Weldon Design asks: ‘How do architects route courses? Is there a standard process?'

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

While results are never standard, at least for me, I think the process is. Golf architects won't like me revealing this, or any "design secrets," especially since we shroud the subject in just enough mystery to elevate ourselves to "deity status," and keep anyone from routing courses themselves. Is that magician who divulged magic secrets on television still alive?

My first rule of routing is, if it works easily on the first try, it has 17 or 19 holes. I will get to other rules only after an introduction and shameless banter (read as, "this is padding"). However, I can tell you this about routing:

It's hard work. I usually prepare more than 20 preliminary schematics. I once labeled routings alphabetically, but after once running out of letters, I now use numbers. On some projects, infinity is not enough. As a non-genius, I take inspiration from those who say that genius is 90 percent perspiration, and 10 percent inspiration.

It's a science. My childhood neighbors listened to my ramblings on golf courses, often remarking, "Well, there is a science to everything," which probably was a polite way to end the subject. But it is a phrase I remember to this day. I mention this to commemorate their contribution to my career, and to sum up my ideas on the routing process, which I apply to every routing, even though each site and routing is so different. The process involves:

· Analysis.

· Test and Concept Routings.

· Refinement – Plan and field (often right through clearing and earthmoving).

· Play downhill. The best way to do this is to locate tees on small rises – although large ones work even better. From there, the hole "lays out in front of you like a road map."

I can also tell you some myths that are not in the least true. Architects don't "find natural green sites first. This is more "sound bite" than sound practice. While we do catalogue all the nifty, neat and natural features on a site, every feature can be important, if fit in the basic scheme. If not, it becomes, well, less important.

Architects don't "listen to the land.” I tried, but this certainly didn't work internationally, when the land spoke in a foreign language (like metric), and even Southern routings took longer because the land spoke slowly, usually in a soft drawl. And in the Northeast, I ask the land questions, and it answers, "Who wants to know?" in typical New York fashion.

In fact, we do most work on topo maps, using pre-made clear plastic golf holes to set a general pattern, which never fails to astonish and disappoint office visitors. Our computers do not replace the human thought process in routing.

Routing, in the end, is really just like one giant jigsaw puzzle. We just keep test-fitting the pieces until we make them all fit!