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Minimalist Golf Course Design at its Finest

In an industry where developers and golf course architects view making golf courses as a profession that helps them earn money, two people stand-out. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have been designing and developing golf courses for about 20 years and sees each of their creation as an art form.

Coore, at a ripe age of 66, always spends his working hours at the work site. Whenever he is given a project, he always identifies the ‘easiest and most natural way to move around the land using the tracks animals have created,’ by walking through the land. Sometimes, he and Crenshaw would walk around the land multiple times before they put down anything on paper.

His design philosophy is that the design for the golf course should ‘seem natural, aligned with how they would instinctively traverse the land if they were on foot.’

Knowledgeable golfers would say that his golf courses are “minimalist.”

Coore, together with the two-time Masters champion, Crenshaw have made it a point to look for sites which are “naturally gifted for golf,” removing as little dirt as possible.

According to Coore, “The human capability for imagination is vast, but it’s nowhere near as vast as nature’s in terms of variety, randomness and surprise.”

Sand Hills in Mullen Nebraska is a testament to their design philosophy. The course is nestled in treeless dunes. Golfweek has even cited it as the No.1 modern American golf course.

Aside from Sand Hills, they have also built beautiful courses on the Oregon Coast, on a cliff overlooking Long Island in New York, and in a desert in Arizona.

Coore got his first taste of designing golf courses when he apprenticed with Pete Dye at the TPC Sawgrass in Florida and then Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

In 1985, Coore formed a partnership with Crenshaw.

“It’s a very nebulous process. Do I see contours that suggest interesting golf shots? Do a few natural locations for greens, or even entire holes, pop out at me,” Coore speaking about his designing techniques.

Once these two senior golf course designers have gotten a feel of the land, they will spend time drawing out the overall circulation pattern. They use topographical maps and aerial photos to plot where particular holes will be placed.

Still believing in the traditional method of designing, Coore’s only tools are the 12-inch ruler and a 1980s circa range finder. He confessed that his team isn’t even using CAD or any other computer programs when designing courses. More often than not, he and Crenshaw would lay-out the course by what they see inside their head.

This amazing partnership has continued to thrive even if they work in different states.

Coore said that a very good golf course is “like a really good essay or poem. If you get all nuances the first time through, well then, it wasn’t very good.”