It starts with a short section of singletrack. Just a few turns through some cool terrain. Then everyone agrees a trail run would be fun, so you build a course with a hand clipper, a weedeater and a chainsaw. The few sections you've built aren't enough so you take what you've learned and you build more. Then the parents and the kids and their dogs show up and every nasty thorn, every bit of fossil fuel you burned is worth it.
In my search for information, I came across this 150 page Masters Thesis on Cross Country Course Design by Audrey B. Lancaster of Utah State. A very interesting read for Course Designers of any off-road genre'.
In the 2010-2011 manual written by the IAAF, the supreme world-wide governing body for cross country, it states, “There are extreme variations in conditions in which Cross-Country is practiced throughout the world and it is difficult to legislate international standardization of this sport. It must be accepted that the difference between very successful and unsuccessful events often lies in the natural characteristics of the venue and the abilities of the course designer.” Indeed.