It is hard to think of a contemporary course designer creating more interesting courses than Tom Doak. In the last decade or so he has crafted some of the most astounding and most talked about golf courses in the world. Head of Renaissance Golf Design, Doak believes that every course he creates should develop its own identity. He feels that courses need character whilst his minimalist philosophy ensures that he uses the land in front of him to its greatest potential without moving too much earth.
The Renaissance Club
East Lothian, Scotland
One of Scotland’s newest golf courses and one that is already renowned globally. This is a spectacular golf course on a special piece of land. The East Lothian coast is packed with some of the best links courses in the world and to have created a name for itself in such a short space of time with such famous neighbours, this is the biggest accolade the course can boast of. 2019 was the year that both the men’s and women’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open took place at this remarkable golf course. It is amazing that a course so young will host such a prestigious event, but that exemplifies how good The Renaissance Club is.
This is the only course that Doak has done in Scotland and an opportunity that he cherished. It is very hard to put your finger on why, but this course is different. It feels like a links course and certainly fits in as part of the club of the courses that it is around, but it feels very different at the same time. It almost feels like it isn’t real and like one of the courses that EA Sports would have made up for the Tiger Woods game. It is just so picturesque and somehow, at times, seems to defy reality.
The par 71 course is not short, at 7,345 yards this course can be long but plenty of teeing options mean that you will be able to find a course length you can enjoy. Some talk of the early back nine holes as “the finest three-hole stretch” in links golf, but these are a newer addition. When the course first opened, there were no true seaside holes. When Doak altered the course for the second iteration, he used a magnificent coastal ridge to create the signature 13th hole and bracketed this by two wonderful par threes.
The Renaissance Club has quickly become a beloved addition to the Scottish golfing family. Doak very respectfully built a course that is a wonderful tribute to the historic links courses of Scotland with a luxurious modern twist. This is a round of golf to savour.
Few golf resorts have created global excitement and gained critical acclaim as quickly as Streamsong has. The story of this now a wildly revered piece of land is fascinating. It is a true ‘phoenix from the ashes’ tale and isn’t even a decade old yet. When the old phosphate mine was shutting down, they were given a bill to restore the land to its pre-mining condition. This estimate was colossal and the owners knew that they needed to do something else, one genius decided that they could build a golf resort and the rest is history. The land left by the mining operations has been moulded by the weather and left some wonderful elevating changes and dramatic terrain perfect for sculpting some golf courses.
Tom Doak teamed up with Bill Coore to create the first two of these devastatingly gorgeous golf courses. Three courses now exist at Streamsong Resort and each has a distinctive character. The Blue and Red courses by Doak and Coore, respectively, came first and were subsequently joined by the Black course, by Gil Hanse, more recently. A little nugget of golfing lore for you to share in the clubhouse, Doak made his original sketches for the course with a blue pen, Coore used a red pen and you get no points for guessing the colour of pen that Hanse used.
The Blue Course sets its stall out early with the first tee set atop a 75-foot sand dune, something quite unique to its ever-flat Central Florida location. Doak has also created some incredibly dramatic green complexes here with shelves and drops awaiting mishit approach shots. The 7th hole on the Blue Course at Streamsong Resort will leave you flabbergasted. A lagoon sits in front of the par-three green and a huge sand dune sits behind. This is one of the iconic images of this great course and one to really appreciate when you are there. The course is littered with risk/reward opportunities to tempt and test you, just as way golf should be. Bold. Dramatic. Fun. You will love the Streamsong Blue Course.
There is probably no course in the world more jaw-droppingly stunning than Cape Kidnappers, that is quite a claim but one that is made confidently. While some car-enthusiasts put pictures of Ferraris and Lamborghinis on their wall, this Tom Doak course in New Zealand is the golfing equivalent wall candy. New Zealand is home to some of the most spectacular golf courses in the world and Doak has been instrumental in this.
Opening in 2004 on the cliffs 400 feet above Hawkes Bay in Te Awanga, this was once a sheep farm. The land of this course looks like ripples on a calm sea which is fitting given the prominence of water in the vistas of this resort. Many of the holes sit on their very own ridge and are flanked by valleys on either side, so a bad day with the driver will test your leg muscles.
How do you pick a signature hole on a course with eighteen of them? Well, it is a challenge but many would agree it is the 15th hole, named Pirates Plank. This hole is one of the highest points on the course and is around 800 feet above the Pacific Ocean. With drops on either side of the hole, you will need to hold your nerve and a ball going long will take around 14 seconds to actually hit its watery grave!
It is fair to say that the Cape Kidnapper Resort has put New Zealand on the map as a golfing destination. With new additions such as Tara Iti, another Doak creation, it is also fair to say that the Kiwi golf industry owes a debt of thanks to Tom Doak.
Oregon has become one of America’s most talked-about golf destinations in recent years and much of this is due to the area of Bandon. Tom Doak has been a busy man here and, much as he did in New Zealand, he has used his Midas touch to drive the attention of the golfing world to this destination. Pacific Dunes opened in 2001 and one of the biggest challenges for Doak and his team was to focus on one design as this land was some of the best terrains in the world and could have been configured in a myriad of ways.
Pacific Dunes is the sister course of the world-renowned Bandon Dunes and so had to be special to live up to this role. One of the key features of the design of this course is that, in true Tom Doak style, you would think that it has been a part of this land since the dawn of time. Every effort has been made to ensure that this course seamlessly blends into the gorgeous land upon which the course was shaped.
The fairways on this course seem to ripple with an effortless natural flow. Of the many highlights of this round, the short par three 11th is a real stand-out. This is a classic, short postcard hole with stunning views and a requirement for well-executed golf. The gorse and tall grass seem to close the green in and build the tension on the tee whilst the wild bunkers help frame the hole perfectly. Take a picture from this tee and don’t try to be a hero, it may be a short hole but a three is a good score.
In terms of the team at Renaissance Golf Design, Pacific Dunes is a really important course as they say that this is what they measure all of their projects on. This is a design that they are rightly immensely proud of and arguably the one course that showed the world they were among the best in the game.
South Carolina, America
It is clear that the work of Tom Doak is strongly-routed in the classic golf courses of the world. He has studied those vintage tracks that have existed for well over a century and used the details of them to shape the way he creates his contemporary masterpieces. Myrtle Beach is one of the world’s busiest golfing destinations as every year over 60,000 people travel to South Carolina to tee it up. In 1990, Tom Doak decided to add a tribute to where it all began and designed a Scottish-links style course to the already strong course repertoire in Myrtle Beach. Inspired by the Old Course at St Andrews, Doak added his flair to these famous features and created the Heathland Course at Legends Golf Resort.
One of the main parallel design features you will notice are the large green complexes that are synonymous with links golf. These have the benefit of allowing the greenkeeping staff the ability to place the pin in an almost endless array of positions to suit both tournament and regular resort play.
It’s not just about St Andrews though, golfers with a keen eye will also notice features of Lahinch and Cruden Bay. The course is flat with subtle undulations that keep your round interesting as you are always being challenged to make a shot from ever-changing lies. The flat nature of the terrain means that the ever-present coastal breezes are unhindered and will affect your round. As you would expect, from a course modelled on links, the bunkers here are deep and properly penal. The rough is also lush and can bring trouble to those who find it. American “links” courses are often a let-down as they seem like cheap imitations, this is not in that category though. This is a wonderful tribute to the origins of the sport and a course you will love.
Why play a Tom Doak Golf Course?
It is hard to think of any golf course designer who is making golf courses more dramatic and glorious as Tom Doak. He is being given some great terrain to use as his canvas as he creates some of the best new courses in the world. Thanks to Doak and his team, countries are being added to the golfing map and new areas of already famous golf nations are being discovered.
It is safe to say that Tom Doak is one of, if not, the most influential golf course architects of our age. His courses are as much of a joy to take in visually as they are to play. By paying unsurpassed attention to detail to accentuate the land on which his courses blend into their surroundings, he creates courses that are utterly timeless.
Playing a Tom Doak golf course is a truly joyful experience. His golf courses have a uniqueness to them that is somewhat ethereal. Looking through the projects that Renaissance Golf Design have delivered through the years, one thing is clear, golf is lucky to have Doak and his team.
It is clear that Tom Doak is a classicist and looks to the great courses of the past to help develop his modern masterpieces. He builds courses that tempt skilled players to take be bold by punishing those who play overly safe. Creating holes that are packed with hazards leads to unrelenting rounds for golfers of all levels, this is not how golf should be. By using intelligence to thoughtfully form his courses, Doak prides himself in an ability to create tough but fair courses that allow players to truly enjoy the essence of our great sport.