Sage Advice


I have heard from some of you lately, wondering when they could expect to see the next blog.  Sorry that things have been a little busy….but here’s an entry to hopefully get things back on track.

I don’t know about you, but I both enjoy and find it worthwhile to sort through all the various historic (and current) quips on golf.  I really enjoy old books on golf course architecture and most of all, the bold, honest and even eccentric statements made by the designers from yore. 

Noted golf writer, Geoff Shackelford put together a fascinating collection back in 2005 called Lines of Charm, Brilliant and Irreverent Quotes, Notes and Anecdotes from Golf’s Golden Age Architects – it is a great resource for these witty little bites, among the many other classic books on golf and architecture.

Figures like Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast and Alister Mackenzie highlight a star studded group of architects whose contributions to golf architecture and the game are with us every day…. And so are their words!  On subjects like bunkers, trees, rough grass, strategic design, the golf ball, length, greenkeeping….and yes, committees!


So for the sake of maybe learning something, reminding us of a worthwhile thought - or just for pure entertainment, I have gathered a small collection of some of my favorite noteworthy thoughts for your reading pleasure.

On Golf Courses, Architecture and Variety….

“No game depends so much as golf on its arena for success; on an interesting course and interesting game will be played; on a badly planned green the same will be dull.” - John Low

“ The purpose of any course should be to give pleasure.” - Bobby Jones

“Really good golf holes are full of surprises, each one a bit better than the last.  Like a first-rate dinner, as soon as you have finished one course with beaming satisfaction something even better is placed before you.” - Robert Hunter

“The spice of golf, as of life, lies in variety.” - Robert Hunter

“St. Andrews is the least obvious course in the world.  It is covered with concealed rolls, bunkers, hollows and hummocks, which become more and more bewildering as the ground becomes harder.” - Bobby Jones

“A course that continually offers problems, one with fight in it, if you please, is one that keeps the player keen for the game.” - Donald Ross

On Conditioning and Greenkeeping….

“What is the best green speed? The one that promotes the best health of the plant and is fitting of the contour of the green.” - Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director

“The toughest week for any private club superintendent is the one in April following the Masters.  But to hold it (Augusta) as a model for all other courses is just not right.” - Bill Coore

“The only thing that should be allowed to interfere with the greenkeeper is the weather.” - Tom Simpson and H.N. Wethered

“The best golfing grasses vary in color.  They may be red, brown, blue, dark green, light green, yellow and at times even white and gray.  A golf course that is consisted entirely of one shade of green would be merely ugly.  There is great charm and beauty in the varying shades of color on a golf course.” - Alister Mackenzie

On Committees and Opinions….

“A man may be a very good golfer and yet know little about golf architects and golf architecture.” - Charles Banks

“It is my belief that too many American courses are retarded in proper development and improvement by unintelligent although doubtless well intended criticism and advice from the locker rooms.  Without a doubt, there exist more amateur course architects and turf authorities among the members of some of our clubs than there are following these crafts professionally." - A.W. Tillinghast


Architects and Architecture…

“An architect’s earnest hope is, without doubt, that his courses will have the necessary vitality to resist possible adverse criticism, and will endure as a lasting record of his craft and of his love for his work.” - H. S. Colt

“Some architects are faintly contemptuous of suggestions made by “amateurs”, but the wise architect is aware that he does not know it all and that really good ideas are often developed in these conferences.  He never turns down a sensible suggestion simply because it has been made by someone else.  On the contrary he accepts it thankfully and promptly embodies it in his plans.” - William Flynn

“It’s not how long but how good – the merit of a hole is not judged by its length but rather by its interest and variety.” - A.W. Tillinghast

“When you get those dudes thinking, they’re in trouble.” - Pete Dye (referring to designing courses to be played by PGA Tour players)

“The strategy of the course is the soul of the game.”- George Thomas

“My inspiration comes from the golfers themselves, who in spite of kicking and cursing, find that a trip around one of my courses is always memorable." - Pete Dye

On Length, and the Golf Ball….

“Do not let certain standards become an obsession.  Quality, not length; interest, not the number of holes; distinction, not the size in the greens – these things are worth striving for.” - Donald Ross

“The merit of any hole is not judged by its length but rather by its interest and its variety as elective play is apparent.  It isn’t how far but how good!” - A.W. Tillinghast
“It is the feel of the shots rather than the measure of the tape that is the greatest asset to the builder of the courses.” - A.W. Tillinghast

“It has often been suggested that an uninteresting hole might be improved by lengthening it, but it would be a safe axiom to adopt, “It will only be made worse and take longer to play.  Shorten it and get it over”. - Alister Mackenzie

“All architects will be a lot more comfortable when the powers that be in golf solve the ball problem." - William Flynn (note that he made this statement nearly 100 years ago!)

On Building and Renovating Courses….

“In golf construction, art and utility meet: both are absolutely vital; one is utterly ruined without the other.” - George Thomas

“Many clubs could and should have short courses in addition to their long courses.” - Robert Hunter

“Millions and millions of dollars have been spent on golf courses and millions more in changing them.  Most of these mistakes have been made by club committees assisted by golf professionals." - Devereux Emmet

On Bunkers and other Hazards…

“There is no such thing as a misplaced bunker.  Regardless of where a bunker may be, it is the business of a player to 

avoid it." - Donald Ross

“Often, the very highest recommendation of a bunker is when it is criticized.  That shows that it is accomplishing the one thing for which it was built; it is making players think." - Donald Ross

“No bunker of mine ever hurt a golfer if he stayed out of it." - Walter Travis

“The risk of going into a bunker is self-imposed, so there is no reason why a player should condemn a bunker as unfair." - C.B. Macdonald

“Getting in a water hazard is like being in a plane crash – the result is final.  Landing in a bunker is similar to an automobile accident – there is a chance of recovery." - Bobby Jones

On Trees…

“As beautiful as trees are, and as fond as you and I are of them, we still must not lose sight of the fact that there is limited place for them in golf." - Donald Ross


“Trees are a fluky and obnoxious hazard." - Donald Ross

“He who insists on preserving as tree where it spoils a shot should have nothing to say about golf course construction." - George Thomas

“I sometimes take my very life in my hands when I suggest that a certain tree happens to be spoiling a pretty good golf hole." - A.W. Tillinghast

On Rough and High Grass….

“Long grass entails too much searching for golf balls."  -  C.B. Macdonald

“Rough grass merely prolongs the length of time players are in the danger zone." -  Alister Mackenzie

“For keeping down the grass through the course, nothing can be better than grazing with sheep." - Willie Park, Jr.

And a few of my absolute favorites…

“The real test of a course: Is it going to live?” - H.S. Colt

On improving the game of golf – “Your business is not to improve the game but to improve your play."  - C.B. Macdonald (who was also known for listening to members suggestions on how to improve the course, but then sent them a bill for the work to be carried out!).

“It is interesting to observe what very poor results are often achieved at very considerable expense.” - H.S. Colt

“A country which gets golf minded need not worry about the honor, the integrity and honesty of its people." - Donald Ross

“Blindness is the type of hazard in golf which contains the element of mystery.  If we were not all so concerned with our scores, and, instead played golf for the pleasure in playing the strokes, blindness would not be so abhorrent to us as it is today." - Max Behr

 It is interesting to revisit these statements now and again, especially while attempting to navigate our game’s challenges today.  There are quite a few valuable suggestions made by those who built golf here in America over 100 years ago.  And we’re still following their sage advice today…


As of recent there was a quote from one of our recent PGA pros that amused as well as inspired me again. "Golf is not fair". Shy of being stunned by the comment. I looked back to a moment I had with on old sage president of a G.C. Const. Co. im sure his response would of been. is badmitten fair? ;) To that I would have quickly responded. "Is playing pool fair? thinking only of the angles,trajectories that involve a tad of English on the cueball in order to achieve the needed result. Without disputing any of the adaged quotes above. As a veteran golf course shaper I will k.i.s.s. It can be spoiled if we don't see the magic of the design.;)
Comment by Dan Gadd - posted on 07/01/2013 08:37 am

Although there is a dispute regarding the validity of the quote normally attributed to Mark Twain, "Golf is a good walk spoiled.”
Comment by Mark M. Fruehan - posted on 06/25/2013 08:52 pm

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