Ground Under Repair: The Goalies of Golf

Golf course designer Bruce Charlton joins the podcast

One of the first things any golfer learns is that golf is not a competition of a player against an opponent, or a field of opponents.  Rather, golf is a sport in which a golfer’s opponent is the course itself.

This week on Ground Under Repair, my guest describes himself as a “goalie” in that regard.  Yes, this week the podcast discusses golf course design with the President and Chief Design Officer at Robert Trent Jones II Golf Course Architects.  In that position working for one of golf’s premier design companies, Bruce Charlton has had a major hand in the design of courses around the world.

As it turns out, that lesson that golf’s opponents are the courses applies to the people who design them as well.  While Bruce does not mean for his creations to antagonize golfers, it is important that a new golf course challenge golfers of all levels.

Likewise, a truly great course will give people options to avoid danger, lay up, and take on the course on the course’s terms.  As is explained in the podcast, that might be the biggest difficulty of designing a course.

To design golf courses, one must prepare young.  Bruce describes his own journey to golf course design, including what he studied in college and how he used that in the real world.  Underlining all of it, you can tell just listening that he has a tremendous love of nature, as one would have to in his line of work.

One of Charlton’s courses is Chambers Bay, which hosted the 2015 US Open.  Bruce discusses what it’s like to have a design he worked on host such a big tournament.  The US Open in particular is not one for the high handicapper, and the process of taking a public course and turning it into something that gave Dustin Johnson fits is laid out this week.

Bruce Charlton. Photo:

Our guest this week also tells us of working with Robert Trent Jones Jr., whose name of course is on the door of the building where Bruce goes to work.  The two worked together ever since Bruce graduated college, and the designer makes it obvious that golf course design is an industry where people influence proteges.

Likewise, one person does not create a golf course by himself.  RTJ II puts together teams that work together in putting these courses together, and my guest this week goes out of his way to acknowledge that he did not complete his courses alone.

Most notably, there is a tip in here that can only come from a course designer.  Listen carefully to how Bruce Charlton talks about good golf courses being designed so golfers of every level have somewhere to go.  Indeed, if you look hard enough before you hit a tough shot, you might see a landing area that you’ll find easier to hit, and easier to play from.

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Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.