting a better idea that the tee box for #12 is more or less the far right side of the #11 fairway.

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The great thing about Renditions and any replica is the variety of holes mimicked from all over the world. You're expecting 100% accuracy? Dream on. But, no 2 holes are alike and you won't find one straight fairway next to another ( Boring). These courses provide great variety, and like any other course, need to keep the conditions up, or its not worthwhile.

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Having played many of the actual holes, I was disappointed in the copies at Royal Links, LV. Yes, the weather and grasses make duplication impossible, but even the look of the holes was not as close as they could be. The right side fairway wall at the St. Andrews Road Hole could have looked much better, and the greenside bunker much deeper. Also, the left greenside bunker of the Troon Postage Stamp was not nearly deep enough either. Those bunkers are major features of those holes. As a golf course, it was ok, but as a replica, not so much, imho. For a great replica experience, try the Royal Gems in Bangkok. The 17th at Sawgrass, the church pews of Oakmont, and Postage stamp at Troon, are all more like the real thing, except that the back of the Sawgrass green slopes much too sharply to the water behind, so beware. Never played Augusta, but I almost felt like I had after playing the back 9. Of course the immaculate conditions were not duplicated, but the good conditions, layout and elevations, and even the azaleas, gave me a look and feel very, very similar to what I've seen on tv. When I finished the round, I really wanted to play "Augusta" again, lol! Highly recommended.

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