Sunday, 2 January 2011

13th at Highlands Links

My sketch of the approach shot
I have always had a soft heart for any hole that presents the option of playing a running shot into a green. It is most often encouraged by a downhill approach or by a green that falls away from play. Sometimes weather gets involved and the holes become best approached along the ground. But the rarest and finest version of this type of hole is the one where the landform dictates the running approach. Last week I pointed out the ridges that front the greens at Thousand Islands Club that are certainly best approached by playing short and bouncing the ball on. The hole that pushes this idea out the furthest is the 13th at Highland Golf Links.

435 yards away from the green Thompson places you on a high tee with all the elements of the hole clearly in view. The fairway slopes very hard from right to left with a series of wonderful undulations throughout. The player will likely cut the ball of the tee to hold the slope of the fairway and be left to face a draw lie on the approach, although any stance is possible because of the wild undulations in the fairway.

The fronting mound
The prominent feature of the hole is the large roll right in front of the green. The player is simply left with the decision of how are you going to play over, around or along the prominent mound to get to the green. You can fly the mound, but the green has no slope, so a ball just short or long will easily skid over the back. You can not play right, since the ball will bound into the right swale for a very awkward up and down. A ball hitting the left of the mound will likely be run into the only bunker on the hole. The player is left to try to bounce the ball off the mound to find the green or they can even play the long running approach over the mound and onto the green. How often do we face that as a legitimate option?

This offers a window into an older view of architecture that is built around chance as much as shot-making. Modern architecture likes to control each view and each type of shot throughout the design, but often removes the elements of luck and fun by removing unusual landforms. Golden age architects, like Thompson, left the natural and unusual contours for players to contend with by using the landform instead of a formal hazard to define and defend a green site. The landform on thirteen offers multiple options and the player is left to use their creativity to play the hole. Stanley’s use of the natural roll in front of the green makes for one of the most entertaining approaches anywhere in the world of golf.

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