Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

Who Names Golf Holes?

By Mary Armstrong

Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News July 16, 2010

The naming of golf holes periodically arises as the trendy thing to do. All this probably originates with tourists invading the old courses in Great Britain. At St. Andrews’ Old Course, site of the current British Open, holes and even features such as bunkers, mounds and hollows bear monikers such as “Hell,” “Deacon Sime,” “The Principal’s Nose” and “Miss Granger’s Bosoms.” These and probably at least a hundred more descriptive names are attached to the features of The Old Course.

What’s in a name? When warranted, identifying particular parts of a golf course with a name romanticizes that object — giving it a meaning and significance beyond that of a simple landform. Being an architect, I can understand a designer’s enthusiasm for communicating the essence of a particular hole by naming it, but 95 percent of the time no one cares. Each of Augusta National’s holes are named after a particular tree or shrub, but even the PGA Tour Players can’t name a single one. And yet some marketing experts will tell you that naming holes on a new course somehow attaches a permanence or historic quality. Chances are good that if your course has named holes you can’t name more than a few. According to Robert Kroger in his book “The Golf Courses of Old Tom Morris,” Deacon Sime was so named because a local man of the cloth requested “his ashes be sprinkled in that bunker when he died. His reasoning being that, since he spent so much time in it during his lifetime, he might as well spend eternity there.” The bunker is named on a map dated 1879 and signed by Old Tom Morris.

What is the dynamic involved in the naming of anything? According to one source, “Lacking the authority of someone to impose a name on a feature, it arises from common reference,”  In my experience these are the only names that mean anything. Therefore, in the case of the Deacon Sime Bunker, the vast majority of players must have been calling it by that name when Old Tom Morris noted it on his plan.

Hence, the naming of holes and features is driven as much by events as by the hole or feature’s distinctiveness. My old home course in New Hampshire had a few unique holes. One in particular had a White Oak tree that had been saved during construction in the early 90s at the corner of the dogleg. As is often the case, trees that are “saved” don’t do well and it has progressively gotten weaker and weaker. Gradually, as a result of its suffering, the tree’s essential branching pattern has been revealed. The tree has become known as Bullwinkle thanks to its moose-like antler branching pattern. If you stand next to the tee and listen to the members, nearly every foursome will make some remark about Bullwinkle — that one went right through Bullwinkle, or Bullwinkle knocked that one down. Bullwinkle would be a great name for this hole, but only if the tree ultimately survives to a long life.

On the same hole, a member that was an inimitable character became upset with his game and threw his clubs into the pond in front of the tees. Soon after he realized there was something in his bag that he couldn’t part with. The memorable part of this tale wasn’t that he entered the pond to retrieve his keys or wallet. What was unforgettable was that he became stuck in the quicksand like silt and began waving his aquatic weed covered arms around in a comically frantic motion. The event was memorialized when he was presented “The Swamp Thing” trophy at the end of that season.

Of course, imbibing can sometimes have an influence on events and therefore on naming. Probably my favorite story about a hole name comes from Carnoustie. The 446 yard 10th plays across Barry Burn and into the prevailing breeze. So how was the name “South America” derived? It seems as though there once was an ancient son of Carnoustie that planned to spread the word of the game to the new world. It seems as though there was a huge party at the Club to send the lad off on his journey. The following morning, the poor boy was found face down — still on Scottish soil — at least in close proximity to the 10th hole. Therefore, the hole is known as “South America.”

Finally, again at my old home course was the case of the naming of the 19th hole — or perhaps … it’s the parking lot that warrants naming. A good friend — again imbibing perhaps a little too liberally — closed down the grill room, changed his shoes at his car’s trunk and proceeded to drive over his golf bag and clubs as he backed out of his favorite parking space. Hmmm…maybe “Frank’s Folly” — whadda ya think?

A golf architect for over twenty years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, LLC, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.


1 Comment»

  Dick Nantel wrote @

Know of and sometimes hate Bullwinkle, knew of Swamp Thing of course and I knd of remember the last tale but could not put a name on it.

Keep sending me your aryicles.



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