Sunday, 26 December 2010

Pacific Dunes


The 3rd hole

Pacific Dunes was undoubtedly one of the best sites to be given to any architect in recent memory. It’s not just the site that makes the course great, it’s great because the architecture is provocative. Tom Doak took a great piece of land and occasionally went well out of the box to come up with some great solutions. While I like Bandon Dunes, there is no question in my mind that Pacific Dunes is a far superior golf course on an equal site.

There was a series of decisions that make this course more compelling to me. It was designed at a modest length, and could even be called short by modern standards, because that was what the best routing would yield (according to Doak). He did have the advantage of knowing Bandon Dunes was very long, so building a shorter course offered a wonderful contrast between the two. Doak used the opportunity to build a shorter course with more short and interesting par fours than most modern courses have, leaving us with a couple of real gems in the 6th and 16th.

Tom took the largest risk with the routing. He definitely opened himself up to criticism by designing an unconventional distribution of holes. He knew it was the best routing and the configuration was only apparent after they tallied the par of the holes up. For example, he had used back to back par threes to open the back nine in order to use a small triangle and gain one extra oceanside hole. He ended up with a routing on the back nine that had only two par fours. The front nine has one three and one five. The back nine has then four threes and three five. Yet you don’t realize this in the course of play because all the holes are good. This is proof that convention in the routing is unnecessary.

The final ideas are the details of the course. Tom also used alternate greens on the ninth and alternate tees on the tenth rather than choosing between two equally good options on the holes. Rather than bunkers he has blow outs that fit naturally into the dunes. He created very wide fairways for playability in high winds and then bunkered inside the fairway lines to preserve the width while providing some strategic challenge to each of the holes. He built wonderfully rolling greens that flow naturally out into the fairway and off into the chipping areas. So naturally in fact that you don’t notice the transitions.

Pacific Dunes plays better each time I played the course. There are so many alternative routes, options and alternatives that you need to think about which is best. That’s the type of golf I like most.

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