Designing a Golf Course

General ideas

A good golf course integrates several aspects into one single and natural solution. There are certain demands and needs given when designing a course. These are given by Neighbours, Laws, Environement, Nature, Golf and last but not least Aestethics. Sometimes it can get quit tricky to integrate all these things and find a common sense for good solutions. In most cases though it is well possible to integrate all of these needs into a golf course, as there is no fix rules by the game it self what a golf course has to look like. The RSA Golf rules only define the size of the hole itself. Some regulations and guidelines are given by rating comities and grown standards but these are very flexible as well. Basicaly the course standards reduce to some major points like:

  • The number of holes is 6, 9 or 18 per course.
  • The courses PAR averages around 4 per hole, thus resulting in PAR 20-28, 30-42, 64-80 with an average of 24, 36, 72.
  • Traditionaly the total lenght of a course averages to 2100m, 3100m, 6200m, again with a wide variation.
  • There is a Putting Green and a Driving range.
  • Infrastructure with Clubhouse, Parking and Machinery storage.


Terrain is to most imporatant par for a golfcourse. Typically it’s used as follows:

  • 30-40% natural or renatured as rough, woods, lakes/ponds, etc.
  • 30-40% playing aerea for the course.
  • 10-20% infrastructure and parctice aerea.

The interesting part of it is the playing aerea and there it distributes something like the following with big variations, depending on the actual course:

  • 30-50 % fairway’s
  • 20 % greens
  • 15-35 % semi-rought (1st cut)
  • 10 % trap’s (bunkers, water)
  • 5% T-boxes

Course layout

Good course layout show some elementary criteria like:

  • reasonable distances from greens to next T.
  • T1 and last green close to the clubhouse.
  • holes do not cross.
  • T-shot landing aereas in safe distances from other greens and T-boxes or other not ballproof aereas.
  • natural integration into existing terrain with minimal effort.


This can vary from very simple to absolutely top 1st class. It normaly includes:

  • Clubhouse / Restaurant
  • Wardrobes
  • Proshop / Reception
  • Storage aerea for members equipement
  • Reception
  • Parking
  • Greenkeepers aerea including garage for mowers and other machinery.

Sample (Named: 3 GrizzlyGolf holes)

Now lets have a closer look into the Coursedesigning process, as i do it. Not allways, but mostly. Here i use a small 3 Hole course with minimal infrastructure and minimal surrounding addons. Basically these are the steps of the process:

  1. Create the Terrain.
  2. Raw layout of the holes.
  3. Form the holes and raw modling.
  4. Obstacle setting and fairway building.
  5. Modeling T and Green aereas.
  6. Add infrastructur needed.
  7. Generate Planting.
  8. Modify look.
  9. Complete details.


Terrain and the 3 holes

When creating my terrain, i usualy select my sliders for water and hills as i want them to be. The sliders for trees and number of holes go to zero. Difficulty (used for holegeneration only) goes to medium.
When the terrain is generated by GNCD i normaly select a clubhouse and put it down right in the center of the plot, just to mark it.
Next i select the red brushes to create my landscape. Here a wide open vally with a river going thru it. When i’m done with the terrain, before creating any hole, i set my hole sliders in the layout section. The most important are:

  • green: size, slope and hazards typically to minimum, speed and firmness to what i desire.
  • fairway: width and hazards typically to minimum and firmenss to what i wish.
  • rough: 1s cut and heavy rough to minimum.
  • T’s: desired markers and color, typically yellow as we play Amateur T’s. Equipement off, no need for bags on the T-boxes.

Raw holes

hole 1 and 2

This having done i lay down my first, or here all 3 holes. The holes generate now have a square T-box with a green surface and a minimal size green at the end.
The next step i take now is to zoom in on all the greens and set there size to zero. This leaves me a T-marker out in the wilderness, but that for the moment does not matter.



left of the river

Next i select the landing aerea for the T-shots and “mark” them with a reasonable patch of fairway. Then i do the same for the landing aerea of the approach shot. If you take a close look at the pictures on the right you can see these paches.

Going thru the holes to try if the landing aereas that i had marked work for every hole gives a good impression of the view from the different spots that can be expected. Sometimes the “play form here” comes in very handy during this stage.

hole 3 coming back

Note: At this stage all the “mini” greens should be still absolutely flatt.

After this testing i might have to addjuste my landing zones here and there and retest them. I also might have to come back to this adjusting later during the process.



Raw forming and modeling

The next step in the process is the froming and modeling of my holes.
First thing i do is to lay down rough (1st cut) to give my holes the forms i want them to have. Here i normaly also lay down the 1st cut for the T-aereas and setup the dummy t-markers i want. Be generous with these patches as most obstacles plus the fairways and greens will have to fit in. My standard brush for doing this is the D-form that allows to use various radiuses without change the brush.

Typically i hold and pull this brush along the planned borders in the 1st step. Ctrl-“arrows” allows rotation and resizing, without while drawing. So a later U-ndo will remove all i layed down in one step. When i like what i see, i follow the border line and add some more patches the make unwanted wavings disapear. This needs a bit of practice and lots of U’s.

When i’m done with the 1st cut, the next step is modeling the holes using the blue brushes. Make sure not to forget the t-boxes, to prevent them from dropping into the ground, when you lay down the fairway patches for them.
My favorite brush here, as prolly for most, the lost dot way to the left.

After this step some more testplaying may be helpfull as well.

As you can see in the following pictures, at this stage it starts looking like a golfcourse allready.

hole 1 drive landing and approach
hole 2
hole 3
hole 3 from ladies T
hole 3 approach






Obstacles and fairway

It’s normaly during this stage only when i add bunkers and other obstacles. Here i’ve alleready placed some during the previous phase. Obstacles and bunkers can go inside the 1st cut, out of it or even over its edge, depending how i want them. I prefere them the be inside the 1st cut.

Now i lay down my fairway, all inside the allready modeled 1st cut. Again the “drawed” borders will need some adjustement by adding additional patches.

When you use O.B. (or hopefully soon, waterhzards) don’t forget to mark it using the OB stakes and the red/yellow stakes.

Some fine-tunig of the terrain sculpting will also be needed, specially at the borders of the fairway and the 1st cut, where the “triangle” technique unity uses might become visible. And of course some testplaying again.

Hole 1

T aerea -> fairway
T-landing -> green
green area



hole 2

mens t’s
ladies t’s
green aerea


hole 3

mens t’s
ladies champion t’s
ladies ama t’s
drive landing zone
2nd shots landing zone
green area


Modeling T-aereas and Greens

There has been written a lot about this in the GNCD forums allreads. No need to repeat it all. Just some little tips and tricks here.

When flattening your t-boxes, start with the dummies as they will flatten a square around them automatically. As the last on flatten your playing t and make sure that none of the dummies changes it again. If nessesarry, move the dummy further away.

When forming an modeling your greens again make sure to get smoth borders and slopings. Think about several possible pin positions, even if you only use one. It makes the green look more realistic. Finaly decide for the one pin position you want to set and use the “flag”-option to set it.

This is also the phase when i normaly do the modeling of my bunkers.

After having completed this step the course is ready for intensive test playing to make sure everthing fits together. As a trick to simulate strong headwinds you can t-off with a 3i and use max 4i on the fairways. If it still playes fine, you’ll be ok even in max winds.

Green 1 with 4 pins
T 2
green area 2
green 2, pin anywhere
green 3, with 5 pins



This section contains 2 parts. The course infrastructure and the club infrastructure.

For the course infrastructure you can add whatever you think is needed for the course. Try not to “overload”. Major things that make a course realistic are:

  • pathes, I’ve used walking pathes of heavy rough in the example.
  • driving range
  • putting green
  • distance stakes (international standard in meters to the front of the green). On older courses they can also be in yards or to the center of the green. This is typically marked on the scorecard.
  • ballwashers, benches, etc. in the waiting area close to the t-boxes.
  • direction signs.
  • washrooms.

The clubhouse infrastructure contains:

  • the clubhouse (obviously)
  • parking
  • warehouse for the greenkeepers
  • hotel


Planting basically can be done in 2 ways. Either generated or manual.

What i mostly do is to adjust the tree-slider now to the amount of what i’d like to have. I might allready have manualy planted some trees that i use as “obstacles” for certain holes, but these will be untouched by GNCD. After having adjusted my slider i’ll have to check the whole course if there are created trees blocking some shot’s or views. To remove these simply add a “delete generate tree” and/or “… object” patch to where it is.

hole 1

2015-08-14_00024 2015-08-14_00025

hole 2

2015-08-14_00026 2015-08-14_00027 

hole 3

2015-08-14_00028 2015-08-14_00029 2015-08-14_00030 2015-08-14_00031 2015-08-14_00032

Modify look and details

This is one of the finalizing phases where you might change this or that. Depending what you see during intensive test-playing. When i reach this stage for a course i normaly let i rest untouched for a few days, then play it and modify what i don’t like, until i go thru and get the “that’s it feeling”.

Most of these little things are of “cosmetical” nature, like some animals here and there, maybe a picknick area behind green 7, a fence along fairway 12, etc. No limit to your imagination.

I won’t do any of these to this sample course to allow better view of the results of each phase. You can play it under the name of “3 GrizzlyGolf holes”.


This section is a short discussion about some (unfortunately quit common) don’ts that should be avoided. The modified course containing these is published as “3 GrizzlyGolf don’ts” in tgc as well. Maybe the following could help a little. Some need to see the negative examples to get the positive.  🙂 

Lets have a look in details and why these are don’ts.

Hole 1 T-boxes

2015-12-01_00001 A quit common way to build a T-box, but:

  1. I have never seen a green-mower on a t-box.
  2. The concentric rings of fringe, fairway, 1st cut and rough look ugly and indicate that the designer has no clue what to use them for.
  3. The size of the t-box does not match the course, it allmose looks like a landing strip for gliders.
  4. 2015-12-01_00002The pathes (symbolized by 1st cut) lead straight into the next t-box. This would lead into seeing to following irl, where the cart also stands for players pulling their trolley.


Hole 1 fairway

2015-12-01_00003 The classic artificial cosmetical 1st cut that is good for nothing. This actually might be caused by the naming confusion between 1st cut (called rough) and the actual rough (called heavy rough) that has the same characteristics as the underlaying terrain thru the course. Typically the 1st cut is mowed down to 3-5 cm (1 – 1.5 inches), the 2nd cut (heavy rough patches) is mowed to 5-10 cm (1.5 to 3 inches). Whereas the basic terrain is untreated and can be of any hight.

2015-12-01_00004The 2nd picture here shows the layup area where weaker players would try to lay up there ball with the 2nd shot (this is a quit long par 4). This area actually should be fairway or at least 1st cut to give them a fair change the get the 3rd shot somewhat close to the pin. This is the reason why the nailsissors sized 1st cut contouring everthing is worthless. Apart from it looking ugly.

Hole 1 green

2015-12-01_00005Well ironed green areas around the pin in huge sizes should be called “birdienests” and don’t belong onto a golfcourse. Appart from it beeing impossible to build, as the terrain below the green will work with the years and become uneven on its own, no matter how hard it’s built.

2015-12-01_00006Here the missplaced path to the next T not only leads to carts and trolleys beeing parked, driven and pulled over the greens, but this green will be destroyed within quit a short period of time.

Hole 2

2015-12-01_00007 This t-areas are a bit improved. At least the pathes lead around the t-boxes and players are invited to avoid driving and pulling over the t-boxes. But still the concentric cut circles look ugly.

2015-12-01_00008The green on this par 3 is more like a night mare then a fair offer inviting golfers to have fun on the course. Why?

  1. The allmost inexisting apron leads directly into the water hazard.
  2. The right edge of the green slopes severly down into the water hazard.
  3. The left side behind the pin slopes severly into the bunker.
  4. Both, the water hazard and the bunkers have been layed down into the green itself without any additional work done on them. Here the least would be to reduce the size of the green, add some fairway or 1st cut between the hazards and the green, to avoid that ugly “cutting off”.

Hole 3

This t-area follows the KISS (keep it simple {you} stupid) and immediately look and functionality are hugely improved.

2015-12-01_00011Whereas the drive landing zone in the fairway simply is unfair and stupid. Certainly on a long hole (and this is one) there does not belong any bunker in the center of the fairway. And in addition, it’s sunken without any 1st cut around and any ball only coming close to it is forced to end up in that gamekiller.

And here on the green comes the next gamekiller. The pin is placed right behind a bunker cutting into the green and catching any ball landing near the pin.

2015-12-01_00013Whereas the players buggys and trolleys are well lead around the green area for a change.