Golf courses and their design

Joaquin Précoma Valle

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Los Cabos has become a favorite national and international golf destination. According to Golf Digest, there were 220 golf facilities in Mexico in 2018 and 12 of the 16 finest courses were right here.

Even better, Los Cabos is home to four of the top 100 courses in the world. The Querencia course is number 97, Quivira 93, Cabo del Sol Ocean 70 and Diamante Dunes number 47.

With such an attractive offer, it’s no wonder golf tourism has grown appreciably over the last decade in Los Cabos. The rate of growth shows no sign of slowing down with the recent opening of the Rancho San Lucas course designed by Greg Norman and the upcoming opening of the Costa Palmas course designed by Robert Trent Jones II.

In the case of Los Cabos, the development of golf courses has followed the residential real-estate business model. The most prestigious international luxury resorts strategically offer not only golf but timeshare ownership or fractional property or housing in a horizontal or vertical mode. Employing this model, large blocks are developed for residential and hotel use around the golf courses generally in radial compositions that give greater importance to the Club House. The design favors the creation of true communities not only of residents but also local golfers and international visitors.

This model of design and construction of golf courses has evolved over time and although it is still one of the most widely used, it had its origins in models that were more austere but no less “real.”

From Roman times, we know of a sport consisting of hitting a ball of feathers with a curved stick. However, the origin of golf as we know it today began several hundred years later under the name of Kolt (stick) in the Netherlands, and even more formally, in Scotland in the 15th century.

An early historical figure that played golf was Mary Stuart. She had a course in the town of Saint Andrews near the sea. It is what we would now call a linear dune course designed on an undulating topography that included 11 holes from the clubhouse to the property limits. In total there were 22 holes considering the return to the starting point. In 1764, the 11 holes were redistributed in a more consistent manner to each other and the first 9-hole design was created.  With the return, there was a total of 18 holes.  As a result, Saint Andrews became the golf capital of the time and many of the following courses were designed under the same standard. Even now, Saint Andrews is recognized as one of the best golf courses in the world.

More than 100 years later, in the 19th century, a group of passionate players with no training in architecture or engineering but with a comprehensive knowledge of the sport and with the intention of improving the experience on the courses, debuted as designers and created the regulations that rule the sport today. Alister MacKenzie, a surgeon by profession, designed more than 50 golf courses, including three of the 100 most important golf courses that exist today. He also created and imposed the 13 commandments of golf course design that still apply to most courses in the world. A golfer named Tom Morris introduced the different textures of grass, course obstacles and the tee boxes and additional contributions were made by Harry Colt, Charles Hugh Alison, John Stanton Fleming Morrison and others.

Following in the footsteps of the players who worked to improve the golf courses, a new group is now defining the future of the sport, including Pete Dye, Dave Thomas, Peter Allis, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus who has designed seven golf courses in Baja California Sur, including two of the top 100 in the world.

What’s next for the design of golf courses? If there is a theme developing, it is the introduction of sustainability. There is an obvious concern about global warming but also an awareness of possible economic challenges and the need for citizen participation.

Golf course design today includes the introduction and appreciation of endemic plant species, irrigation systems controlled by artificial intelligence to optimize resources, the reading of topography using three-dimensional models that allows greater use of natural soil, and a more rational design that favors the environment before the whims of the designers. We will obviously have more much to say in future years as Los Cabos continues to be one of the most important golf destinations.

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