One of my favorite holes with one of the best hole names I know, “Foxy” remains a lesson in the value of selecting an using natural green sites to your advantage. The 14th at Royal Dornoch is placed on a modest plateau, which in itself is not an unusual choice for any green site. What makes it really fun is that the approach is with a long iron to the shallow green that will only accept the most exceptional shot. Anything coming up short is cast away by the slopes of the plateau. The fascinating aspect of the hole is that every approach is possible while none are really favored. Throw in the wind and you have one of the more ominous approaches in golf – and yet there isn’t a single hazard in your way!
The joy of the hole is not only on the approach but in the recovery shot, since it can be as difficult as the approach. It’s a great test of your creative abilities because there is still no standard shot for getting up and down, and the best alternative usually involves finding a creative route along the ground. If you are left, you get an opportunity to try any of the options you feel most comfortable with. If you played short rather than risk the direct approach to the green, the green sets up well from in front, but you still must contend with the shallow green. But if you went after the green and missed long or right, the pitch shot is close to impossible and you now have your hands full.
I did not begin with the tee shot initially because I’m still not sure what play is most prudent. The right flirts with the dunes and seems inviting, and yet the left seems to provide slightly more depth in the green to hit into, but I’m still not sure of the merits of either. I do know my father played left safely left and was successful by running a wood along the fairway and up the slope. This is most likely the best approach to the green. I played down the right for what I thought was an advantage, but my aggressive approach was easily cast aside by the crowned nature of the green. The recovery was tough and a shot was lost to par.
So what did I learn from this. Never underestimate the value of using a plateau to place a premium on the approach. That short grass is often a better defense than a bunker and is likely the most misunderstood and least used of the natural challenges available to an architect. It doesn’t hurt the average players but confounds the good player from the approach through to the recovery. Finally that if a green lacks the depth to receive the shot, then the approach is becomes very demanding - but if short or lay-up options exist that is a reasonable alternative (to going directly at the green) – the hole is very difficult but quite fair.