Monday, 31 January 2011

10 Things I Don’t Like in Design - Area Drains in Fairways

The area drains dominate Tobacco Road
One of the reasons I enjoy older courses is because you still see the natural flow of the land uninterrupted by man-made contours. I even prefer flat fairways over ones that have been shaped to create artificial rolls. The modern idea seems to be that fairways must be rolling to be interesting and receptive to be fair. Because of this ideal often fairways are reshaped to achieve both. In order to make this work most architects have come to rely on the use of area drains in the fairway to deal with the water.

The new fairways not only come across as contrived but usually feature a “moon like” appearance where the area drains have been used. The placement is often so uniform and predictable that the shaping around the basins often upstages the bunkering. Even courses I love like Tobacco Road come across as over-shaped due to the extensive use of area drains in the landing areas.

The main reason they are used is to collect water and get it underground as quickly as possible so that play will continue uninterrupted after rain. The problem with this technique is it has secondary implications. The low areas around the basins tend to remain wet. They also are notorious for compaction and ice damage along with consistently weak turf. Since most balls shots tend to collect in the low points the lies are often poor in these areas, or worse in a divot since they concentrate wear into small areas. I’ve never understood their extensive use since they are expensive, create agronomic problems and make the course look artificial.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

10 Things I Don’t Like in Design - Containment Mounds

Mounds along the ocean ... why?

The architectural feature that I dislike the most is the containment mound. The containment mound is a uniform hill that rises up from the native grade with no relation to the land that surrounds. It is commonly employed to create separation between holes and to supply definition to a landing area or green site. They are particular appalling when combined to run the entire length of the hole under the pretence of creating an artificial valley. No amount of fescue can hide these bad boys.

Alister Mackenzie explained to all of us how important it was to create new features that look like existing features so that they blend back into the surroundings. The containment mound never blends back into the surroundings since its purpose is to block everything else out from view and focus the eye on the golf hole. Trees, adjacent holes the natural flow of the land and the scenery beyond the hole are all lost when containment mounds are used.

Mounds added for definition?

They also create technical problems since they tend to flank holes and they direct water into the centre of the hole. Since this is where the fairway is located, they often a contributor to the development of wet fairway turf and serious compaction problems. For Northerners like me they certainly contribute to ice development and damage. The common technique to deal with the technical problems created by them is to build an extensive and expensive system of catch basins and sub-surface drainage. Not only are they particularly ugly but the expense related to stripping topsoil, adding drainage systems and earthmoving is such a waste of resources.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Reader's Choice

6th at Kinsbarns from Cam Tyers

I invite you to send me your choice for best green contours. Please feel free to send a photo of the green - and some comments too - all to be posted on this thread.
3rd at National Golf Links from Cam Tyers

6th at Creek Club from Cam Tyers

5th at Friars Head from Cam Tyers

16th at Green Gables from Paul MacCormack

18th at CC of Scranton from Ian

The 13th at Prestwick - from Ian

Cam Tyers brilliant 13th at Turnberry - Rob Thompson

10 Best Greens - 14th at Baltray

Drawing by Tom Mackenzie from Paul Daley's book 

There were lots of choices for great internal contours from Perry Maxwell through to Walter Travis, but there is something special about Tom Simpson’s greens at County Louth (Baltray). The 14th was my very favourite green on my trip through Ireland.

The 14th is the very best of them because each pin position contains a completely different task and often requires a distinct spot on the fairway for the approach. The green has no bunkers and one conniving little dune tufted with fescue short left. There is short grass all the way around the entire green.

From left - Photo by Aiden Bradley

The dune or hillock makes depth perception tough, but what’s far cleverer is the small roll in the green directly behind and in the front of the green designed to ensure that anything short will not stay on the green. It will either bound backwards down the false front or left into the hollow every time.

The front left pin falls strongly to the left and into the hollow making the approach delicate. The front right pin has a false front and falls very subtly to the right and down into the right hollow. Behind these locations is the dominant tier which is made far nastier by a very prominent roll right in the middle of the green (and tier). Anything finding this feature will be directed away from the green. A central roll is a simple way to create extreme difficulty for a short approach.

From back - Photo by Aiden Bradley
Behind the tier sits the largest area for pins since the pins can be spread from left edge to right edge. The tough part of this shot is distance control. The left side once again has a roll off and approaches can easily get away. The centre crowns and rolls over meaning anything long will head down into the hollows behind. The right may be the one flattish area, but the margin for error with hollows, rolls and fall aways means this is no picnic either.
From TJ rule - another good image of the green
If it all sounds too much, consider the hole is almost drivable and then you realize Simpson has taken a very benign hole by length and setting and made it one of the greatest short fours in golf simply through a particularly clever and exacting green.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

10 Best Greens - 9th at Yale

The green seen from the Tee

I have seen few greens larger than the 9th at Yale Golf Club. The green is around 12,000 sq.ft. and the size is essential to keep the five foot deep swale in the centre in scale. Interestingly the green began as only the latter half or upper area in back and over time was expanded to include the front portion and the magnificent swale. While not part of Raynor and Macdonald’s original concept, the evolution created to a fascinating concept.

Five Foot Deep Swale (courtesy of Golf Club Atlas)

Originally the hole was planned so that players would carry the pond and use the front plateau as a landing with the intent of bouncing the ball forward into the valley and up onto the green. As the green expanded in size the front section became shorter and firmer which helped the process.

With the front kept short it opened up the opportunity to mix the pin positions by moving the pin to the front plateau. The shot was clearly shorter and more enticing, but the landing area was much smaller and the risk of finding the pond was increased. The front pin is
interesting, but the joy remains trying to find the back plateau when the pin is up top. The shot to the upper plateau can be carried or run in, the choice is yours.

From behind the green

The pin is never in the swale although a majority of shots end up in the swale and that is where the fun begins. Whether it is a putt out of the swale or through it very few players are comfortable judging speed when facing such a massive a. It’s the only green I can think of where the putt disappears from view as you cross the main feature.

The upper plateau (about 18 inches higher than the front plateau) is a little too steep at the current green speeds making pin positions tougher to find, but the fact that the back is collective really drives home the idea of trying a running approach through the swale. Only a green like this can get you trying creative shots instead of simply flying it in. One of the most unforgettable holes in golf created by a green with no peer.

Friday, 21 January 2011

10 Best Greens - 2nd at Highlands Golf Links

The approach shot

The 2nd at Highlands Links is named Tam O’Shanter because Stanley Thompson thought the green looked like a Scotsman’s hat. The green at the second hole is my all time favourite Thompson green and is another example of why great greens don’t need bunkers.

The green can be divided into three sections. The front contains a series of wonderful lower pin positions that are all set in a swale that is the entire width of the green. The swale falls strongly from left to right which means that you must stay right of the pin to make a putt. The left corner is particularly difficult to access since there is a subtle roll in front of the green making the approach extra tough since a short approach will not make the green.

The contours are far more noticeable up close
The lower areas are separated from the upper areas by a rise that runs the entire width of the green. The ridge is varied in height and intensity. The lowest point is in the middle where the next great set of pins is found in the valley beyond the rise. The most aggressive slopes is on the right side which helps to offer a backstop for the front right pin or a nasty obstacle to carry  to reach the occasional pin placed on the tiny plateau behind.

The rise is particularly trying when a player needs to go from the front right to the middle valley since it must head up onto the upper right plateau before diving down and left into the valley beyond. This is a very tough putt to judge since the back bowl is fairly steep. The large rise on the left of the green separates the front valley from upper valley. It can be used to feed the ball, but missing left will leave a near impossible recovery since the slopes are all running away from the player.

The green seen from in front
The most joyous and most common pin position is in the back valley. The valley makes a beautiful and attractive bowl that encourages the player to play directly for it.. It’s tough to get a ball back there because of the small rise just in front. But since both side slopes will feed the ball back into the valley, it tempts you to try and thread the needle since it looks like such an inviting birdie opportunity. The problem that is not initially apparent on the approach is the steepness of the valley. It’s easy to putt up to, but long is completely dead since the slope runs away hard and the ball tends to go over the drop in the middle of the green and take off left into the front right corner. The next putt can often involve dealing with the front right rise and all the complications you wanted to avoid the first time.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

10 Best Greens - 6th at Crystal Downs

The slopes are show from the approach angle
The 6th green at Crystal Downs is the famous boomerang green. The green was conceived by Alister Mackenzie and built by Perry Maxwell. I can’t think of two architects who consistently built better greens and this may be their most creative composition.
I have never seen another more original green that works as well as this one does. The day I played there I placed 12 tees on the green to represent every possible pin position that I 
Approach to Green - Courtesy of Golf Blog 100
could think of. While a couple took some trial and error to figure out, there was not a single pin that I could not get a ball to from any part of the green. The key reason is the left mound.
The green is broken into two sections. An upper bowl tucked in the back and a lower bowl out front. The connection is made by a long valley narrow valley with high sides. The area does have pin 
The right side mound is the key feature
potential but most occasions find the pin up or back. The valley section of the green is the area where the green makes a complete right turn and represents the transition between two major pin areas. The start of the valley has a subtle shelf leaving the lower bowl but otherwise the green slowly rises to the back.
The key to the green is the roll on the left. The roll has enough size “and length” so that a putt from either bowl can be slung up onto the high slopes and “boomeranged” around the corner into the either bowl. Most putts simply need to find the correct line on this feature to make the transition, but the slope on the left side of the back bowl certainly can be utilized too.

The back bowl
This is the one green that I’m unlikely to ever use or copy, but it does offer a clear lesson that if any feature either hazard or landform juts into a green the feature on the outside edge must be bold enough to create some clever options for not only feeding the ball around the feature but to also make the putt possible. That is the joy of the green at Crystal Downs you know that you can potentially make the putt.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

10 Best Greens - 11th at Shinnecock Hills

From the tee

I’ve been trying to walk my way through the best greens by taking a series of unique ideas and selecting the best version that I have ever seen. After a week off, I plan to finish out the series with five more greens of special merit. Today the 11th at Shinnecock Hills.

The 11th green at Shinnecock Hills is one of the most clever and difficult greens that I have ever encountered. From the tee the player generally focuses on the front bunkers and the tiny target the green makes. The natural reaction is to try and take a little more club and make sure you are well past the bunkers. In reality you’re better off coming up short.

This image explains everything

The front third of the green is a very strong pitch forward with some subtle undulation. The closer you get to the front, the more aggressive the slope becomes, until everything rolls off the front. The pin areas are generally closer to the back and the front is a false front.
Around three quarters of the way back the green begins to crown and the rest of the green continues over the slope and half way down into the swale behind. This feature means that anything played beyond the crown will pick up speed as it exits the back of the green. Often the ball will have enough momentum to travel through the swale leaving a downhill lie for the recovery shot. The next shot from this position is really tough because you can’t be short and you can’t be firm.

From the back - photo by Cam Tyers

The delicacy of any chip or putt from behind the green is unimaginable. Because of the strength of the slopes and the ability of pins to be placed so close to the transition, even a putt can find itself off the putting surface. It is certainly a model of how green contours can extend the pressure well beyond the putting surface.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

More Press on Laval

By RANDY PHILLIPS, The Montreal Gazette

"Weir has designs on Laval-sur-le-Lac:

Mike Weir and design partner Ian Andrew have been given the nod to fully renovate Laval-sur-le-Lac's Blue course. It will be the first job for Weir and Andrew since the two joined forces to create Weir Golf Design in March 2009.

Construction is scheduled to start at the end of the summer with a completion date next year. The course is expected to reopen in May 2013.

Read more:

I was also told that the news appeared on RDS in the ticker.

I assume that all of this is based upon Lorne's story.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Laval Announcement?

Somehow I knew this news might break when I'm away.

First up, Lorne Rubenstein wrote a recent article about Laval.

In the article it announces that, "Mike Weir and his design partner Ian Andrew will redo the Laval-sur-le-Lac Club’s Blue course near Montreal."

It goes on to say, “It’s going to happen,” Laval’s greens chairman Remi Racine, a Montreal businessman, told The Globe and Mail Tuesday. “The club voted for it last September. We are days away from signing the contract.”

To date, we do not have a signed contract to build the course, but as Remi mentioned we expect this to come very soon.

Lorne's article is here:

Robert Thompson also writes on the subject and goes on to talk about the potential Canadian Open in his blog.

That last remark is being a little coy. The plan is to have the 2017 Canadian Open at the course — at least assuming the television deal with the PGA Tour doesn’t alter the status of the Canadian Open too much and RBC stays on as sponsor. Those are big ‘ifs’ but appear likely at this point. No deal is in place between Laval and Golf Canada — but both sides are willing. Construction on the Weir course is proposed to begin this fall and be open for 2012.

Robert's article is here:

There is interest, but there is no deal. The rebuilding of the course is not contingent on holding the Open and that question has never been put to the membership.

I hope to return to a signed contract.  :  )

Friday, 7 January 2011

10 Best Greens - 6th at National GL

From the tee
When you step on the tee of the Short at the National Golf Links of America you see a large inviting green and feel pretty confident that you will find the putting surface. What is not apparent is how the edges of this massive green fall away into the surrounding hazards making the green a far smaller target that it first appears. What further complicates matters is the centre of the green features a beautiful raised bowl. The bowl is a wonderful collective and receptive place to hit a shot, but all surrounding slopes around the bowl radiate out quite quickly to the lower areas below. Many shots finding the side slopes in what appears to be the centre of the green often finish in one of the side bunkers.
From the left
The middle bowl is tough to find since the area is small and all misses are cast well away from the target. The front right side of the green is very narrow and is too shallow to hold a direct attack played downwind (normal wind). This requires a play into requires the slope of the, but that is dangerous since that slope is angled to the right and often the ball ends up directed into the bunker unless hit with a draw. The front left tends to run the ball out the left due to the strong slopes. The back is a plateau where a shot short comes down the slope and a ball too firm runs through into the back bunkers.

From the right
Once on the surface the player is not finished. Not only are all the surrounding hazards in play from the tee, but can come into play while putting too. The most complicated problem putting on the short is when you have to cross the central bowl and ridge, particularly to the front right of the green. This is where judgment and nerve are required to find a line and speed that will keep the ball on the surface. 

From back of green

The short green has been conceptually copied many times by Seth Raynor and Charles Banks in their own versions of the Short. Ideas like the central bowl have shown up in greens created by Walter Travis.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

10 Best Greens – 2nd at Pine Valley

The "waves" show up best from the side

Pine Valley’s second green is one of the most creative and interesting greens in golf. The green has two outside plateaus, two beautiful interior valleys and a central spine. When all these features are seen together from the side of the green, they give the impression of waves lapping up on the beach. Nothing harsh, but each feature is strong enough to stand out on its own merit.

The pins on the upper plateaus at the edge are extremely difficult. The left plateau is a subtle crown and the ball will easily wander back down into the valley if short, but far worse is being wide where the short grass leads to the waste area. The right plateau is a little more flat and pitched into play, but is also slightly higher making it harder to find. The miss not only comes back down the slope but often ends up at the front right where you can not putt up to the plateau.
The hole from the air

 The interior valleys feature most of the pin positions, they are very steep in places and the ball can easily get away if you are above or to the side. An uphill putt can be very makeable, but all bets are off if your long or worse in the wrong valley. Each putt is excruciatingly difficult to judge.

My favourite feature is the central roll since it creates the double valleys. It extends two thirds of the way towards the front and then slowly disappears allowing the valleys to converge on a beautiful and diabolical front pin. The pin position is spectacular, but a putt down to the pin is one of the most delicate you’ll find. What is tougher is if you have to cross the central spine on the way.

The coolest putt on the green is from the upper right plateau down to the front right pin. It can be done and involves a putt well away from the target that feeds the ball into the valley and down to the front. It took quite a few tries to find the line.

Looking backwards in Black & White
This is another great example of the value of interior contours. In this case the features are running from back to front. The reason this green stands out is the fan shaped five features that make me think of a shell. I found this particular green a touch more creative and original that all others with a similar set up.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

10 Best Greens - 14th at Augusta National

The green from the front left

There is no green in golf quite like the 14th at Augusta National. Once again not a single bunker is needed to complicate the hole. The approach is all about finding a small receptive sliver of green on the upper plateau on the left side of the green. Find the right half of it and the ball will release down into the lower bowl. Find the left side and it will remain on the tiny plateau. The only issue with the approach is this area is less than 1,000 square feet.

The basic contours of the green
The main problem is the green slopes in three directions. The first third is a massive false front that will collect the ball, send it back down the slope and usually well right of where it started. This leaves an incredibly delicate recovery shot since the ball must head up the steep slope after which it either runs hard right or straight out the back depending on which side you play towards. What further complicates this is the only “safe” play must roll directly over the middle roll which is angled left to find that upper sliver you were originally aiming for on the approach in order to keep the ball on the upper plateau or direct it down the slope to the right. The margin for error is inches.

The left back has a small plateau on the left side, the middle of the green is a slope strong enough that it will chase everything straight right and into the lower bowl. The back right is the reason the green is so complicated. It falls out the back beginning at the highest point of the green in the middle. In other words, you can’t aim directly into this area, since all shots simply roll out the back, although at least the next shot is up hill.

From the back taken by Kye Goalby
This is all quite difficult already but the three mounds along the ridge line further complicate the recovery since each mound is approximately four feet above the front of the green and about one foot higher than the green behind. All putts must go over these mounds and be incredibly delicate since the ball must literally die on the top to be effective which means even the slightest miscalculation could send the ball in any direction including back to where you stand.

There is nothing more interesting or troubling than finding yourself down in the front having to putt over the central roll and just to the edge of the drop off, so the ball will barely make it over and begin down the slope in order to remain in the bottom right bowl. Anything less than perfection is at your feet, stuck up top and dead, or off the green leaving a short chip.

Monday, 3 January 2011

10 Best Greens - 16th at North Berwick

Approach from the left side

The approach is usually only a short iron after a good drive. The green has no bunkers and lots of short grass in front that can be used creatively. Yet this green remains one of the toughest approach shots I’ve ever seen.

The green looks like two small plateau green greens separated by a deep diagonal swale that runs in between. The front section features a small plateau, slightly hidden at the front behind a and set approximately two feet above native grade. The right and back edges of this green all slope off into the short grass around the outside which places a premium on keeping the ball in the middle since anything at the edge will run down and away from the green.

The swale in yellow, the green angle in blue
The back plateau is half the size and effectively double the height since the area immediately below the plateau has been lowered a foot to raise the grade of the plateau up. Since the back is twice as high and half the size, the premium on success is so fine that most players do not play for this plateau. Being long or wide leaves an incredibly tough recovery shot and a certain bogie (or sometimes worse).
 The key to the difficulty is the “two” angles that are in play. The green is set on 
The green surface
a diagonal to the approach shot which can be minimized by going left. This brings the swale into play as a potential backstop, but requires incredible distance control to get the ball up on either plateau since you are playing into the narrowest angle of the green.

The other option is to play to the right which requires less distance control, but a lot more accuracy. This time the diagonal swale becomes a serious hindrance since its angle cuts the front section shot and the back section becomes harder to access since the swale deflects the ball hard left. This is no easy approach either.
The green from the right
The green is all about the conflicting angles and how they combine to make this a beastly test since no matter where the approach, the effective target gets minimized by the way the two angles cross. The triangular shaped ends up top near the swale may be flat, but effectively they have become inaccessible on the approach due to limited depth. The net result is too areas that play half their “real” size when you approach.

There are hardly a handful of greens that could explain the technique of conflicting angles as good as this one, but even intuitively its easy to understand why this green is one of the best the game has ever produced.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

10 Best Green -2nd at St. Andrew's

Photo by Ian Mcfarlane Lowe

The distinctive feature of the 2nd green is the series of interior rolls that work in conjunction to make up a remarkable diagonal spine that begins in the front right of the green and finishes near the middle of the left side of the 2nd green. Note: the green is a shared green with the 16th. The initial roll and its companion are big enough to deflect the ball in multiple directions but is not large enough to be discouraging. What they do well is help corral a short shot on their left side into the bowl on the front left of the green where a player is dead.

The next roll in is remarkably bold and staggering in size for players not used to the incorporation of natural rolls into green sites. Anything short, unless low and running, will hit and slide back down into the hollow leaving the player with a near impossible recovery shot. A ball finding the top or worse the down slope will surely exit the back of the green leaving a tough recovery shot because of the side slope.


Better picture from side by Cam Tyers

Beside the enormous roll on the left is a second equally bold roll that is largely a continuation of the landform. This feature creates a beautiful diagonal to the line of the approach when combined with the previous feature. The result is the further left the pin is set, the more exacting the approach becomes since the margin for error has been dramatically reduced.

The final piece of magic is the green surface falls hard from left to right dictating that all the approaches must flirt with the two key rolls in order to shorten the putt. Since everything but the best and boldest will hit and run away to the right, this places a premium on playing well right off the tee and bringing the out of bounds in play. Any tee shot played safely to the left will leave an almost impossible approach shot since it must flirt with the major rolls and the ball will want to run out the back from that direction. Therefore the rolls dictate play from the tee.

The joy of the hole is that it doesn’t need a bunker. The mounds create all the complications and all the strategy. Weaker players can play right of the green or even short right and still have a chance at par. A strong player must challenge the rolls, which brings in a enormous risk of coming up short and making a quick 5 or even a 6.

This is one of the greatest greens in the game and shockingly I’m hard pressed to find another architect borrowing the concept for use in another location. This is another great example of how a flat featureless hole can become architectural brilliant with a highly imaginative green.

Is faster really better?

Or............How Johnny Miller ruined golf.

In 1980, the Metropolitan Golf Association did a stimpmeter survey of the local courses to determine the speed of the greens. A fast green measured 8.5 feet, medium was 7.5, and 6.6 was considered slow. Today, the average fast speed is approximately 10.5 feet, an increase of approximately 2 feet in the last twenty years. In the world of income taxes, this type of increase is called “bracket creep”. In golf, I would call it “speed creep.”

My question is: Do faster green speeds automatically result in better golf? We live in an age where golfers throw around green speed numbers as if they were weather forecasts. Every self-appointed Carnac has a real or imagined number that they freely throw out to impress their friends. My beef is that the majority of “experts” who so freely share their “wisdom” are not truly aware of how green speed is measured and how easily it can be done incorrectly. Recently I played in a club tournament, and one member proudly boasted that “his” greens were “14 today.” Were they recently paved, perhaps?

So, what do these numbers really mean? In the movie Spinal Tap, guitarist Nigel Tuffel explains why his band is the loudest in the world, “Our speakers go to 11, that’s much louder than 10.” Of course, the joke is that band members painted the eleven onto their Marshall speakers; the volume could not measure any higher than the original ten. The point I’m trying to make here is that eventually, numbers lose their relevance. Getting back to green speed, I was once asked by a greens chairman what was the difference between ten and eleven . My response? “All I know is that eleven is a larger number.”

Unfortunately, a phenomenon has taken over North American golf called “the trickle- down effect”. The club with the fastest greens becomes the standard for what all clubs consider the “correct” green speed. While large flat greens can handle speed, courses with rolling greens become unplayable under the same conditions. Often, the course that becomes known for its faster greens actually has major back to front slope. The misconception is that the turf , not the slope, is creating the speed. Despite this, the club with the perceived fastest greens has set the bar, and now all other clubs strive to hit this maniacal target. The problem is that most clubs usually ignore the true speed limit of their own course. Remember, every time you raise the speed, you lose area which can be fairly pinned.

How do we know what the speed limit is? If the pin is almost always in the same locations and the turf is under stress, your greens are too fast. Also, fun and challenging pin locations, that make a particular green unique, are now unusable. The speed limit of a green is determined by selecting the most severe pinning location and determining a fair speed for that location. One single pin location cannot set the standard, but a consensus of the most difficult pins will lead to a speed threshold for the greens. This threshold, not comparisons with other golf courses with faster greens, should be how a club decides how fast it can go. Please note that the club’s primary “event” is not my focus, the day to day speed is my concern.

Fast green speeds are said to identify the elite player by putting a premium on focus and skill. The question I ask is: Do we need to do this on a day to day basis? In my experience, excessively fast greens can identify a superintendent who is pushing the envelope. Hugh Kirkpatrick, a respected golf superintendent from Westmount Golf & Country Club in Kitchener had my favourite line on green speed: “They always run fastest just before they die.” In the movie Top Gun, the pilot Maverick says to his navigator, Goose, “I feel the need for speed.” To me, Maverick is like a greens chairman who is cocky and out of control and Goose represents the superintendent -- more experienced but with less influence. We all know what happens in the movie when Maverick makes an error. Goose pays the concequences.

Where am I going with this little soap box rant, and what’s the connection with Johnny Miller?

In my experience over the last year, which includes dealing with 50 courses and 100 greens chairmen, I have been constantly questioned about why the greens are so slow. My answer to them is another question: Are the greens healthy.? The answer is usually yes. When I explain that you need firm, dry greens to have fast greens, most chairmen quickly realise that often the last season has been one of the wettest years in a long time. This, obviously, could have hindered the superintendents’ ability to deliver healthy and fast greens. However, one greens chairman required further convincing, so we went out to the putting green for a test. Stealing an idea from Ian Bowen, I asked the amateur agronomist to putt 3 balls at a cup 10 feet away. I then poured a bucket of water in between the him and the cup, and waited for the green to absorb the water. He hit his next putt well short and the point was clearly made.

Most greens that I have renovated have pinning areas too small to handle the traffic. Occasionally, a green with dramatic contouring becomes almost unpinnable with a change in green speed. I don’t like to rebuild greens with great contours; I would rather preserve them. Greens that have more contour may need to be slower but they require more creativity and challenge a golfer’s skill. Conversely, greens that have more speed may need to be flatter, which demands less imagination from the player. I want the push for speed to stop before putting gets boring.

One club, notorious for its fast greens, maintained their speed most of last year. The greens were fast, but became thin and weak during stressful periods. Before you blame the superintendent, he had suggested that they need to ease off. The majority of membership finally overruled those who were demanding fast greens and told the club that healthy greens were more important; if the greens had to be slower to recapture the turf, so be it. I hope this is a coming trend, but I can’t say I’m confident.

In my experience, members who are obsessed with green speed are junkies who can never get enough speed. I suggest they be banished to putt in the parking lot. After all, it is currently stimping at 14.

You’re still waiting to see what Johnny Miller has to do with all this, aren’t you. Well, Johnny Miller has a reputation as a bit of a know-it-all. He loves to throw around statistics and numbers all the time. He loves to tells us the greens are stimping at 14 in the latest PGA tournament. The average golfer would not know what stimpmeter was without him. So what’s my beef with Johnny? People assume that everything they hear on TV must be true. The result is that Johnny Miller has helped to create a legion of misinformed greens committee members. Thanks, Johnny.

The Breather Hole

11th at Highlands Links
There is no question that the 11th at Highland Golf Links in Nova Scotia is intended as a breather hole. The first 10 holes at Highland run up and down the landscape like an out of control roller coaster slicing wildly through rolling wooded terrain. The 11th completely contrasts , built on the flat valley bottom almost like the high flat section on the roller coaster ride that sets you up for the next big drop.

The hole was designed as medium length par four – bunkered only for alignment – its fairway the widest on the course with an unusually flat and wide-open green. So how could this hole have architectural merit if it was so easy and inviting? The key is what the hole offers the player. The 11th is a chance to catch your breath, hopefully make a par, and prepare for the next dizzying run of holes over Highland's rumpled terrain. More importantly it offers the best view of the surrounding mountains on the course. Thompson let the player relax and enjoy the views of this magnificent hidden valley, giving them time to savour this special place.

Roller coaster designers know they must space their thrills with breaks to maximize the enjoyment of the ride. Architects from the golden era used the breather hole between dramatic sections to relax players before taking them through a second difficult or dramatic section. A well-designed breather hole also builds anticipation for the next section. Breather holes represent another design technique that modern architecture has overlooked, to the detriment of the game.

What's in a Hole Name?

Het Girdle
Why is the 10th hole at Carnoustie named South America? What about Het Girdle at Gleneagles, Killecrankie at Highland Golf Links, or even Heich o’ Feisch at Osprey Valley?

Het Girdle describes the hot surface of a skillet than sends a drop of water speeding off the side. The 5th at Gleneagles is the best table top green I know, and a missed shot is severely punished with the deep bunkers surrounding the plateau green. The name perfectly describes playing the hole. Killiecrankie (or Killer to the locals) is described as a long and narrow passage through a valley. If you’ve been to Highland Golf links in Nova Scotia, you will know this perfectly describes the setting of the hole. The 4th at Osprey Valley – Heathlands was named by me and it means the height of trouble. I used the name to describe the very delicate little pitch into the 4th green and what would happen with a mis-placed the approach. I have named every hole that I have worked on – some clubs, like Osprey Valley have made them part of the course and the card - others like Ballantrae chose not to. Golfers remember great holes, but when a name like Pandemonium or Purgatory is attached they become even easier to remember.

Hole names are one of the unique charms of golf. When well done, they help describe the situation, shot or setting of the hole more eloquently than a simple hole number. A clever name like Too Soon for Scarboro’s treacherous par 3 2nd hole simply speaks for itself. A.W. Tillinghast and Stanley Thompson both professed to be huge fans of hole names and often named their holes. James Braid even went so far as to name a hole Braid’s Brawest – just to let players know which was his favorite.

The most famous hole name of all must be The Postage Stamp. The hole was actually called Ailsa for the crag in the ocean beyond, but Willie Park described the hole as “a pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a postage stamp” and the name stuck. So how did we get South America?

At the turn of the century a young lad from Carnoustie decided that he was going to spread the word of golf to the south of America. After a party held in his honor, he decided to start out on his trek that night. Obviously the party involved lots of drinking because he was found fast asleep at the 10th hole of Carnoustie the next morning. Hence the name South America, and golf is a richer sport for it.

Rustic Canyon

A look at the course from the air, notice the width and use of central hazards.

Rustic Canyon in Moorpark California is a golf course so good that it draws people from around the country to come and seek it out. Many would assume that a course this popular must be a big budget course done by a large firm. The course was in fact built by a small team of dedicated young architects for a very modest budget.

What makes it so good?

The course echoes the strategies and spirit of St. Andrew’s better than almost any other course designed in recent times. The green’s are very complex and involve strict placement off the tee to ensure access to pin positions. The turf beyond the greens is kept intentionally short to make the ground game the game of choice. This brings in an element of chance and luck rarely seen on other modern courses. The bunkering is present, but like St. Andrew’s, the player feels they have lots of room to play safe away from most bunkering. The fairways are wide, with an immense amount of options, but often the most dangerous route is the one that opens up the green. Gil Hanse, Jim Wagner and Geoff Shackelford have managed to bring the spirit of Scottish golf into a California Canyon.

A great setting that follows the natural contour in the Canyon

Why is it such a good model?

The golf course design follows the land, with little shaping beyond the tees, bunkers and green sites. This means they were able to build it for a modest budget, and the course only needs a modest green fee to make a return. Since the course is well designed, it is popular with all types of players. From a beginner to scratch handicap, each player is given a different test to fit the limits of their skill. Because it is so well liked, the course is busy, which guarantees the course will generate income for the community or ownership.

There is a lot to learn from Rustic Canyon.

Target Bunkers - are basicly useless

Green Monkey - Fazio

Walter Travis opinioned that “The primary idea of a hazard is to punish to the extent of one stroke, a poorly played shot, and to make the recovery exceedingly difficult, and even by the virtue of the following shot being extraordinarily good. If the end is not attained, the existing hazard fails to fill its functions.”
Donald Ross stated that “Hazards and bunkers are placed so as to force a man to use judgment and to exercise mental control in making the correct recovery."

It is clear that these men see the placement of hazards as the key to testing the abilities of the player and to add interest to the game. There is no mention of alignment or definition.

So how did we end up with target bunkers, since it certainly offers no strategic value and only penalizes the most wayward of player?

Robert Trent Jones began the practice of bunkering the inside and outside of a dogleg to require absolute precision of driving. Architects in turn were drawn to the definition that this created and set about using it within their own design philosophy. Architects adapted this to their own personal style, which was usually based on a more playable model than Jones. As the bunkers were moved further away from the landing zone we ended up with bunkers that were out of play and could be aimed at. Hence the target bunker was born. Players got used to this luxury and architects began to routinely add in the bunkers because of their popularity.

Is the target bunker good for architecture?

I would argue that they are not. I think this has lead to a style of architecture that has gone beyond providing challenge, interest and options - instead it has evolved to offering clearly laid out tasks defined by the hazards. The target bunkers are their to make direction and placement absolutely clear from the tee. There should be more mystery and discovery to finding the correct line on a hole. The bunkers on the inside of the hole are the ones that define the challenge and create the coveted risk and reward scenarios. The only real use for a target bunker is to provide a line when there is no other feature available for a player to focus on – with trees, long grass and landforms - this is a rare event on a modern course. Target bunkers are an unnecessary addition to the game that cost too much to build and too much maintain.

I believe architects should use fewer bunkers much more effectively. They can accomplish their strategic intent and still get the definition they crave with more careful placement in the field.

The Central Bunker

The famous 16th at St. Andrew's.

A bunker placed in the centre of a landing area may be an immensely controversial choice, but it is a technique that should be used more. Let’s study some great examples to understand why.
The principal’s nose on the 16th at St. Andrew’s may be the first and earliest example of a central bunker. The weakest players are well short of this hazard and don’t give it much thought; in fact many just take dead aim right at it. The average player will usually bail well to the left to avoid the cluster and reduce the risk, whereas the best players must challenge the hazard to achieve the ideal approach to the green. The green is definitely best approached from right of the cluster, which also involves flirting with the out of bounds. The bunker makes this a hole full of decision making and creates an unusual and excellent example of risk and reward from the tee. 

The 4th at Woking.

The 4th at Woking was originally a very mundane hole until Paton placed two bunkers right in the middle of the fairway at the 230 yard mark. Golfers could play short of the hazards and face a tricky approach shot over a difficult greenside bunker, or they could take the aggressive approach of driving between the bunkers and the out of bounds, but be left with a straightforward little pitch to the green. The idea was so bold that it was met with a huge uproar in the club, but it was so clever that Tom Simpson was inspired by this great hole.

The Shoe bunker is in the centre of the picture

There are lots of other great examples to learn from such as Braid’s Bunker on the 2nd at Carnoustie, probably the most intimidating example of all of them. The 5th at Friar’s Head, a drivable par four where the bunker is 290 yards from the tee right in line with the green. The Shoe Bunker on the 2nd at Pacific Dunes, where a player has to decide whether to try skirt it or fly it. The long par five13th at Rustic Canyon has a central bunker with lots of room left or right, but somehow many end up stymied in the little central bunker.

I think the reason this is not used very often is the “F” word, fairness. Most players feel that they should always be rewarded for a straight drive and this seems to contradict with their beliefs. What they fail to realize is that the central bunker is placed primarily for decision making. Most players feel that it is there god given right to hit driver all day. Although this doesn’t take the driver out of their hands - they often choose another club because of the risks associated with flirting with the hazard - and they label this a weakness of the hole. The only weakness was in their courage. If we still played match play instead of stroke play, this hole type of hole would be more popular, but once again fairness influences architecture because we perfer stoke play. Admittedly this hazard must be used sparingly to work well, but with careful placement, this is an idea has produced some classic holes