Donald Steel

donald steel golf architect, finegolf, fine golf,

Donald Steel

Donald Steel has been at the forefront of fine golf and been considered an all round ‘good egg’ for sixty years. A champion golfer and county cricketer, author of the best book ever written on links courses, he has advised or designed new over 400 courses around the world and can truly be called “The living father of UK golf course architecture”. He continues as chairman of the Greenkeepers Training Committee.

He has helped advise FineGolf from its very beginning (and is a member of our Advisory Panel). He led the expert panel at FineGolf’s inaugural Enjoyment Day, see his YOUTUBE Video.
We are honoured that for this our special 50th Newsletter that Donald has penned some thoughts on :-


The state of today’s game and how can it accommodate both the professional and recreational player.


“Golfers of my generation were taught to keep the ball down, the sensible tactic especially on fast running courses. Today’s golfers are taught to fly it high- higher than we could ever have imagined. That is largely because, if distances of 350 yards are achievable from the tee, the ball spends a lot more time in the air, shots to the green descending almost vertically. Modern clubs and the ball generate such power and, when there is little or no wind, the stronger players  prosper.

However, when the wind stirs, the fairways are narrow and the rough thick, it is a different story. The ability to flight and shape shots becomes more difficult. As a consequence, guile, imagination and skill comprise the “rescue clubs”. Those who can hit the ball only one way can be found wanting.

In any circumstances, the key to the equation is the state of the ground allied to the width of fairways and the density of the rough, gorse or heather lining them.  It is not hard to make courses impossible although the defence of those responsible for course presentation would be that fairway shaping is performed well in advance of big events without any knowledge of what weather conditions will be like on the day.

Of more major concern is that, in order to thwart the high and mighty, some golf course architects and tournament committees feel obliged to produce courses that only the best can play- sometimes only the very best of the best. Strategic design is in danger of being sacrificed on an altar of big carries to remote pin positions on small targets invariably surrounded by water or collars of rough necessitating  a full swing to send the ball ten yards. Margins for error are minimal. What is  more, if you think Tour players are slow going about their business, think how long it takes the paying customer on these penal courses of which there are more and more . Attempting such  challenges at great cost and a funereal pace is a sure way of denting the game’s enjoyment and popularity.

The game’s salvation lies far more with courses with more options- the more, the merrier. Of course, climate is a determining factor but that doesn’t alter the fact that the best staging grounds are those governed by the sort of traditional, sustainable management that Jim Arthur advocated years ago. It was his rallying cry that later led FineGolf to join in the chorus.  Such courses provide something for everyone, are easier and less costly to maintain, are far more fun to play and enable you to get round in time for a good lunch. As Chancellors of the Exchequer proclaim at the end of their Budget speeches, “I commend them to the House”.

Reader Comments

On June 24th, 2015 Perry Somers said:

Well said Sir! Sadly I feel commercial interests the world over have influenced the course designers into a more spectacular direction than one based on common sense.

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