When the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open is played at the Country Club of Charleston, the golf world will have a wonderful opportunity to watch some of the world’s best players navigate the brilliant golf course architecture of Seth Raynor. Although his design portfolio includes some of the most highly regarded courses in the U.S., Raynor is not as well known as architectural contemporaries like Alister Mackenzie or Donald Ross. This is partly because fewer golfers get a chance to see or play Raynor’s courses, as they are mostly private and seldom host televised golf events. In fact, the 74th U.S. Women’s Open will be the first time that a major championship has been played on an original Seth Raynor design. The following are some of the guiding principles and design features that make Raynor courses so special.
Raynor was an engineer by training, who was introduced to golf course architecture when he was hired by Charles Blair Macdonald to assist with surveying the property that would become the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y. Raynor impressed Macdonald, and the two would work on more projects together before Raynor moved on to a successful design career of his own. Raynor was not an avid golfer, but he was a keen study and learned to understand and apply the principles of good golf course architecture from his mentor Macdonald.
The Template Holes
The foundation of Raynor’s work is his use of the so-called “template holes.” These are adaptations of famous golf holes in the United Kingdom and continental Europe that Macdonald utilized at the National Golf Links and in his subsequent designs. Macdonald wanted to bring the strategic qualities of these famous holes to American golf course architecture in the hope that their influence would help to elevate the game as it took root in the U.S. Examples of the holes he referenced include the 11th and 17th holes from the Old Course at St. Andrews, named Eden and Road, and the par-3 15th hole from North Berwick, known as the Redan. While the templates were based on existing holes, they were by no means copies. It was Macdonald’s goal to adapt the concepts from these holes to fit each unique site, and to improve upon the originals where possible. Raynor continued this approach in his own design work, making some very creative interpretations of the template concepts along the way.
The most dramatic template hole at the Country Club of Charleston is Raynor’s version of the Redan at the par-3 11th, which is listed at 177 yards for the Women’s Open. Standing on a tee built atop a former Civil War battery, the golfer is confronted by a stern rendition of what is arguably the most copied hole in golf. Typical of most Redans, the green sits on an abrupt plateau and the putting surface has a pronounced tilt from front to back, which forces golfers to account for bounce and roll after a shot reaches the green. There are also deep bunkers to the sides of the green. However, unlike traditional versions of the Redan, which are oriented with a right-to-left angle, this is a “Reverse Redan” that is oriented left to right. There is also an unusually large false front on the green that repels shots which do not fly or run far enough. While the key elements of a Redan are in place, Raynor’s version at Charleston is a good example of his willingness to adapt and alter the template concepts.