Sunday, 2 January 2011

4th at National Golf Links

From the tee, stay right for safety
Charles Blair Macdonald studied the classic holes of Great Britain and found the 15th at North Berwick to be one of the most superior holes he had ever come across. He mentions in his writings that there are only four or five great holes in golf and that the Redan was one of the finest concepts of them all.

At the National Golf Links of America, Macdonald set out to find a natural site for his Redan. He had stated that every hole had room for improvement and the Redan was no exception. He was not fond of the blindness of the original and found a natural site for the green that was clearly visible from the tee. The joy of MacDonald’s version of the hole is that all the strategy and difficulty are clearly visible from the tee; what’s even more enjoyable is the opportunity for the player to watch the result from the tee.

Direct line in red, running line in yellow
MacDonald continued his improvements with the bunkering. While he copied most of the green’s shape, angle and contour understanding that was the key to the strategy, increased the depth of the “Redan” bunker and the back bunker, making the hole all the more perilous from the tee. While the hole was more visible and inviting, the penalty for missing the shot was much more severe. MacDonald’s version of the feels more of “an all or nothing shot” than the original does, which adds to the fun and the pressure of pulling off a great shot. The hole was so good that North Berwick’s famous head professional, Ben Sayers, called the Redan at the National superior to the original.

So what have I learned from this hole? How effective a defense it is to place a green on a diagonal line from play and defend it with a front bunker. This is the basis of the strategic school of design. But the biggest lesson is the green which places a player in a defensive mode. Rather than playing into a green pitched towards play that receives and favors the high shot, the fall away green requires more creativity and a running approach is the safer play. It favors the flight of the middle handicap more than the high aggressive flight of the great player because they won’t want to chance bouncing in the approach. Finally there is nothing better than providing an option. The player must make the decision to either play directly over the hazard with a precise shot or draw and approach around the fronting hazard using the land to feed the ball onto the green. This requires creative thinking rather than just swinging the correct club.

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