The cape hole at National Golf Links. The green site is raised and recovered land, notice the lack of mounds.
One of my stated objectives as an architect is to move as little earth as possible and to try and retain as much of the natural contour as possible. So how would I deal with flat featureless sites? The answer is simple, I would have to move fill just like any other architect. The difference is how I would choose to do it.
The approach I would take to creating an interesting looking golf course on a featureless flat site is to build new landforms that appear to be part of the original site condition. Creating the appearance of an abandoned sand and gravel quarry will allow for lots of fill and a very natural looking condition. Building an esker or a flat topped ridgeline or ravine will give the site a prominent natural feature that will become a common element, tying the site together. Regardless of which feature is added to improve esthetics and interest, I would avoid placing fill where the golf course meets its boundaries. In this way, the course blends into its surroundings and yet still takes advantage of the surrounding views.
Most importantly, I would avoid creating any containment mounding which unfortunately seems to be the standard answer to just about any flat site in modern architecture. Containment mounding is used primarily to create definition. Unfortunately it also leaves the most artificial looking landscape possible no matter how good the shaping is. The course will always act as a contrast to the surrounding property and look forced upon the landscape. Without exception, the most highly regarded courses in the world all blend naturally into their surroundings.
The final secret to handling a site like this is a brilliant technique pioneered by Seth Raynor and Charles Blair MacDonald at the turn of the century. Instead of adding containment mounding to the outside for framing and definition, they used mass fills to lift the landing area and green sites. The playing field itself becomes the focus, by the very fact that they stand up and out from the surrounding landscape. Pete Dye did an outstanding job using this technique at TPC at Sawgrass.
Fairway raised up, but no containment mounds to compete with backdrop of trees
This has additional side effects too. First, the golf course will always blend perfectly into the surrounding countryside regardless of topography. Definition was supplied by raising the target areas up for clear visibility. The next benefit is the is the best of all. The bunkers are cut naturally into the raised areas, clearly framing strategies and fitting naturally into the landscape. Finally, the fairways drain naturally off into the roughs avoiding area drains in fairways and wet conditions in the key play areas.
Raynor and MacDonald were able to create golf courses with severe lines that also looked natural. What I have outlined is their technique, which also offers the perfect alternative to dealing with a flat site. Once again we learn and borrow from the past to make great work in the future.