Sunday, 26 December 2010

The Biarritz Green

The Biarritz at Yale

The original Biarritz was the famous chasm hole at the Biarritz Golf Club in France. The hole was known for its incredible carry over a stunning 50 foot deep and 100 foot wide cut in the cliffs to a peninsula below. The hole was designed by Willie Dunn and featured a tee eighty feet above the ocean playing 220 yards away to a green sitting 50 feet above the ocean hard up against the cliffs. The lighthouse in the background and sweeping ocean view made this one of the most famous holes in its day. This was also one of the holes that influenced the thinking of Charles Blair MacDonald when he went on his trip of Europe to find and document the best holes in golf in preparation for his work at The National Golf Links of America (NLGA).

At NLGA his original plan was to make the 15th hole a “Biarritz” of around 225 yards, but that got changed as the design for the NLGA evolved. He did not use the Biarritz concept at NLGA, although he went on to use the idea (or at least Raynor did on his behalf) at a number of the courses he and Raynor designed. These include; Yale, Piping Rock, Chicago and the Creek Club. There are thought to be 30 Biarritz’s in existence today.

So what is the Biarritz concept? The original hole featured a 100 yard carry over a chasm, but that is not what caught MacDonald’s eye. What caught his interest were two concepts. First, the fairway and green on the other side were flanked by two strip bunkers making accuracy paramount from the tee. This did allow players to be short as long as they were straight. Second, the green was cited on a natural plateau a few feet above the fairway that keeping all but the best shots off the green. If you can imagine this was a daunting shot from 225 yards away, so much so that the hole was shortened a series of times before its final disappearance (to become housing).

MacDonald took the concept of the natural plateau, the strip bunkers and the role of the slope in the difficulty of the hole. He brought all three together and then modified the idea into what he thought was a superior hole. MacDonald not only had the plateau “green”, he used the defense idea of the front slope in a different but equally effective way by creating a broad swale. The swale still needed to be in carried or “run through” to get to the green (I have never seen any reference to the original having the swale). Then where the Biarritz found its current form, MacDonald made the front a “plateau” like the back. The hole at Yale with its higher back plateau has more roots to the original than others, but either way they all are equally as interesting to play.

Where evolution took this one step further was the front seems to be intended to be fairway, but at some clubs (Chicago and Yale originally) the front was cut to green height creating a most fascinating version of the double plateau green. It is not known whether this was the idea of Raynor, MacDonald, Banks or a green chairman but never the less it made MacDonald’s creation even more fun to play. The result was many clubs now have greens with high plateau fronts, a massive deep swale running across the centre, and a high back plateau. That green is now commonly referred to as the Biarritz green. When MacDonald built his first one at Piping Rock it was quickly referred to as MacDonald’s folly (the hole at Piping rock had the approach and swale as fairway and the green as the back plateau). Now each and everyone of them is cherished and protected by the club.

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