Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's Golf Course Types

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PGA Tour Golf Course Types Described By Steve Bamford

My weekly PGA Tour tips at GBS often contain course categorisation information around the type of test the players will face that particular week. It’s important to know this information on the basis that certain players perform better on different golf course types.

For example, you’d think that Tiger Woods excels on every course format imaginable, but in reality he has weaknesses and that’s proven by the carefully engineered schedule he pulls together every season. He struggles on tight, technical Bermuda-greened tests like TPC Sawgrass, Harbour Town, Copperhead at Innisbrook and Atlanta Athletic Club which hosted the PGA Championship in 2011.

He’s also not at home on resort courses where streaky birdie-making and low scoring is the priority. That became clear at the 2012 CIMB Classic at The Mines in Malaysia where, despite finishing 4th, Tiger really struggled to make sufficient headway to defeat a relatively weak field.

Now the categories I highlight each week are my own classifications. I’ve built this information across my PGA Tour experience as a punter and, as ever, linking a course to a classification is no exact science. I’m sure many will disagree with how I split some golf course types, but the beauty of this is that everybody can have their own view. It’s also worth realising that a course can change throughout its association with the PGA Tour. Fact is a course can change category from one year to the next dependant upon course redesigns, weather conditions and course set-up dictated by members or the Tour itself, i.e. rough length, green stimpmeter speed, shaved run-off areas that surround greens etc.

I’ve been asked many times via our GBS Facebook Group or on Twitter @Bamfordgolf to explain what I mean by a technical course or classical course, so here is a synopsis of my PGA Tour golf course types.


This category is relatively easy to explain. Augusta National is the most famous and most revered classical golf course on the planet. Effectively a classical course is an historic course which features traditional aspects to its design. They feature a mix of hole lengths and dog-leg shaped holes where shot-shaping is required. Tree-lined fairways are more often than not part of the course characteristic, although some courses like Pebble Beach feature less trees due to their coastal positioning. Courses can include elevation changes, with holes that include blind drives or approaches to greens. Rough length is often penal, uneven fairway lies are the norm and these traditional courses often include small greens like Pebble Beach or larger greens that are multi-layered and heavily contoured like Augusta. Other characteristics include run-off areas around greens with steep-faced bunkering. Classical courses suit ball-strikers and players who can shape the ball both ways. They also lead to generally higher scoring totals. Other examples include Torrey Pines, Quail Hollow and Bay Hill.

golf course types

Classical Resort

Less prevalent in number, some classical course formats are open to low resort-type scoring. In 2012 the classical layouts of Hamilton G&CC, which played host to the RBC Canadian Open, and the Pete Dye-designed Crooked Stick, which hosted the BMW Championship, allowed players to score pretty much at will. Scott Piercy triumphed in Ontario at -17 with Rory McIlroy beating an impressive field in Indiana with a -20 total. Another classical course that is open to low scoring is Colonial in Texas which hosts the Crowne Plaza Invitational every May. Colonial’s main source of defence is wind which is a real feature of Texan golf. The wind never blew in 2010 when Zach Johnson won with a total of -21. Two years on same course, same winner – but wind was a real factor. Result: a straight classical course winning score of -12.

charles schwab challenge tips


Scoring levels increase on technical tracks where golfers that can grind out pars and avoid bogies often gravitate to the top of leaderboards. Technical courses often feature challenging water hazards, tough rough and small driving landing areas. Tie that in with fast stimpmeter greens which are often well defended by lush rough and severe bunkering, and the challenge increases. Other examples in this category combine tough course ergonomics with localised weather that can include precipitation or strong winds. Attacking players often struggle on technical tracks whereas experienced, patient players feature. Those that have a full range of shots triumph on these stringent courses with a low ‘stinger’ syle shot a prerequisite in windy conditions. Prime examples for this category are PGA National in Florida, TPC San Antonio plus TPC Four Seasons in Texas and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational hosting Firestone South Course in Ohio.

honda classic tips

Coastal Classical

Speaks for itself with the obvious Open Championship rota courses, Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach.

Coastal Technical

OHL Classic at Mayakoba, which is played at the El Camaleon Golf Club in Mexico, falls into this category. The PGA Tour doesn’t visit many of these setups ,but the PGA Championship doesn’t shy away from these testing golf course types. Pete Dye-designed Whistling Straits hosted the 2010 renewal with another of his famous designs, Kiawah Island 24 months later testing the world’s best golfers. Waialae in Hawaii, host course of the Sony Open, traditionally sits in this category, but a lack of rough and receptive greens in 2013 saw Russell Henley triumph at -24 under par. I did state earlier that courses change character and therefore category – remember categorising PGA Tour venues is a moving feast.

sony open in hawaii tips

Coastal Resort

Many think of coastal golf as tough tracks where scoring is difficult. However resort scoring type tracks, as is the trend across professional golf, are becoming more prevalent. The Seaside Course at Sea Island plays host to the McGladrey Classic in October. Tommy ‘Two Gloves’ Gainey won the 2012 tournament with a closing round 60/-10 score and his overall winning total was -16/264. The Tom Kite-designed Par 72 at Trump International, which hosts the Puerto Rico Open, also sees low scoring, but the best example of a coastal resort track is the Plantation Course at Kapalua, where the season opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions sees eagles and birdies a plenty, even in windy conditions.

sentry tournament of champions tips


This PGA Tour course type now proliferates throughout America where golf technology, allied to player conditioning and the US golfing public’s desire for low scores, is driving ever lower scoring. A resort course in the main is a golf course that is part of a resort property which, more often than not, features a luxury hotel, country club, spa etc. A golf tourist wants to play a course that isn’t overly taxing so, when the PGA Tour pros come to town each year, they invariably take these courses apart. Fairways tend to be wide, rough is short with fairway sand traps being nothing more than an inconvenience. Greens are receptive with minimal undulations. Most resort courses are Par 71 or Par 72 formats with the latter generally featuring 3 or 4 reachable Par 5s. Prime examples are the Palm and Magnolia courses at Disney World and The Mines course which hosts the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur. However, more traditional or established courses also feature resort level scoring. TPC at Deere Run always features winning totals in the -22/-23 bracket but another historic course is the daddy of them all. TPC Blue Monster at Doral is the most famous example of a Florida resort course – it’s hosted a PGA Tour tournament since 1962 and the WGC Cadillac Championship since 2007.

Desert Resort

Desert golf tends to mean low-scoring birdie fests. The deserts of Arizona, California and Nevada are at altitude so the ball travels further. Nicklaus and Palmer Private courses at PGA West play as sub 7,000 yard Par 72s, so the Humana Challenge in 2013 required a score of -10 simply to make the final round cut. Other prime examples are TPC Summerlin, Montreaux GCC and the most attended tournament on the PGA Tour schedule, the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale.

golf course type