Sunday, 26 December 2010

Indian Creek

The short grass everywhere

I just wanted to share my thoughts about the golf course and my experience playing Indian Creek in Florida.

I was very excited to see Indian Creek because I consider it very hard to make a course interesting without natural features to work with. As an architect, I’m always looking to discover how this can be accomplished, learn from the architect, and see how he blends his work back into the native grade. Indian Creek was full of really good lessons.

I was quite stunned to learn that the entire the island/golf course was built from sand dredged out of the Bay. It was a very clever decision by Flynn (or the original developer) to create a well elevated location for the clubhouse area. The view to and from this promontory is one of the great features of the club and is well incorporated in the opening and closing holes of each nine. The addition of a secondary knoll on the far side of the island helps give the impression that there is more relief to the site. It also makes a great finish for the 11th green and creates a wonderful vista for the 12th hole.

The approach to the 3rd - up top!

The golf course was a lot wider spread apart than I would have expected and the sense of scale that it creates is very pleasing to the eye. On one hand it helps the player to relax, on the other it helps set up the strategies of the holes. The wider corridors provide more room to swing the fairways back and forth and develop the wonderful carry angles that Flynn is very adapt at using. This was a clever way to create interesting looking and playing holes despite a general absence of terrain. While players enjoy the width for playability, it doesn’t take long to recognize positional play is more important than first appears as they discover the complications at the green sites.

The bunkering was one of the greater lessons for me. The bunkering is very simple and very elegant. I must admit it’s in a style that I “would” not have tried in my own original work. But after considerable thought I have been encouraged to reconsider this. The absence of fingers and bays and the simplicity brought the focus back to the greens and the surrounding chipping areas. Golf design has devolved somewhat into a contest of aesthetics where the most elaborate bunkering gains the most praise. We seem to have forgotten that its how the course plays that matters most.

The wind was a factor the day I played, but the routing worked wonderfully to have the winds influence change continuously throughout the round. I also loved how Flynn extended the length and challenge each time you turned back into the wind. It was almost like saying “I’ve let you have some fun now it’s time you show me that you can play a little.” I’m sure there are other winds, and each one provides a different golf course, but I really liked the role the wind played in my round. I must commend the club on the space around the holes and lack of heavy vegetation which allowed the winds to swirl through the property and become a greater factor on each shot.

The par threes were all very good with the 5th being my favourite for the clever use of angles and wonderful contour. The 12th is rightfully famous for its setting, but that would be vastly underselling what was one of the greatest green surrounds I have seen. The slope of the green and run off created a very tough target, but which remained fair because the slopes were subtle enough to allow for a creative recovery shot to be played. Walking around the back and sides of this green gave me a good feel for heights and slopes. Our next project Laval shares the same concept and I quickly understood that I should tone Laval down just a bit to achieve a similar effect.

It’s a great set of fives. The two heading away from the clubhouse have two of the best greens on the course. The twists in the 11th green create a myriad of complicated putts. The plateau on the 3rd has the player facing one of the most frightening pitches in golf. The other two take advantage of the rise in grade and backdrop of the clubhouse to create two wonderful settings framed in by bunkers. Each offers up a great opportunity to make a closing par.

The side and back of the 10th - note the green falls away in back

The mixture of par fours was exquisite with a nice compliment of longer and shorter holes fours. Each tough hole seemed to be complimented by a shorter hole with more opportunity. One of the greater joys of the course was the number of mid-length par fours where decision making is paramount over length. Even the green sites varied from downright confounding through to inviting depending on the pin position, contour, and angle of approach. I imagine the course to play so differently depending on the pin positions and green speed.

The green sites make the course. The use of short grass around the entire green is architecturally inspiring. This plays two roles for the course. It creates the challenge since anything not on the green is gone and will roll down the slopes to the bottom of the hill leaving a really tough recovery. This places a premium on the approach and more importantly a premium on where you need to come in from for many of the pins.

The second roll is playability. The short grass means that any recovery shot is possible unless there is a bunker in between. You can putt, chip, pitch or flop a recovery back onto the greens. What I enjoyed was the chance to run shots back up the slope. What I love as an architect is the pressure a better player feels in hitting a flop off that tight lie. The margin for error is enormous for them, while the average player can play to their strengths (including using a putter). That is simply great design.

The pitch to the 13th 

The greens at Indian Creek make the perfect subject to finish up with. The edge contouring on most greens has most of the greens rolling off and down the slope. This makes the effective target smaller and the margin for error lower on the approach. The aggressive option is always available to the best player, but at the risk of finding themselves with some very complicated and delicate recovery shots if they miss. The way the greens droop and fall reminded me of what I loved about Shinnecock Hills, only this time the slopes are far larger and have a much more devilish consequence.

Putting these greens can be really tough. Unlike most difficult greens it does not stem from architectural features or complicated rolls, but simply because of the pitch and roll of the greens. They play no favourites, out the side, out the back and even a strong pitch forward on occasion, but never in one direction. This creates wonderful twists in the plateau that are very tough to read since there is no constant slope to trust to gain a line. I have a great eye for reading greens and this is one of the first times where I just trusted the caddie and ignored what I “thought” I was seeing.

Indian Creek is essentially the type of course that I want to build. You have the opportunity to take on as much risk as you dare, but always at your own peril. You are encouraged to show your creativity and the design encourages you to try different shots. Each pin position, change in wind or change in set-up brings a completely different challenge. You are going to have a lot of “fun” while trying to solve its riddles.

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