Geoff Shackelford is a prolific golf commentator and one of the most important voices in the game today. He has many strings to his bow - website host, architecture buff, podcast presenter, TV talking head, golf course architect, author extraordinaire.
What I have love about Shackelford is that he comes from a place of absolute authenticity and communicates passionately what he believes is best for the game. He cares about the state of the game, and protecting its future, and that shines through in his work. However he does this with a lightness of touch and a sense of humour that means he never comes across as pious.
Enough fawning? Over to Geoff!
My three principles for a favorite golf course are: can I remember every hole after playing it, do I want to play the course every day, and is it a great place to take a dog for a walk? Those three principles speak to many elements: routing, walkability, atmosphere, intimate scale, beauty, attitude and design ingeniousness. Ultimately, it’s all about fun factor and here are the places I could never grow tired of walking, playing, studying and savoring -
ST ANDREWS - THE OLD COURSE
The contours, the magical turf, the setting, the strategy, the history: it’s a marvel every time I’ve been blessed to see it or play the Old Course at St. Andrews. While the iconic holes provide the Instagram moments, it’s the shots you play elsewhere that provide the most thrills. Some gorse removal and return of more battered and broken down bunkers would be nice. As would seeing good players once again playing the Road as it was at its best. UK Golf Guy Review
If a course could be as cinematic as the Old Course, this is the one in different ways. If the Old Course is The Godfather, this is Citizen Kane. Kind of crazy and funny and surreal, but still brilliant fun to play and study. It’s the perfect size and acreage for a golf course with no dull moments, despite the claims of many that the “new” portions don’t come close to measuring up to the old parts. Over the course of 18 holes you need a bit of everything and Prestwick provides all of the joys imaginable. And such a welcoming staff and membership at such a historic club never hurts.
Golf Club Atlas feature, Planet Golf
NORTH BERWICK (WEST LINKS)
The best collection of holes and the perfect place to play every day. The transformation of this from “too quirky” to “so amazing” over the last 20 years may be the best thing that’s happened in golf architecture. The course I’d most want to play every day. I still haven’t a clue how the Redan spawned what it has, but I suspect like many longer Redan offshoots it was a better hole when the ball went a lot shorter and the hole played almost like a par-3 1/2. UK Golf Guy review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf
Possibly the most accessible links because of the views afforded of scenery and the opportunity to reflect on holes you’ve played or will play. Something about getting above the course after the sixth gives many a better understanding that they might not grasp on more traditional out-and-back links. The holes themselves are all so fun to play. Late evening golf here, playing firm, is as satisfying as the sport can get.
top100golfcourses.com, telegraph.co.uk, Graylyn Loomis, UK Golf Guy Review
You set out on a voyage of discovery and find nothing but pleasurable golf holes, scenery and intrigue. There is no possible way anyone could tire of playing here. I’m so happy more and more people are making the trip here and are consistently blown away. Recent improvements to the 9th hole have also shut up critics pointing to the lone uninspired hole. Golf Club Atlas, Cruden Bay Website
Perfect scale, unusual setting and you’d never grow tired of this one, either. This is A.W. Tillinghast at his zaniest and the club has always taken care of what they have. Also, the late Frank Hannigan would kill me if this wasn’t on my list.
Playing the Top 100 blog, Frank Hannigan Portrait
Design perfection - the 18th is still a strange ending even with MacKenzie and Hunter’s fairway bunkers recently restored. Every hole has character even without the surrounds. The experience has always been perfect, from the staff appreciating how lucky they are to be there, to the simple clubhouse, pro shop and locker room, to the maintenance. Believe it or not, I don’t think the architects get enough credit for how they managed the design creation and execution here. It was trickier than most would think, yet when you play it, the entire thing seems so effortlessly created. Graylyn Loomis, Golf Digest, Playing the Top 100
My favorite Raynor and one of my favorite places in the game. Another fine example that golf on mostly dead-flat ground with a few dramatic moments thrown in, can give you all the excitement you need. The greens here are so wonderfully bizarre and like with Raynor’s Westhampton, another recently restored masterpiece, you could just hit chip shots for fun all day around most of the greens and find yourself inspired. Superintendent Brian Palmer’s attention to the playing details adds to the prestige and enchanting vibe here.
Golf Club Atlas, Fried Egg
Even with a couple of changes needing to be fixed, as close to a perfect nine for fun, architectural intrigue and beauty. If the game had more of these, it would be a lot more popular. Short, quirky, natural and downright dreamy. And you can do it all in a leisurely 80 minutes.
Geoffshackleford.com, Planet Golf
MUSSELBURGH LINKS, THE OLD COURSE
This combines my affinity for golf, golf history, horse racing and 9-hole fun. I’m always happy playing golf here. The lack of concern for this place over the years by the Honourable Company is confounding. The place that gave them their start, has been under siege many times and just needs a little love. Musselburgh should be a living museum to the early days of the game. It still very much is, but this should be a shrine every golfer insists on visiting to say hello to the ghosts of early golf, early club making and to see what a perfect 9-hole community course could look like.
Musselburgh Old Links
A huge thanks to Geoff for taking the time to put his list together with so much thought - the observations here are really spot on. Next up, golf course architecture enthusiast Tim Gallant will be sharing his 10 favourite courses.