Template Hole Architecture

                                                                     Template Hole Origins

                                                         The Redan hole at Chicago Golf Club

Photo courtesy of the Henebrys


The idea of template holes were thought up and put into practice by Charles B. Macdonald. Macdonald, a professional level golfer and wealthy socialite who had a very keen interest in golf course architecture and the growth of the game in the USA, was completely underwhelmed by the quality of golf courses in the US and thus went on to travel to Great Britain, spending most of his time in Scotland, to seek out fine golf courses to study their architectural nuances. Whilst in Scotland, Macdoanald played many of the famous courses including: Prestwick, North Berwick, Lundin Links,  Brancaster, St Andrews and many, many more.

From this experience C.B. Macdonald decided that there were only really 21 types of golf holes (templates) that were truly different from one another and could be implemented on a layout of land to give maximum variety and challenge to golfers of all skill levels. His philosophy was that these holes HAVE to be used on all courses to truly build something that would engage the player for the entirety of the round. So with these fresh new concepts on hole design C.B. Macdonald traveled back home to America and began to implement his ideas and what happend next was Chicago Golf Club – the first ever 18 hole golf course to be built in the States. Chicago Golf Club not only has the historic connection as being the genesis for golf course architecture, but it also still to this day, hosts major events in modern golf. A course that has truly stood the test of time.


                                                       The Template Evolution in America

The Double Plateau hole at Fishers Island Club

Photo courtesy of Jon Cavalier


As time passed since Macdonald came back from Scotland with an arsenal of information and research into course architecture, other architects and non architects became familiar with the template concept and began to adopt many of these hole ideas for their own designs. Names like A.W. Tillinghast, Donald Ross and the infamous duo of Langford and Moreau all incorporated templates on many courses over the course of their careers.

                                                                        The Alps hole at NGLA

Photo courtesy of Jon Cavalier

During the early stages of the planning of the National Golf Links of America (NGLA) C.B. Macdonald hired a man named Seth Raynor, a civil engineer by trade, to survey the land upon which NGLA was to be built. Raynor became absolutely immersed in what Macdoanld was doing and almost instantly took up golf course architecture in place of civil engineering. The two of them went on to become, in my opinion, the greatest architectural partnership in golfing history. It wasn’t too long after this that Raynor had the same effect on Charles Banks (a teacher by trade) and converted banks into a golf architecture enthusiast whilst doing some at at the Hotchkiss school, building a nine hole course there. These three names C.B Macdonald, Seth Raynor and Charles Banks are the infamous builders of template hole golf courses as they followed the philosophy religiously and built these types of courses in their purest form.


                                                                            The Templates

                                               The Short hole at Sleepy Hollow Country Club

Photo courtesy of Jon Cavalier

I’m not going to give a deep analysis on each template in this blog post, that is reserved for future blogs on single templates that i have planned – each post giving in game and real life examples/references to selected templates. Here, i am just going to list the templates with a very brief description of their purpose.

Alps – Usually a mid to long par four that plays to a green that is obscured by mounding and a hidden bunker guarding the front of the green. Mostly built on flat or uphill terrain to make hiding the green easier.

Leven – Typically a short par four that has you taking on a cross hazard in the fairway to access a better angle of attack for pin locations tucked behind the front left/right mounded green. Opting to lay up off the tee usually presents players with a semi blind shot into tucked pins.

Double Plateau – A Double Plateau green is as simple as it sounds – the green has two raised plateaus that are separated from one another. This template often features a cluster of bunkers short of the green shaped in the form of a nose. These bunkers are referred to as the Principals Nose or the Popes Nose bunkers.

Redan – The redan is a mid to long par three that slopes from front to back. the green usually sits at a 45 degree angle from the line of play and is guarded by a deep and punishing front bunker which is known as the “Redan bunker.”

                                          The Redan hole at Minnesota Valley Country Club

Photo courtesy of Bergin Golf Designs

Long – The Long hole has been used on par four and five holes and represents either the longest hole on the course (par 5) or the longest par four. The par five versions of these holes can often feature an in play bunker known as hell bunker. These are usually death traps that you don’t want to end up in.

 Cape – This template is commonly misinterpreted. Many think that the Cape is to do with the angle of the tee shot to the fairway, carrying as much of the hazard as you can to get yourself closer to the green. Whilst this intent has been copied many times over even by the likes of Raynor, Banks and other big name architects themselves, the true intent of a Cape is that the green juts out into the water forcing players to carry a water hazard to reach tucked pins. The phenomenon of playing to angled fairway over water i believe originated at Mid Ocean Club, a C.B. Macdonald paradise

 The Cape template at Mid Ocean Club

Photo courtesy of Jon Cavalier

Narrows – A Narrows follows a simple idea. The further you wish to hit the ball up the fairway, the more it will narrow down. Risk the fairway bunkers to leave yourself a shorter approach or play safe and leave yourself a longer second shot.

Valley –  The Valley hole plays down into or across a valley. A good hole for adding interesting elevation changes.

Bottle – Searching the internet you get so many different answers to this one, and as i’m not in possession of the book ‘The Evangelist of Golf’ which is a biography of C.B. Macdonald and the template hole philosophy, I can only describe what I’ve seen in practice. This concept is about giving the player alternate routes to get to the green by using a center-line bunker to split the fairway. The easiest route off the tee often leaves you with a longer and worse angled approach into the green.

Maiden – This hole originates from Royal St Georges in England. Mimicking the original layout of the green it features contouring that plays like a sideways Biarritz. Although the original of this hole is a par three, Raynor liked to incorporate these greens on par four holes at a variety of yardages.

The Maiden green at the Country Club of Charleston 

Photo courtesy of Andy Johnson (the fried egg)

Biarritz – The Biarritz template is a polarizing concept. These greens can range anywhere from 50 – 80 yards long and are split in half by a deep swale that runs horizontally across the middle of the surface. due to the long nature of these greens the Biarritz has varying lengths from the tee box.

Hogs Back – A Hogs Back hole is a true test of driving accuracy. Usually a long long par four, these holes require the player to hit the center of the fairway to have a better lie. Hogs Back fairways deflect balls left and right as the fairway is basically a long running spine. Sometimes its best to use the spine to gain better angles into greens but that can also play against you, as that would often be a tactic that would leave you with the ball above or below your feet for your approach.

Eden – The hole originates from the Old Course at St Andrews, hole eleven to be precise. The Eden typically plays as a mid range par three to a severely sloped back to front green that is protected by three bunkers – the hill bunker on the left, the eden bunker at the back and the deep strath bunker guarding the front . There is also a bunker well short of the green that is occasionally replicated in Raynor designs, this bunker is named “shelly” which is short for “cockleshell.”

                                                          The Eden hole at the Camargo Club

Photo courtesy of the Henebrys

Punchbowl – The punchbowl refers to the green that is usually depressed into a hillside or hollow and has contours and depth that resembles a bowl.

Plateau – What most people refer to today as a “two tier green” is in-fact a Plateau template. The plateau is basically a green that has a raised section and these greens can be far more versatile in their design than most think. The Plateau at The Old White TPC is a great example… the green itself has a fall off at the front and back whilst the middle sits up like a plateau, other holes of this characteristic might have a plateau that halves the green into two different sections. There are many variations.

Prize Dogleg – Seth Raynor was responsible for the Prize Dogleg. These seldom used holes had the player choosing how much of the dogleg they would like to bite off to advance closer to the putting surface. Raynor sometimes used bunkering inside of the dogleg to add extra anxiety off the tee, other times he used cross bunkering to make the hole more difficult. The few of these holes that existed were said to be long and tough, a test of nerves and work-ability of the ball.

Lions Mouth – Another template that was pretty much exclusive to Seth Raynor was the Lions Mouth. The most famous hole of this kind is undoubtedly the tough par four 16th at the Country Club of Charleston. The name refers to the green which has a deep bunker cutting right into the front/middle of the green. The bunker essentially creates two arms on either side of the front of the green which adds a lot of strategy as to where to play to your tee shot to for the best possible angle.

The Lions Mouth green at the Country Club of Charleston

Photo courtesy of Andy Johnson (the fried egg)


Knoll – The Knoll template is a hole that features a perched up green that falls off on all sides. Ideally you want the approach shot to play uphill and semi blind. These greens are usually protected on all sides by bunkers, water hazards or sharp drop offs which makes getting up and down very difficult.

Road – Coming straight outta St Andrews, the Road hole is a direct rendition of the 17th and uses many characteristics from the original design. Typically on a Macdoanld/Raynor/Banks road hole you’d see a tough carry to better your approach to green, the bunkers short of the green known as “progressing” and “scholar’s” the “road” bunker and usually a bunker at the back representing the road itself. You will often find a slightly raised green with a false front and shallow density between the road bunker and the road. Probably the toughest par four template in the world.

Lido – A course that is long gone but not forgotten. The Lido hole existed at Lido Golf Club and was a long par five that had multiple fairways (three sections) with water cutting in between. you see a lot of this in modern design but its believed that C.B Macdonald was the first architect to truly pull off this concept.

Short – This hole is exactly as it sounds. Always the shortest hole on the course which means that this is always a par three. The greens are usually large and severely undulating to test approach and putting. This hole often features a quirky depression in the center of the green that looks like a “thumbprint” or in the case of Forsgate Country Club, a “horseshoe.” Not all Short holes have the thumbprint feature but the best short holes in existence adopted this concept and present a much more interesting challenge than your typical short par three.

                                              The Short hole at Sleepy Hollow Country Club

Photo courtesy of Jon Cavalier











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