ver 3Architecture

"Lately there has been a reaction - and rightly so - against the artificiality and grotesqueness of certain architecture. Nature must always be the architect's model."
- Stanley Thompson in About Golf Courses Their Construction and Up-Keep;1923

Ten principles guided Stanley Thompson in his golf course design:

1. Select best property of 150 to 200 acres with

  • Unforgettable views
  • Natural features such as rivers/lakes, trees, good soil
  • Environment

2. Clubhouse site overlooking terrain

  • Both nines start and return to clubhouse
  • Adequate room for parking
  • Practice and putting green

3. Walk, walk and re-walk the property

  • Pick out spectacular par 3 sites
  • Work natural par 4 and par 5 sites into layout

4. Easy aesthetic start, strong, long and difficult finish

  • No par 3 before 4th or 5th hole
  • Last par 3 on the 16th or 17th hole
  • Finishing holes not into setting sun
  • Route holes around perimeter and second nine inside - property dictates routing

5. Natural green sites

  • Varied in shape and size at 6000 to 6500 square feet
  • Contoured two to three putting areas, good drainage
  • Blended into surrounding terrain
  • Unique mounding
  • Deeply faced bunkers with upswept sand and capes, Greenside bunkers
  • Allow pitch and run shots
  • Angled green to fairway

6. Bunkers

  • Greenside
  • Fairway at dog legs
  • Protection
  • Just off tees
  • Target

7. Tees

  • 3 elevated sets - size in proportion to par of hole
  • Aiming to centre of fairway
  • Greens, landing area, bunkers to be seen from tee

8. Fairways

  • Strategic routes to green, 5000 to 6600 yards in length
  • Mounds, spectacular and voluptuous bunkers at doglegs
  • Mix dogleg left and right
  • Target bunker

9. Par breakdown

  • Five par 3's (145 yards to 245 yards S.T.'s favourites)
  • Eight par 4's (340 yards to 445 yards)
  • Five par 5's (460 yards to 590 yards)

10. Other course features

  • Course designed to use every club in the bag.
  • Short and long holes equally distributed.
  • Difficult and easy holes equally distributed in sequence.
  • Stanley Thompson always remembered more than 85% of golfers shoot 90 and over
  • Course designed to test both low and high handicap golfers alike, insuring enjoyment for all.

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Stanley Thompson Disciples

Stanley Thompson First Generation Disciples

Golf course architecture is the melding of art, science, engineering, environment, recreational outdoor kinetics and appreciative introspection. Training for the profession goes well beyond the realm of formal academia.

Geoffrey Cornish, a disciple of Stanley Thompson himself in the 1930’s & 40’s, has spent a virtual lifetime researching the roots of golf architecture. Mr. Cornish, a noted member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame, Honourary Member of the Stanley Thompson Society, Past President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, co-author with Ron Whitten of Golf Digest of the book The Architects of Golf and designer extraordinaire himself, in a recent Sports’ Illustrated article, "points out, course architecture is learned not in a classroom but in the field, and going to work for an established architect remains the primary path to knowledge.”

As much as being recognized for his unprecedented genius in the creation of exhilarating golf landscapes, Stanley Thompson’s tutoring of a core of young designers led to an on-going lineage of succession that has furthered the spread of the Thompson golf dynamic throughout North America and the world. The likes of Robert Trent Jones Sr., Geoffrey Cornish, Robert F. (Bob) Moote, C.E. (Robbie) Robinson, Ken Welton, Howard Watson and Norman Woods formed an erstwhile group of disciples who themselves continue to breed a lineage of Thompson aficionados, albeit coupled with each’s own individual style and flair.

As Cornish puts it, "Every course architect is a branch on one of 35 design family trees”. The referenced Sports Illustrated article, June 2002, by Mark Leslie rated these lineage trees ranking Thompson’s as No. 5 behind Robertson, Rolland, Tillinghast and Dye, one ahead of Fazio. Not by co-incidence, the Stanley Thompson Society, in working to preserve Thompson courses, looks to encourage and support aspiring golf designers, as well as to garner an appreciation within the devoted fraternity of golfers for generations to come, the legacy that Thompson courses truly are.

Attached is the Stanley Thompson Disciple Chart.

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The American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) is a non-profit organization comprised of leading golf course designers in the United States and Canada. Its members are actively involved in the design of new courses and the renovation of older courses. Stanley Thompson was a founding member in 1947.

As at its inception in 1947, the ASGCA credo remains today as follows:

"The goal of the golf course architect is to design a great golf course. A great golf course must, like life, offer intrigue, diversity, mystery, and the opportunity to experiment; it must require creativity and problem-solving; and it must challenge your limits, and test your character … the ASGCA … is dedicated to the advancement of research of golf courses and their design, and the dissemination of that information to individuals and communities interested in planning greenspace for recreational purposes. It is dedicated to attracting new players to the game and enhancing the beauty and virtues of golf.” ASGCA ‘05

The founding members of the ASGCA are pictured below.


The American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) held its first annual meeting in Pinehurst on Dec. 5, 1947. Shown at that meeting (l. to r.) are: William P. Bell, Robert White, W.B. Langford, Donald Ross, Robert Bruce Harris, Stanley Thompson, William F. Gordon, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., William Diddel, and J.B. McGovern. Of the original founders of the ASGCA unable to attend the first meeting were: Perry Maxwell, Jack Daray and Robert "Red” Lawrence.

For further information on the American Society of Golf Course Architects, see

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Further Reading

This section includes more detail information about Thompson, his family, his career and his work.
If you require further detail, or have a question, please contact:
Cathy Boag, Membership Administrator
or visit this link.
(Forward by Geoffrey S. Cornish from the book, The Toronto Terror, by James A. Barclay)
Golf course architect Stanley Thompson was a genius.  Shortly after his death, the Ottawa Citizen wrote of him:  "He left his mark on the Canadian landscape from coast to coast.  No man could ask for a more handsome set of memorials."
All of us who worked for Stan are grateful that he was conscientious in training his assistants.  Indeed, it is generally accepted that one of his partners, Robert Trent Jones, has since become the most influential golf course architect ever.         Other assistants who came from what Stan termed his "stable" went on to become recognized architects, including Clinton "Robbie" Robinson, Howard Watson, Kenneth Welton, Norman Woods, Robert Moote, and me.  They, in turn, produced renowned golf architects north and south of the border.  In Canada, they included Douglas Carrick, Graham Cooke, Lester Furber, Tom McBroom, John Watson, and David Moote.  Based in the United States were Roger Rulewich, the late Frank Duane, William Robertson, Trent's famous sons Robert and Rees, and my own partners Brian Silva and Mark Mungeam.
Jim Barclay, who authored the definitive Golf in Canada:  A History, published in 1992, has now written this equally definitive account of Stanley Thompson's career-a career that in some ways is stranger than fiction, but which contributed immensely to the creation of the playing fields of golf.  In order to fully appreciate the impact Thompson made, it is necessary to review briefly the history of the intriguing profession of golf course design.
Golf was originally played in Scotland, on land close to the sea, on courses we now term links, or linksland.  These courses did not involve the moving of earth or the making of artificial hazards.  Nature had been their architect.  As the game became popular in the second half of the nineteenth century, and as it spread to England, new courses had to be manufactured by man and machinery, some close to the sea, others inland.  Scottish golf professionals such as Alan Robertson, Old Tom Morris, Willie and Tom Dunn, and Willie Park, helped in the design of these courses, so becoming the first golf course architects.  Willie Park, Jr. and younger members of the Dunn family were among those who carried their knowledge of course-making to North America when the craze for golf spread there in the closing years of the nineteenth century.
Many of the new courses in England and North America were laid out on inland sites rather than on linksland, and more and more earth had to be moved in their creation.  This led to a new breed of golf course architects, one that had studied exactly what features contribute to the making of a good golf course.  Willie Park was one of the leaders of this new breed.  Others were Herbert Fowler and Harry Colt.  All three came to North America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to lay out some of the best courses yet seen on that continent.
New golf course architects soon emerged in the United States, and with them new landmark courses.  Charles Blair MacDonald, Canadian-born but educated at St. Andrews, Scotland, was the Father of American golf course architecture.  His National Golf Links of America revolutionized course design and led to the rebuilding of many established courses.  It set standards for courses yet to be created. 
Many of the new and better North American courses were created in the Roaring Twenties, which came to be known as the Golden Age of golf course architecture.  Sadly, after only 10 years, this age was followed by almost a quarter of a century of depression and war, when golf course design could have become a lost art.
Stanley Thompson was most active in the Golden Age.  The Canadian masterpieces he created in those years - Banff Springs, Jasper Park, St. George's - remain significant.  Yet he soldiered on through the Great Depression, producing another two superb courses, Capilano in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Highland Links in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, plus a score of modest new layouts and remodellings.  All provided dignity and hope for depression-stricken communities.  None would have become a reality without the eloquence and persistence of its architect, who is acknowledged to have been the greatest salesperson of our profession.
After World War II and the Korean War, Robert Trent Jones, once Thompson's partner, rose to the fore in an era aptly called the Age of Robert Trent Jones, an age that British golf course architect and author Fred Hawtree has characterized as one of panache and style.
Then the links style of courses again became popular, but with a North American flair, and with Pete and Alice Dye as the leaders.  We also saw the arrival of the most dynamic and creative generation of course architects in history, and the most impressive layouts since golf spread from Scotland.
Stan revered the links.  I think they were his bible.  Yet he foresaw the future, and in my opinion his own visionary works still influence courses coming off the drawing board today.  It is noteworthy, too, that in the depth of the Depression he would say that the day would come when a thousand new courses would be opened annually.  In 1998, a thousand new courses were under construction, counting only in the United States.
Long before the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) became a reality, he stated frequently that an organization was needed to regulate the profession.  To this end, during Prohibition, when American businessmen felt it mandatory to visit Canada regularly, Stan made his peers from south of the border welcome at his office when they visited Toronto.  Forming a society was discussed, but it was not until 1947 that Donald Ross, Robert Bruce Harris, Bill Gordon, and Stan brought a group of 13 visionaries together to form the ASGCA.  It was to become influential in the creation of the playing fields of golf, and a cornerstone of the game.  Yet almost another quarter of a century elapsed before the then-ASGCA President Lawrence Packard brought on board an executive secretary, namely Paul Fullmer, although visionary Stan had emphasized that such a position was mandatory if the Society were to meet its goals.
Known as the "Toronto Terror," Stan was not without his faults.
Certainly no one can deny that he was one of the most colourful figures in the history of course design, a profession which is not immune to flamboyance.  Yet all of us who worked with him recognized the depths beneath the flamboyance.
No doubt he was one who "marched to a different drummer."  Like others who have done likewise, he made an exceptional contribution to golf, what with his handsome memorials from coast to coast, his yearning for beauty that manifests itself even in his most modest creations, his international reputation, his dedication to educating those who worked for him, and his goal of creating an energetic society for golf course architects - complete with an executive secretary.
Jim Barclay's work enhances our knowledge of this giant of our profession, one who continues to influence golf and its playing fields at the end of one millennium and at the start of another.  This is an era of dynamic, talented course designers, and of the most impressive layouts since golf emerged from Scotland. These impressive layouts and their designers are indebted to Stanley Thompson, whose life and times are exceedingly well portrayed in this book.
-Geoffrey S. Cornish
    Dr. Cornish died in 2012, age 97.  Born in Winnipeg, he attended the University of British Columbia and worked for Thompson in 1935 and again in 1946.  He had important responsibilities in the creation of Highlands Links.  Later he opened his own architectural practice in Massachussets.
    His architectural credits are impressive.  Cornish was the co-author of The Golf Course, considered the bible of golf course architecture.  He is an honoured member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and the Stanley Thompson Society.  Geoff was also a past President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

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