Golf Course Design Rules of Thumb

A past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects
Dr. Michael Hurdzan is a past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA).

Dr. Michael Hurdzan’s book entitled Golf Course Architecture: Evolutions in Design, Construction, and Restoration Technology is often referred to as the Bible of golf course architecture. According to, “It takes readers inside the designer’s mind through each step of designing a golf green, golf hole, and a golf course.”

In the text, Hurdzan outlines his 16 Rules of Thumb for aspiring golf course architects. We were talking about it today in Golf Course Design with PGA Professional Ed Ekis. Ed agreed that when routing a conventional golf course, the following rules should be followed if at all possible. Of course, each architect is limited by the location of the course as well as its owner, so they’re always subject to modification. Those variables may change the Rules, but that doesn’t mean they still can’t be used as a guideline for those involved with any project:

Rule #1
The starting holes, Nos. 1 and 10, should be easier and wider. You want players to get off to a good start, and oftentimes, they arrive on the tee directly from the office or without the benefit of being able to warm-up first. A wider hole allows golfers to get into their round. Avoid placing hazards on the right side of these holes because most golfers are right-handed and tend to slice the ball. The 1st and the 10th hole should be of medium length with gentle, sloping greens, and if they’re Par 5s, should be of medium length, meaning they’re not quite reachable in two.

Rule #2
Unless the course is private, the starting holes should be positioned next to each other. This permits the starter to utilize and control play. If the 1st tee is backing up, a good starter will send a few groups off No. 10 tee until the congestion dissipates. If he or she cannot see the 10th tee because of its proximity to No. 1, this kind of temporary relief is all but impossible.

Rule #3
The first Par 3 should not occur prior to the 3rd or 4th hole and even then, should only be of medium length. This is a pace of play issue. Par 3s any earlier in the routing can slow down play significantly.

Rule #4
Provide adequate buffers between adjacent holes. This prevents players on one hole from hitting into the players on another, a potentially dangerous situation.

When it was first constructed
When it was first built, there was no more than ten feet separating green and tee at The Old Course at St Andrews.

Rule #5
No more than 100 yards of travel between the green and the following tee. Historically, the very first courses such as The Old Course at St Andrews had no more than ten feet between green and tee.

Rule #6
Landing areas should be visible from the teeing area. Translation: avoid blind tee shots.

Rule #7
Secondary landing areas (such as those commonly found on Par 5s) should be visible and/or the putting surface should be visible from normal approach shot distances on holes that play uphill. Upward grades should be 4% or softer (Ex: 4 ft. per 100).

Rule #8
Long uphill climbs should not be greater than a 5% grade so a person of average health can walk it without tiring. Without tiring means a person of average health can carry on a conversation without getting winded. Uphill grades of 10% should also not exceed 100 yards if at all possible.

Rule #9
Slopes maintained by riding equipment should not exceed a 40% grade.

Rule #10
Again, because a majority of golfers are right-handed and will slice the ball, route the course in a way that minimizes the number of penal hazards or out of bounds on the right side. Typically, this means the golf course will flow in a clockwise direction.

Rule #11
Five sets of tees are preferred. Middle distance golf courses should be around 6,300 yards but be able to stretch out to over 7,000 yards. Forward tees should be around 5,000 yards. One set of tees should be scheduled for 5,600 yards, and another set of tees should be scheduled for 6,700 yards.

Five sets of tees are preferred with middle tees around 6,300 yards but capable of being stretched out to over 7,000.
Five sets of tees are preferred with middle tees around 6,300 yards but capable of being stretched out to over 7,000.

Rule #12
Greens and tees should be appropriately-sized for their anticipated wear and should be in scale to their surroundings. Tees that are usually scheduled for wood play should be 150 square feet per 1,000 rounds. Tees that are usually scheduled for iron play should be 200 square feet per 1,000 rounds.

Rule #13
Harsh hazards should be visible to the player. This permits the player to decide the risk/reward value of the shot.

Rule #14
Provide diversity in the length of holes so as to provide the opportunity for players to utilize as many different clubs and shots in order to help reduce monotony. On your average golf course, there are ten Par 4s (five on each side), four Par 3s (two on each side), and four Par 5s (two on each side).

Rule #15
Provide space for practice putting greens and a practice driving range with a teeing area at least one acre in size (43,560 square feet). Provide for a learning center of sufficient size to allow players to further improve their games.

Rule #16
Avoid middle distance (white) tees on Par 3s greater than 200 yards. Avoid middle distance tees on Par 4s less than 300 yards, and avoid middle distance tees on Par 5s greater than 550 yards.

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