Golf course architect: Thomas Himmel
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
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.
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.
Beautiful views at Son Gual (Photo credits, 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 (Photo credits, Thomas Himmel)
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 tee shot 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.
18th at Olching Golf Club – a Himmel design (Photo credits, Thomas Himmel)
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)?
Tegernseer Golf Club set for redesign (Photo credits, Tegernseer Golf Club)
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
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!