golfer walking on fairway

The Ultimate Guide to Golf Course Layout for Beginners and Beyond

Understanding the layout of a golf course is certainly helpful for new and intermediate golfers alike. It helps improve strategy, boosts confidence, and enhances overall enjoyment of the game. In this guide, we will cover the basics of golf course layout, design elements, terminology, and more. By the end, you'll have a better understanding of the various components that make up a golf course and be better prepared to tackle your next round.

The Basics of a Golf Course

A golf course is a large, outdoor area designed for playing the sport of golf. It consists of a series of holes, each with a teeing ground, a fairway, a green, and various hazards. The standard number of holes in a golf course is 18, although 9-hole courses are also common. Golf courses come in various types, including links, parkland, heathland, and desert courses.

Types of Golf Courses

1. Links Courses

Links courses are typically located along coastal areas, featuring sandy soil, undulating terrain, and few trees. They are characterized by deep bunkers, tall rough, and firm, fast greens. Wind often plays a significant role in the challenge of links courses, which were first developed in Scotland.

2. Parkland Courses

Parkland courses are typically found inland, featuring lush, tree-lined fairways and well-manicured greens. They often have thick rough and strategically placed bunkers. Parkland courses are more common in the United States and resemble traditional country club courses, with Augusta National Golf Club being a prime example.

3. Heathland Courses

Heathland courses are a blend of links and parkland styles. They are usually located on sandy, well-draining soil and feature gorse, heather, and other native vegetation. Heathland courses tend to have fewer trees than parkland courses and are most commonly found in the United Kingdom, particularly in areas such as Surrey and Berkshire.

4. Desert Courses

Desert courses are designed within arid, desert landscapes, often featuring dramatic elevation changes, rocky terrain, and native vegetation such as cacti. These courses require careful water management and can be found in regions such as the southwestern United States and the Middle East.

Understanding the unique features and challenges of each type of golf course can help golfers better prepare for their rounds and appreciate the diversity in course design.

Parts of a Golf Course Explained

Tee Box

The tee box, or teeing ground, is where golfers begin each hole. It is a flat area marked by tee markers, indicating where players should place their ball before taking their first shot. There are usually multiple tee boxes on each hole, catering to different skill levels.


The fairway is the area between the tee box and the green. It consists of short, well-manicured grass, providing the best playing conditions for golfers. The first cut, also known as the semi-rough, is a slightly taller grass that borders the fairway, serving as a transition between the fairway and the rough.


The rough is the area outside the fairway, featuring longer grass and making it more difficult for golfers to play their shots. The thickness and height of the rough can vary greatly between courses, with some posing a significant challenge.


The green is the area around the hole, featuring short grass and a smooth surface for putting. The fringe, or apron, is a narrow band of slightly longer grass surrounding the green, serving as a transition between the green and the fairway or rough.


Hazards are obstacles designed to make the course more challenging. There are two main types of hazards: bunkers and water hazards. Bunkers are sand-filled depressions, while water hazards include ponds, streams, and lakes.

Out of Bounds

Out of bounds areas are designated by white stakes or lines and represent areas where play is not allowed. Hitting a ball out of bounds results in a one-stroke penalty and requires the golfer to play their next shot from the original position.

Course Rating and Slope

The course rating and slope indicate the difficulty of a golf course. The course rating represents the expected score for a scratch golfer, while the slope rating measures the relative difficulty of the course for players of different skill levels.

Golf Course Design Elements

Course Routing

Course routing refers to the arrangement of holes on a golf course. It includes the sequence in which the holes are played and the flow between them.

Hole Variety

Golf courses typically feature a mix of par-3, par-4, and par-5 holes. These numbers represent the number of strokes a skilled golfer is expected to take to complete the hole.


A dogleg is a hole that bends to the left or right, requiring golfers to shape their shots or strategically position their ball for the next shot.

Elevation Changes

Elevation changes refer to the differences in height throughout a golf course. They can create challenges and opportunities for golfers, influencing club selection and shot strategy.

Strategic Design

Strategic design involves the placement of hazards, greens, and fairways to encourage risk-reward decisions. Golfers must weigh the potential benefits of taking a riskier shot against the possibility of incurring penalties or difficult lies.

Learn more: The Complete List of Golf Penalties

Golf Course Architects and Their Influence

Behind every golf course lies the vision of a golf course architect who shapes the land to create a unique and enjoyable playing experience. Some notable architects include Alister MacKenzie, A.W. Tillinghast, and Pete Dye, each of whom has a distinct design philosophy and style. Familiarizing yourself with the work of these architects can help you better understand the principles that guide golf course design and appreciate the diversity of courses you encounter.

Hole Handicap System

Each hole on a golf course is assigned a handicap number, which indicates its difficulty relative to the other holes on the course. The hole with the lowest handicap number is considered the most challenging, while the hole with the highest handicap number is considered the easiest. Understanding the hole handicap system can help you strategize and manage your expectations during a round, especially when playing an unfamiliar course.

Learn more about Golf Handicap

Environmental Aspects and Sustainability

Golf courses are not only recreational spaces but also environments that can support wildlife and ecosystems. As such, many golf courses are designed and maintained with environmental sustainability in mind. This can include measures such as conserving water resources, protecting native habitats, and utilizing eco-friendly turf management practices. Understanding these environmental aspects can help you appreciate the balance between maintaining a playable course and protecting the environment.

Golf Course Renovations and Restorations

Over time, golf courses may undergo renovations or restorations to update outdated designs, improve playability, or restore the original architect's intent. These changes can have a significant impact on course layout and strategy, and can be driven by factors such as advances in golf equipment technology, changes in player skill levels, or a desire to preserve golf history. By being aware of these factors, you can better understand why courses evolve over time and how these changes can enhance your golfing experience.

Understanding Yardage and Course Measurement

Yardage Markers

Yardage markers are placed throughout the course to provide golfers with information on the distance to the hole. They can be found on sprinkler heads, on fairway plates, or as free-standing markers, usually measured in yards.

Yardage Books and GPS Devices

Yardage books and GPS devices provide detailed information about each hole, including distances, hazards, and green slopes. They can help golfers plan their shots and choose the appropriate club.

Tips for Selecting the Appropriate Tee Box

Selecting the appropriate tee box can improve your overall experience and enjoyment of the game. Consider factors such as your skill level, average driving distance, and course difficulty when making your decision.

Learn more: What is the Average Distance for Each Golf Club?

Tips for Navigating the Golf Course

Reading a Course Guide or Hole Layout

Course guides and hole layouts provide valuable information about each hole, including its length, shape, and hazards. Study these materials to help you plan your shots and avoid trouble.

Planning Your Shots

Effective shot planning involves considering factors such as wind, elevation changes, and course conditions. Develop a plan for each shot and adjust your strategy as needed throughout the round.

Adapting to Different Course Conditions

Golf courses can change significantly due to weather and maintenance practices. Be prepared to adapt your game to different course conditions, including wet or firm greens, fast or slow fairways, and varying rough heights.

Managing Course Challenges

Understanding the layout and design of the course can help you manage the challenges it presents. Use course knowledge, strategic thinking, and shot planning to navigate difficult holes and hazards.

Golf Course Practice Facilities

Driving Range

A driving range is a practice area where golfers can work on their long game. It features a wide, open space for hitting balls, along with yardage markers to gauge distance.

Practice Green

A practice green is a designated area for golfers to work on their putting and short game. It typically features multiple holes and various slopes, mimicking on-course conditions.

Chipping Area

A chipping area is a practice space for golfers to work on their short game around the green, focusing on chipping and pitching shots. Utilizing practice facilities can greatly improve your skills and overall golf experience.

Learn more: What Wedges Should Beginners Carry?

Golf Course Etiquette and Maintenance

Proper Divot Repair

Repairing divots helps maintain the quality of the course for all players. Use a divot repair tool or your tee to fix any divots you create during play.

Ball Mark Repair on the Green

Fixing ball marks on the green is essential for maintaining smooth putting surfaces. Use a ball mark repair tool or your tee to gently lift the impacted area back into place.

Raking Bunkers

After playing a shot from a bunker, rake the sand to smooth out any footprints and divots. This ensures fair playing conditions for subsequent golfers.

Keeping Pace of Play

Maintaining a reasonable pace of play is important for everyone's enjoyment of the game. Be ready to play when it's your turn, keep up with the group in front of you, and allow faster groups to play through when appropriate.

General Etiquette

Golf is a game built on respect and sportsmanship. Adhere to basic etiquette, such as remaining quiet during another player's shot, avoiding walking on others' putting lines, and shaking hands at the end of the round.

Learn more: Golf Rules Made Simple: A Beginner’s Guide to Golf Rules and Etiquette

Teeing Off With Confidence

Understanding golf course layout is key to improving your game and enhancing your enjoyment of the sport. By studying course terminology, design elements, and practicing regularly, you'll be better prepared to tackle any course with confidence. Don't forget to apply the knowledge you've gained from this guide during your next round, and remember to always be mindful of golf course etiquette and maintenance.

Additional Resources

To further your understanding of golf course layout and improve your skills, consider exploring these additional resources:

  1. Recommended books:
  • "Harvey Penick's Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime of Golf" by Harvey Penick
  • "Golf is Not a Game of Perfect" by Dr. Bob Rotella
  1. Websites:
  • The USGA (United States Golf Association)
  • The R&A (The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews)
  1. Apps:
  • 18Birdies: A comprehensive golf app with GPS, digital scorecards, and more.
  • Golfshot: A GPS and scorecard app with detailed course information and statistics.
  • Check out our favorite Golf Apps
  1. Local golf courses and practice facilities:

By utilizing these resources and applying the knowledge you've gained, you'll be well on your way to becoming a more confident and skilled golfer. Enjoy your time on the course, and remember, practice makes perfect!

Shop Stix Golf Club Sets →

You might also like: