There's A Method To The Madness

Designing and building golf courses is a dream come true for those of us who are afforded the opportunity to do it. We take this privilege seriously.

There is a free-wheeling, arm-waving, make-it-up-as-you-go element to a golf course project, and this is critical to its artistic success. But there is also a practical skill set required to undertake projects efficiently and well from technical and ecological points of view. We reconcile these two parts by using a well-rehearsed method that involves the following steps:

1. Analysis, Setting Goals, Managing Expectations

We spend a great deal of time at the beginning of each project making sure that we understand what we are getting into and where we should be headed. Once we are satisfied that we are the right fit for a project—and this feeling is mutual for our clients—we work hard to understand the project and its goals. The goals that are set at this stage are critically important. Plus, the better our clients understand how we work, and we understand our clients' methods and systems, the better we can produce the most successful outcomes together. 

2. Layout

We're obsessed with layout and the best and highest land use. We believe that any amount of time spent improving a layout will pay off many times in terms of providing quality improvements and savings in time and cost. The sign of a successful golf course layout is one that is relatively straightforward to build.

3. Planning 

Once goals are set and we have a preliminary scheme for a design, then the detailed planning of a project can begin. While we are clearly field-based in our approach, the planning stage is when we create the tools that are needed to quantify and manage the project. This work typically includes timelines, budgets, drawings, specifications, and supplementary materials that are necessary for obtaining regulatory approvals when needed.

4. Team Building

Once we near the start of construction, we are closely involved in assembling the right build team for our projects. We help our clients select contractors, we appoint project managers, shapers and finish specialists. The value of having a good team is evident in any endeavor. On a golf course construction project, where long hours are often matched with difficult technical conditions, sometimes in far flung locations with added language and cultural challenges, a good team is simply of paramount importance. Respect for our client, the project and the contributions of each team member—which are often very different—is what we value the most in any team member.

5. Construction

Construction is begun on the basis of drawings and specifications that were produced during the planning stages. Once we get started, however, we actively look for creative opportunities and "happy accidents" that can make a project better than by designing everything beforehand. We believe as one of our core tenets that the creative opportunity to learn about a project as it happens, and for a property to reveal itself to us as we work, is far more valuable than planning every detail in the beginning.


On behalf of our clients we assign construction managers, shapers and finish specialists. Controlling these key functions allows us to be highly efficient in how we undertake construction. Depending on the needs of a project, we can work directly with a client "in house" or with a contractor, we can provide turn-key solutions with partners, and everything in between. Since every client's situation is a little different, we do not have a one-size-fits-all formula for how to undertake construction. 

6. Follow-up

Golf courses are living landscapes that change over time. Once a project is built, we usually remain involved on a periodic basis (typically making annual visits) to help a project continue to improve. Great projects are differentiated from others not only by what happens during design, planning, construction and grow-in but also by a commitment to making incremental improvements over time.

J. H. DUNCAN — GOLF COURSE ARCHITECTS

+1 (408) 409-0689

©2019 BY J. H. DUNCAN — GOLF COURSE ARCHITECTS