Golf course restoration is a broad term that seems to capture almost any work done in the industry today that isn’t a new build or falls short of blowing it all up and starting from scratch. If you’re contemplating a ‘restoration’, find out what is really meant when a golf course architect uses the term. A mutually agreed definition by both sides will save a lot of headaches in the long run. Let’s take a look at pure restoration and sympathetic restoration:

Pure Golf Course Restoration

This is perhaps the easiest to define as it means putting back exactly what was originally built. In order to put it back, one must know what was there. The foundation for the entire project is bulletproof historical research and golf course archaeology. There are often some considerations that arise which are outlined below:

Boundary Changes – with time, the club may have bought or sold land adjacent to the golf course. Chances are, once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. Westhill Golf Club’s 12th, 13th, and 14th are perfect examples of this. With boundary changes, there is also the modern phenomenon of litigation. Balls leaving the golf course have even been behind changes at major venues. The Royal and Dowie holes at Royal Liverpool Golf Club (Hoylake) are two famous examples of changes made for issues involving boundaries.

Budgetary Concerns – when some golf courses were built, it would appear either the labour was cheap or the club may have had deep-pocketed beneficiaries. Whatever the case, what was built originally may not be a viable endeavour in the modern day. A classic example of this would be Harry Colt’s 300+ bunkers at Tandridge Golf Club. Both building and maintaining them was a mammoth task in Harry Colt’s day but doing so today and presenting them at modern standards would require manpower and a budget that most clubs could never fathom.

Modern Agronomy – most mainstream golfers who watch the PGA Tour week in, and week out are enamoured with green grass, blue water, and fast greens. The pursuit of speed has made many of the undulations on original greens unpinnable. If you restore the Sitwell Green, you’d better have the agronomy dialled in. Architecture and agronomy need to work in tandem and the most successful projects marry these considerations perfectly.

Modern Presentation – most golf courses have bunker rakes and even the slightest impression of a footprint will ruin a round. The smallest of stones justifies the bunkers being lined to limit stone migration at the cost of thousands of pounds per bunker. The palette of the modern golfer is much more refined than our predecessors and that means most architectural features must be presented perfectly. This takes time and money, both of which are important issues for most golf clubs. If it needs to be perfect, it’s possible… but be prepared for fees to rise in line with standards.

Inherent Value – you may be the custodian of a James Braid design, however not all James Braid designs were or will ever be Carnoustie, Royal Troon, or Gleneagles. Some golf courses were built by lesser-known golf course architects but have higher inherent value due to the quality of their work. The 3 Majors’ work at West Sussex Golf Club is a prime example although most golf architecture savants would be hard-pressed to tell you who the 3 Majors were… If it is exceptional golf, it matters little who designed it. Royal St George’s is a prime example… the architect? Laidlaw Purves.

These and a plethora of additional issues can make a pure restoration difficult. Weighed and measured, pure restoration is usually the desired route at those golf clubs which are integral to the history of the game and should be preserved for future generations. If these golf courses were buildings, they would be Grade 1 Listed.

Sympathetic Golf Course Restoration

The waters are muddied when you move away from a pure restoration. There may be calls for modifications whilst trying to retain the character or main elements of the original design whilst modernising the golf course. A good starting point is to tweak where needed and leave good enough alone. Let’s look at some common sympathetic golf course restoration elements:

Tees – Who does the club wish to cater to? Will a few yards make a difference? Will long walks back to ‘Championship’ tees help or hinder the pace of play? What is the ambition of the club? Is there a desire to hit a specific number like par 72 or 7200 yards? Does each nine need to be ‘balanced’? What about the strategy of width and angles? Are there other ways to achieve the same result without adding length? Tees can add yardage and increase par but golf is played on the ground, not with a card and pencil.

Greens – Some greens were never fit for purpose or maintenance has altered their contours with portions being lost entirely. Perhaps the undulations were too severe and were unplayable even with appropriate agronomy practices. Others may be so insipid they confuse golf for bowls when putting. On particularly windy sites, green size is particularly important. Green complexes are probably the most important feature of a good golf course in addition to routing. If your routing is set, this is probably where you will get the most bang for your buck. Green sites usually mean greenside bunkers so a consultation on both is usually a good idea. If one were to go this far, it would be worth looking at a comprehensive master plan.

Bunkers – Due to the height and distance most golfers hit the ball, bunkers are virtually irrelevant to the tour player. Consistent sand conditions and perfectly ground wedges make bunkers less fearsome hazards than ever before. Scale, partial blindness, and intimidation may still play a role but simply moving bunkers to prescribed landing zones is not enough. The positions of strategic bunkers are relevant only when they affect play. Moving bunkers forward might sound like an easy solution but there is a lot of thought needed to get it right and it probably won’t test the best the way you think.

A Proper Test of Golf – Some golf clubs try to introduce narrower fairways or plant trees to tighten up the course. If you are considering going down this road, stop and get in touch immediately. If you want a case study, research The Addington. This is usually isn’t the tack you want to take…

For most clubs, rather than adding length and planting trees, alternatives like forward tees would be a better idea when it comes to golf course restoration. An ageing membership and a growing youth market make a solid case for catering to this demographic. Sadly, most golf clubs concern themselves with back tees for the 1% rather than forward tees for the bulk of their membership and visitors.

Litigation – Health and safety is an industry buzzword and the resulting threat of litigation must be taken seriously. It may be that the potential exposure to litigation is too much for a golf club to stomach and it is decided something needs to be done. The examples are virtually endless but blind shots, infrastructure encroachment, or even shared golfing features can pose problems that need careful time, thought, and attention. There are likely solutions that can be implemented. Sometimes you just need a fresh set of eyes and creative thinking with knowledge of existing solutions.

Era Correct Restoration

Other considerations are worthy of time and attention. Pure golf course restoration has its place and in some cases, sympathetic golf course restoration is the way forward. There are a couple of points to ponder when it comes to restoration. For example, which era should you restore? In most cases, especially with the older golden age golf courses, there have been a few contributing golf course architects and iterations of a golf course. Let’s look at some well-known examples:

Muirfield – Both Harry Colt and Tom Simpson made major changes to the golf course. If one wanted to restore Muirfield, which iteration would you choose and why?

St Andrews Old – Perhaps the best example that highlights the point made… Regarding the Old Course would Allan Robertson’s version be better than Old Tom Morris’? Perhaps the version based on Alister Mackenzie’s famous map would be the way forward? Perhaps it is the current version of the course you think is best.

Sunningdale New – A full-blown Harry Colt restoration? If that be the case, there is a lot of Tom Simpson you’d have to undo… Perhaps you like the current layout, which would mean keeping some of John Morrison’s input too. In this case, you need to have a great idea of what’s come before and decide which era you want to restore to.

Sunningdale Old – Again, a Willie Park Jr design with Harry Colt making it what it is today. Very few would like to see a return to the Victorian Sunningdale Old. For most, the Harry Colt Sunningdale Old from circa 1908 would seem ideal rather than Park Jr’s 1903 iteration.

All of the examples reveal one fundamental truth… in order to undertake proper golf course restoration, you first need information. Information can be gleaned in many ways, but the primary way is through proper historical research.

Key To Successful Golf Course Restoration

The key to successful restoration begins with historical research. Photographs, maps, and construction drawings are prized among the spoils of properly done research. If direct links to the original as-built golf course are not available, research can also lend a hand in making informed decisions. For example, one should consider the influence of golf equipment at the time of construction or material alternations to the course. Secondly, try to ascertain the intent of the original architect’s design ethos, tendencies, and strategic hallmarks. Design from similar courses of the same era may provide clues. Lastly, understanding why, when, and what motivated changes to the golf course may help you make decisions on the necessity or desire to renovate. An impressive restoration of Scioto by Andrew Green in the USA was primarily done using a cartoonishly drawn map called the Dodo Map.

Evalu18’s Current Projects

St George’s Hill – Evalu18 Ltd completed the master plan and historical research for the restoration of Harry Colt’s ‘master achievement’ by Renaissance Golf Design.

Harry Colt – We are currently researching three Harry Colt restorations in England and Continental Europe.

Need More Help Regarding Golf Course Restoration?

Still, have more questions than answers? Do you want an independent opinion? Evalu18 is willing to offer independent advice on behalf of clubs, committees, chairmen, secretaries, and managers. Why not get in touch to see how we can help? Email: