Cyber-golf design has become extremely competitive. As of this writing, one could guess that there are literally hundreds of cyber-designers out there in the world carefully crafting out pixellated dirt and grass into their own masterpieces. Anyone who visits the Course Depot on a regular basis knows that there is a new course released almost every single day, sometimes up to four or five. As a result, it's not easy to make a name for yourself. I've been around for a year and a half and still have trouble gaining recognition.
I think far too many cyber courses tend to look exactly the same....the typical cookie-cutter layout I see released these days seem to be exclusively of the parkland variety, almost always utilizing someone else's mountain background. Similar texture sets and design styles seem to be prevalent, resulting in a gigantic rash of visually identical layouts that are basically indistinguishable from one another. I would say 5 out of every 10 GBC courses that come out might as well all be the same one.
I consider myself to be a staunch realist in terms of computer golf course design. My favorite cyber-courses are those that strive to look like a real golf course, both in how they look and how they play. I am a big fan of risk-reward architecture; I love those holes that dare the player to pull off a really difficult shot and have it payoff with a birdie or an eagle. I love courses where the design takes precendent over image and "eye-candy". I don't care for giant cliffs, football-field sized flower beds surrounding tees and greens or ghoulish space-themed or Halloween courses or the ones that look like they come from the Arctic.
Routing is an overlooked part of the design process; I think it's important to take a close look at how things are laid out. I like a variety in how things flow from one hole to the next. I try to avoid more than two consecutive par fours on a side, and if I have three I make sure they vary greatly in length and setup. I usually stick to the tried and true par-72 format of four 3's, four 5's and ten 4's, but I occasionally vary it. Par-3's and 5's should be spaced out from one another fairly well.
I think the golfer should hit a different iron on every par-three. Point Vincent's five par-3's, for example, measure approximately 160, 180, 195, 205, and 230. I also vary the wind direction as much as possible. I also try to design at least one par-3 without water, and for multiple water holes I will have one lake on the left and another on the right.
I like to vary the lengths of par-4 and par-5 holes as well. Every one of my designs has at least one par-4 that a player can drive from the tee, and at least two par-fives are reachable in two strokes. I also design one or two 460 yard backbreakers, and I like to have one true three-shot par five. Doglegs should vary in direction. Longer holes should be reasonably level or downhill.
Hazards are obviously an important part of making a course difficult. I am a big believer in water, although I don't like seeing it on all 18 holes. I try to limit water to not appearing on more than three or four holes in a row. A golfer deserves a reprieve from it occasionally. I don't use a lot of bunkers; but what little ones I do use are for strategic purposes. I like using bunkers and water in risk-reward situations, so that the golfer can put them in play or take them out of play depending on how bold he/she is.
Greens should be puttable. I've gotten a few reviewers telling me my greens were too flat for their tastes, but I think far too many cyber courses have situations where you have a putt with a two-foot break on every single green. That gets tiresome. Good shots should not be penalized with a putt that can only be made by aiming 90 degrees to the left.
Overall, I'm not as hard to please as it appears. I just want to play cyber golf courses that look like the real thing and appreciate the efforts of designers who design their courses for the game and not for eye-candy.