George Cobb Designed Golf Courses

February 17, 2007

Perhaps you’ve never heard of architect George Cobb, the designer of Quail Hallow Golf Club, site of this week’s Wachovia Championship. Chances are, however, if you’ve ever vacationed in the southeast, you’ve played one or more of his courses.

Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1914, Cobb grew up in a family of golfers. After graduating in 1937 from the University of Georgia with a degree in Landscape Architecture, Cobb served as an engineering officer in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. At Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, he was ordered to construct a golf course on the base to serve as a physical rehabilitation facility. With the help of veteran architect Fred Findlay, Cobb succeeded in building the “rehab facility.” It was likely at that moment that Cobb developed his design philosophy that golf was supposed to heal and to stimulate, not to punish.

In the mid-1950s, Cobb setup shop in Greenville, South Carolina, and took advantage of a booming golf development climate in the southeast to create more than 100 original designs, along with dozens of redesigns.

Perhaps his most prominent design is his shortest course: The Par 3 Course at Augusta National Golf Club, which he completed in 1959, with a little help from Masters domos Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts. Alister MacKenzie had first proposed an “approach-and-putt” nine-holer as early as 1932, but it took another 26 years before the short course concept was green lighted.

Today, the Wednesday Par 3 Contest is pure fun for players and patrons alike, with friendly wagering, cross-generational pairings, trick shots and roar-inducing aces more the norm than the exception. In no small part, Cobb’s little course — as emblematic of his design philosophy — helps foster the good-time atmosphere.

Augusta National asked Cobb to retouch the big course in 1967 and again in 1977, with his associate, John LaFoy, who later embarked on a successful solo career that included a stint as president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

Among Cobb’s other original creations that tested the pros were Georgia’s Green Island Country Club, which played host to the PGA Tour’s Southern Open from 1970 through 1990, with winners that included Johnny Miller, Gary Player and Hubert Green; Deerwood Country Club in Jacksonville, Fla., which played host to the Greater Jacksonville Open, predecessor to the Players Championship; and of course, Quail Hollow Country Club in Charlotte, N.C, home course for this week’s Wachovia Championship.

While Quail Hollow has been significantly renovated by Arnold Palmer and Tom Fazio since it originally opened, the spine of the Cobb design remains intact from the days it proved a worthy test for Kemper Open competitors from 1969 to 1979.

Yet the bulk of Cobb’s courses weren’t designed to test the pros. They were fairly simple designs, with large, shapeless greens and mostly oval bunkers. Sophisticated they weren’t. Playable, they were.

According to Mike Tanner’s article in, his former associate, John LaFoy, recently said, “George Cobb (and his) contemporaries worked in the Robert Trent Jones era. It wasn’t a golden age of architecture, and maybe George’s design features weren’t as dramatic as those architects, but he had a complete understanding of golf strategy. I think George is beginning to get credit for his skill as a golf architect.”

Cobb passed away in 1986, but his legacy survives through his courses. Here’s a sampling of classic Cobb designs that you can play:

Sea Pines Plantation (Ocean Course), Hilton Head Island, S.C.
This was the very first golf course on Hilton Head Island, a 1960 Cobb design that remains one of the better second-tier courses on the island, thanks in part to its par-3 15th hole that is back dropped by the Atlantic Ocean. It’s one of only two holes on Hilton Head to offer this distinction.

Sea Pines Plantation (Sea Marsh Course), Hilton Head Island, S.C.
If you find its Sea Pines sibling Harbour Town too crowded or too expensive, give Sea Marsh a try. Another oldie but goodie on Hilton Head (circa 1967), Sea Marsh is short and tight, with holes that ribbon through lagoons and moss-festooned live oaks.

Hound Ears Club, Blowing Rock, N.C.
Just west of Boone in the mountains of western North Carolina is this idyllically set charmer that winds along the Watauga River. The tiny 105-yard par-3 15th is the showstopper, with its waterfall, draping ferns and downhill approach.

Ocean Point Golf Links, Fripp Island, S.C.
An hour and a half from Hilton Head and 19 miles past Beaufort sits this uneven, yet worthwhile layout that’s full of deer, birds and alligators, plus a handful of holes that play alongside of or within sight of the Atlantic. It’s good fun when the wind is up, but in-the-way condos detract from the aesthetics.

The Resort at Glade Springs (Cobb Course) Daniels, W. Va.
Framed by the Allegheny Mountains, this state park resort has huge greens that are guarded by equally huge bunkers, and fairways that rise and fall several hundred feet in elevation. The best test is the 420-yard, par-4 16th, which demands a 200-yard drive over water followed by an approach over more of the wet stuff.

Tides Inn (Golden Eagle Course), Irvington, Va.
Pines, oaks and cedars frame the rolling fairways. More than 90 bunkers and the 50-acre Lake Irvington, which comes into play on seven holes, keep big hitters grounded. It’s all good — but No. 5 is great. A massive, dogleg-left par-4, it’s menaced by water from tee to green.

Joe Passov is the Architecture and Course Ratings Editor of GOLF MAGAZINE. E-mail him your questions and thoughts at [email protected]