Here we review Tom Doak's series of Confidential Guide to Golf Courses books.

The Confidential Guide To Golf Courses – Book Review

For some weird and obscure reason I got quite into my golf course design in the last few months of 2019 to the point where I read four of the five Confidential Guide to Golf Courses books published by one of the biggest and most well-known golf architects in the world right now, Tom Doak.

I got sent four volumes of the five that have been published to date and the topics of each are listed below.

Volume 1 – Great Britain and Ireland
Volume 2 – The Americas (winter destinations)
Volume 3 – The Americas (summer destinations)
Volume 4 – Europe (to be published in 2021 I believe)
Volume 5 – Asia, Australia and New Zealand

What exactly is the point of the series of books? Well Doak and three other golf course writers review thousands of golf courses from around the world and give their view on them which takes the form of a rating out of 10. They seek to be as honest and frank as possible whilst also looking at questions like; are certain courses worth the money to play? Is the design all that good? If you are in that part of the world, should you make sure you play this course or skip it?

It should be noted that these books are not designed to be definitive lists nor should they be used as such. Instead they should all be used as a sort of travel book guideline. The books give you a clearer idea of whether expensive courses are worth it and lets you know about some hidden gems that you would have previously driven right passed.

Nor do these books fail to acknowledge the subjective nature of this topic. They note that what they like may not appeal to other golfers and vice-versa on things they dislike. Thankfully they spend two pages at the beginning of each book in which they explain in simple terms what they like, and how if the reader disagrees with a review, then we can just all agree to disagree. For example the course I used to be a member at, Old Thorns, got only 3 out of 10 which seems harsh! Nothing can really be done about the nature of opinion here so Doak simply says; “The most we can do is try to put our own biases aside, and confine our comments to what we liked or disliked about the course and why.”

Indeed at first I was sceptical as to what Doak’s motives were given he is a designer, many of his courses got reviews in the books and on some projects other designers had been picked over him which could create animosity. However I needn’t have worried because I believe the reviews to be honest and, on the whole, fair.

Again, whilst reading you realise the subjectivity of the topic but more importantly I found myself thinking more deeply about course design. What makes a golf course great, good, or bad? I started to think about this and I even thought about courses I had played in the past and tried to critique them somewhat.

I think what is also important is that a lot of the reviews look at courses not just from a designers point of view but also that of a golfer. After all, there are a heck of a lot more players in golf than designers so a true review of a course should definitely be in the playing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the books because they illuminated just how varied and different golfing landscapes can be, how each designer is so different, and what makes good or bad design. There are also a series of nice features worth briefly mentioning;

1) the series of lists at the back of the books which looked at things like; best clubhouse, favourite holes, eclectic 18’s and so on. We all love a good list or a top-10 right?

2) The maps at the beginning of each section are a nice touch too because you can actually pin-point where the courses are rather than have to Google it.

3) The Doak Scale were the rankings out of 10 for each course and they rounded off each review nicely. The massive list of courses with each ranking at the back of the book was also a nice touch.

*(FYI there were five courses in the four volumes that got perfect scores of 40 – can you name them?)

4) Gourmets Choice – at the beginning of each book this is where the 4 reviewers chose 18 different courses and write longer, more detailed reviews on them. They try and spread the praise around a bit here to maximise variety which is a welcome addition.

*The only 5 courses that got the perfect score of 40 around the world were – Cypress Point, Pine Valley, Sand Hills, Shinnnecock Hills and St Andrews Old.

I also got sent Tom Doak’s Little Red Book of Golf Course Architecture which is fascinating because it lets you have a greater understanding of his work, what he looks for, and how he goes about his profession. It is written in the same style as Harvey Penick’s iconic red book so it is very easy to read and has lots of little pieces of knowledge.

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