How to Become a Golf Course Designer

By TACP Staff on July 07, 2019

If you like playing golf and have a flair for design but wish the sand traps were moved to the right of the hole, or the bunkers were larger and more difficult to navigate around, you may want to consider a career as a golf course designer.

1. Getting Started in Golf Course Design

Golf course designers are essentially architects. They turn ideas into reality while balancing the needs of golfers, golf course owners, and the physical and budgetary realities that go into making a golf course viable and profitable.

Golf course designers can work anywhere in the world. Golf courses are particularly popular in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, but there are golf courses in almost every country in the world. For this reason, golf course designers that see constant travel as a “perk” rather than a downside will be much happier in their career choice.

Beyond passion, golf course designers must have a wide variety of skills, including the ability to problem-solve, understand construction materials and their limitations, as well as be able to communicate both in writing and verbally with a variety of administrators, bureaucrats, and other interested parties. Designers must have administration skills and sharpened decision-making skills. They must know spreadsheet software, like Microsoft Excel or Mac Numbers, global positioning systems (GPS), how to operate a digital camera, and engineering technology.

2. Learn the Appropriate Skills & Knowledge

There are any number of skills that will be useful for all golf course designers to have when beginning their careers. An understanding of computer-aided design software (CAD) is essential, as is a strong knowledge of blueprints, engineering principles, and graphics software. In addition, a golf course designer must be acquainted with the various construction materials used in golf course design, as well as how to work within and among various administrative bodies. This means that possessing negotiating skills is key.

Golf course designers also should also understand the needs and wants of golfers, since they’re ones that will ultimately be paying the greens fees that make golf courses profitable. Knowing how to deal with local governments and laws, as well as zoning and permitting issues, will make you a far more effective designer as well.

While a degree in landscape architecture is not required, it will make you a far more competitive candidate when searching for a job, and provide you with many of the skills you’ll need to be successful. It’ll also provide you with a network that will help when questions or concerns arise, or during your search for future employment. Typical coursework in a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture program covers planning and implementation, ecology, environmental design theory, technical and foundational design theory, and visualization.  Students are also advised to take advantage of internship or apprentice opportunities as most employers prefer applicants who have completed an internship as part of their education.

In addition, within a college landscape design program, students can expect to learn about several topics directly related to practical golf course design, including environmental engineering, topography and hydrology, and land surveying. More advanced programs typically will include topics like urban planning, landscape architecture, and, for some, advanced computer design and 3-D modeling courses.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also reports that unless a landscape architect works for the government, they must be licensed by the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards.  Although requirements vary from state-to-state, applicants must have earned a degree and have between one and four years of supervised experience. Applicants must also pass a five-part exam to gain licensure.

It is also recommended that future designers find work at a golf course, team up with gold professionals, or get a job with a golf course company to gain experience. This may include private clubs, organizations, or communities.

Finally, golf course designers should be avid golfers. If you are spending a lot of time on the golf course already, you know what matters, and what doesn’t, when making a golf course the best it can be. Sharing insight with the same audience that will ultimately spend money to be on your course will make you far more efficient at creating the best possible golf courses.

3. Build Your Experience & Industry Connections

Applying for a job or internship with a golf design firm will help you build your skill set and learn from the professionals. Try to find a firm that matches your philosophy, or at least provides you – over time – with the skills and experience you need to branch out on your own. In this field, however, internships can be difficult to find, which is why attending college, earning a degree and industry networking events can be a powerful way to jumpstart your career.

Joining professional organizations in order to meet other people in your industry and network is also a great way to get a start in golf course design. In the United States, the American Society of Golf Course Architects, or ASGCA, is the premier networking organization. In Europe, the European Institute of Golf Course Architects is the first one to consider. In Australia, it’s the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects.

The BLS expects jobs for landscape architects to grow five percent between 2014 and 2024, which is as fast as average for all career fields. A bachelor’s degree is the typical entry-level educational requirement, and the median annual salary is listed at just over $63,000. Similar career fields include civil engineers, cartographers, geoscientists, urban planners, and surveyors.

Helpful Organizations & Resources for Golf Course Designers

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