Sunday, 26 December 2010

Minimalism versus Modernism

For me, the current world of Golf Design can be broken down into two basic schools of thought. Currently, the most common approach comes from the group I call the “Modernist”, who believe that players should be given a clear series of tasks. They believe it is their role to make the game interesting by developing a series of challenges that must be overcome in order to score. Protecting par is important to this group. You can recognize them through their use of phrases like “shot values” and “course strategy” used to point out that their courses require players to employ exceptional skill in order to achieve a low score. They tend to dismiss work done differently than them by pointing out that they “lack in strategy.”
 
Where my frustration lies with this group is there need to always add hazards to “reinforce” the strategy. Once you have either pitch or undulation in a green, you have strategy since you will need to favour a “position” in order to best access that position. Where architecture becomes “fun” is when the architect adds a bunker to that spot and invites a player to flirt in order to gain an advantage for the next shot. Where Modern architect’s ruins the fun is when they surround that position with bunkers and penalize all wayward shots.
 
The playing experience they deliver is the equivalent of putting a mouse in a maze. While the player can occasionally try alternatives to circumvent the design, they are generally rewarded by being “prudent” and through successfully executing each and every task. Golf in this format is more about a repeatable swing than being creative. Since the architect has clearly defined “the game”, they make sure all the “strategies” are clear and all “target” areas are receptive by reworking the land in order to make “their” courses are “fair.” The whole round is a tension filled affair where the player is playing head to head with the architect.
 
The other school of design is “Minimalist.” The Minimalist believes that golf is not about restricting the player’s movement and reprimanding them for missing a shot, it’s about having the freedom to take your own path and decide how much risk you will take on during the round. You will need to flirt with trouble and take on greater risk in order to score, but if you’re willing to accept a higher score you can steer clear of disaster by playing more shots.
 
The one thing Minimalists are not afraid to do is provide a clear opportunity with very little risk to provide an opportunity for players to relax. The basis of this comes from courses like St. Andrew’s where you are challenged and welcomed throughout the round. I’ve long felt the greatest lost art in golf architecture is the breather hole, which is used to relax the player and enhance their enjoyment. It often does a wonderful job of relaxing the player or calming them before they are faced with more decisions and more complications in the coming holes.
 
A Minimalist course is fun. Players are given the opportunity to decide how much or how little risk they will take on. Their decision making ability and creativity play as big a role has their ability to hit shots. The courses are more flexible since they become more difficult as the player shows more willingness to take on risk. The game becomes a question of what is possible and whether it is worth the risk. The player is essentially playing themselves.
 
There is a place for all styles in golf, but during a time when we want increase participation in the game, it’s easy to see that a Minimalist golf course will clearly encourage far more new players to enjoy and stay with the game.

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