Everyone has heard of golf and probably seen how games unfold. What most people who are not golf fans often forget about is that golf courses are pieces of wonder on their own, particularly well designed ones. More often than not, specialized architects and designers are hired to work on golf courses, to make them the best they could be for that part of the world, climate and ultimately, goal.
Golf design is often done through three schools, where each hole is designed somewhat according to them. They are called strategic, penal and heroic.
The Strategic School
Everybody loves a bit of strategy, particularly in a game where you have to plan ahead and not count for yourself having miracle shots. Sure, miracle shots happen, but a hole in one is not something people can reliably produce when playing a course.
Strategic holes give players options, plenty of them. You can go through the fairway, reaching straight for the hole. You can take the scenic route through the trees, maybe a bit more aggressive through the sand traps or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, over a lake. There are multiple ways of approaching strategic holes, which is why they are considered the best by most golf fans, and a large part of the golf golden age.
The Penal School
This is the complete opposite of the strategic school. When designing penal holes, the designers have one thing in mind, to punish the golfer who misses their shot. Imagine having to hit a ball with just the right swing for it to end up on the green, which is on an island surrounded by a lake. Hit the ball more or less and you end up in a lake, or in a situation where you get punished for your bad shot, like a forest or sand trap.
Penal holes are typically not interesting if there are too many of them, but they can make a course more challenging, especially if they break the strategic cycle.
From zero to hero or otherwise, the hero school addresses ball design with more than one option, but typically less than two or three. You can take the safe route and hit the ball multiple times, to get to the green safer, or take the dangerous route, hitting over a lake or other traps.
While penal holes are challenging, heroic holes are made purposefully more difficult if one chooses to go for the hero shot. It often ends with golfers in ponds or sand traps.
The Best Courses Combine All of Them
A single course should not be tied to a single school of ball design, which is why the best courses often have all schools involved, making the entire 9 or 18 hole course, challenging, relaxing or a menace, depending on your skill level and what kind of school you are dealing with at that moment.
Making an entire course an interesting and amazing experience, while also challenging for all levels of play, is very difficult, which is why the best courses in the world were designed by amazing designers/architects, who combine every school of design.