Great Scott: Talking Course Design

Global Golfer talks to course designer and author Scott Macpherson about golf course architecture and his high profile UK design at Close House in Northumberland…

Scott Macpherson may be from New Zealand but he loves classic British golf courses, and has a special passion for The Old Course at St Andrews.

Scott Macpherson (centre) at work with Greg Turner at TurnerMacpherson Golf Design

That passion led him to write and publish his influential book: “St Andrews The Old Course, the impact of golf on Time, Tradition and Technology.”

Few people have ever studied in such detail the lasting legacy that the Old Course has in the minds of course designers, golfers and historians of the game.

Scott's influential book on how the Old Course has influenced the game

Scott made a name for himself in course design as part of the team that built the links courses at Fairmont St Andrews Bay, just a few miles down the Fife Coast from the “Home of Golf.”

Collaborations with former European Tour player and fellow Kiwi Greg Turner followed and his latest work has seen him create the new Colt Course at Close House Golf Club, Northumberland.

The course runs close by UNESCO World Heritage site Hadrian’s Wall – a monument to the Roman Empire’s time inBritain– and is MacPherson’s tribute to the remarkable contribution of English golf course architect Harry S. Colt.

More recently, Scott is working on a redesign of Royal Wellington Golf Club in his native New Zealand.

Scott, what makes a great finishing hole?
I believe that the great finishing holes will, more often than not, force a result.

In that, I mean that if a match is coming to a conclusion, the hole has such interest and strategy that good, bold or brave play will be rewarded over insipid or weak hitting.

In the event that stroke-play is the game being played, a great finishing hole will be capable of producing a range of scores.

Of course, they should also be very attractive, and provide an appropriate theatrical and strategic conclusion to the round.

This was my driving force behind the 18th on the ‘Colt’ at Close House which is a thrilling example of a good finishing hole.

The 18th on The Old Course can also throw up a range of outcomes from eagles to double bogeys and it is incredible how many golfers find themselves hitting out of bounds on what looks like the widest fairway in golf.

A classic finishing hole: 18 at St Andrews Old Course

Who is your favourite golf course architect and why?

Harry Colt is an architect who I have studied who I find interesting. He was an intelligent and educated man who I believe changed the direction of how golf courses were being designed.

Apart from being a trained lawyer and the Secretary at Sunningdale, his design work between about 1910-1930 was of the highest calibre.

He had an inclusive approach to design and brought others into the industry, perhaps most notably Dr A. Mackenzie – who contributed to the design of Augusta National Golf Club, home of the U.S Masters.

He also has a number of ‘firsts’ to his name;

  • He was the first designer not to have been a professional golfer.
  • He was also the first to consistently use a drawing board in preparing his course designs.
  • He was the first to prepare tree-plating plans for his layouts.

His most notable designs are;

  • Rye(1894)
  • Ganton (1891)
  • SwinleyForest(1910)
  • Woodhall Spa (1912)
  • St Georges Hill (1913)
  • St AndrewsEdenCourse (1913)
  • Wentworth (1924)
  • Muirfield (1922-25) 

Do you prefer golf course architecture from the past or the present?
Both. Each period has had its challenges.

Some of the land that architects of the past had to work with was arguably better suited to making natural golf courses.

And when the top architects were given that land to work with we have seen some of the best golf courses ever laid out.

Modern day architects are dealing with so many more constraints, from the legal to the environmental, and so have to have perhaps a wider range of skills to be able to deliver great courses to what is now a more discerning golfing fraternity.

If you could play anywhere, where would it be and why? 
I’ve been fortunate to play many good courses.

Those I gravitate to have lasting appeal.

They are attractive, interesting, fun, reward those who take risks, yet fail to favour one particular type of golfer – those who hit the ball left to right or vice versa.

British courses I have great affection for are The Old Course inSt Andrews, Muirfield, Woodhall Spa.

Tell us more about Close House and why this course is special?
The ‘Colt Course’ at Close House has been a great success. The course sits on a dramatic piece of land with a large amount of ‘fall’ from the top to bottom of the course.

The routing treats the contours very gently and golfers enjoy an exciting experience as they play the course.

One of the biggest successes has been that this course looks like it is already 50 years old. That sounds odd, but in respecting the heritage of the property, the course has been laid out through the wonderful old Oaks, Ash, and Elm trees.

The course also includes the old water ways, stone walls and archaeology, and is a really attractive and fun place for golfers to play.

Fact File
Find out more about Scott.

Scott’s hard back book on the evolution of the Old Course is £45 and can be ordered from his website here

For more about Close House Golf Club, visit:

If you liked reading about Close House Golf Club, find out about where else you can play in North East England in our Northern Lights feature.


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