As you might know, Leadingcourses.com is all about golf courses. And who knows a course better than a golf course architect? In this blogpost we give several renowned architects the chance to tell you a bit more about themselves, their work, where they get their inspiration and so on. In this episode we talk to the talented German golf course architect : Thomas Himmel.

Thomas Himmel, golf course architect

Personal

Name: Thomas Himmel
Website: Himmel Golf Design
Nationality: German
Years in the business: 30
Number of courses designed: 47 (including redesigns)
Best known for: Golf Son Gual
Favorite golf course to play: St. Andrews Old Course
Hidden Gem: Cuscowilla GC (Lake Oconee, Georgia, USA)

Born in Caracas Venezuela, Thomas C. Himmel has always had a strong passion for the game. At a young age, he proved himself to be a proficient golfer, becoming a member of the German National Team for six years (1990-95) and the German Amateur Champion in 1991, 1992 & 1993. He was also Bavarian Amateur Champion from 1989 through 1994 & 1996 and represented Germany in several World and European Amateur Championships. He still enjoys a round today, and plays off a handicap of 1. Designing golf courses was always in Himmel’s vision. He graduated from the Technical University in Munich as a civil engineer and later studied golf course design at the renowned Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA). These qualifications, combined with his affection for the game, gave him the perfect ingredients to become a golf course architect. Since 1992 the office of Thomas C. Himmel Golf Course Design has been building golf courses independently and has also worked with “GDI Golf Design International” on several projects. GDI is in charge of over 60 golf course projects worldwide.

Golf course architect: Thomas Himmel

What is your favourite golf course that you have played?

As a member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, it’s the OLD course in St. Andrews. (Thomas has also served on the club’s “Sustainability Committee” from 2013-2018.)

What makes a golf course good?

Playability, fairness, sustainability, visual attractiveness, harmony with the natural surroundings and challenging holes. Each hole should be different to the others and in good condition. Combining all of these aspects is the most challenging thing about designing a golf course.

The clubhouse hole at Golf Son Gual
The magnificent 9th hole at Golf Son Gual

Which type of designs do you like best? Links/woodland/water/etc.

No special design really, there are great courses in every category around the world when designed fittingly for the purpose. My favourite way of playing is links golf. My dream project would be to to design a course with sandy dunes on cliff shores, wherever in the world.

Is there a certain characteristic by which you can recognise your designs?

Not really, I try to give every course a special note – which is not easy! I have no certain type of bunkering as a “trademark”. I try to adjust them to the specific circumstances; landscape, main playing feature or not, maintenance budget, etc. One thing I hate are flat greens. They make golf so boring!

Thomas Himmel at work

How do you design a course that is challenging for different levels of handicap? For instance, do you take average driving distance into account?

With the dramatic changes in shot lengths within the more accomplished and younger players, it has become very difficult. Most of the courses are for “normal golfers” all over the world. Rarely does a project need to serve for more than 7.400 yards – that’s what is needed for top golf these days. Nevertheless, you need to incorporate challenge and fairness for every level of player – with the average golfer’s handicap around 20-22 – being the focus. Average driving distances for every group of player are taken into account. But the Teeshot is only 14 shots per round. The challenges and variety on a golf hole really start after the teeshot and focus on the green and its surroundings. I personally like playable fairways and tougher greens.

Do you think a golf course should always start with an easy hole and end with a difficult one?

Not too tough for the start and not the toughest at the end. 18 good holes with changing drama is the goal. 18 should still challenge the golfer but not ruin his/her whole day at the end. The 3rd or 4th toughest is very good at the end. I prefer the 17th to be very tough, close to the end. Pete Dye is a master in that.

Beautiful water hole at Olching Golf Club, designed by Himmel
18th at Olching Golf Club – a Himmel design

How do you make a good golf course with a small budget?

Not always easy. If you have a great site your budget can be very small with a great result in the end. A poor site with poor soil conditions on top can swallow so much of the budget that the rest might not be enough for a great visual design. A proper routing, well designed greens, fair landing-zones for the average golfer and proper maintenance is basically all you need for a nice golf course.

How do you design a golf course that is future proof?

Less turf and maintenance areas and more fun factor! More visual attractiveness in detail, shorter in overall length for the average golfer – less than 6.300 yards for a Par 72 from the regular men’s tees. Finally, less roughs in the key playing areas to increase pace of play.

Which course would you liked to have designed? Is there a design you’re jealous of?

Both courses in Barnbougle Dunes (Tasmania) and Tara Iti (New Zealand). Not really jealous about anyone, but I would love to be involved in redesigns of Open Courses …slightly jealous there!

What will your next project be (or what is your current project)?

The current project is the complete redesign of Freiburger Golfclub (Germany) and Tegernseer Golf Club Bad Wiessee starting in July 2020. Another current project is also the short game area at Golf Resort Achental. In the planning stages is the complete redesign of Golfclub Bad Ems.  

The 8th hole at Tegernseer Golf Club, Bad Wiessee
Tegernseer Golf Club set for redesign

Which architect would you like us to interview next? Why?

I most admire Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw. They design fantastic classic-looking, minimalistic courses that incorporate great modern golf strategies

Special thanks to Thomas for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with us. We hope this blog series continues to give valuable insights into the work that goes into creating a golf course that people love to play. We wish Thomas continued success for the future!

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