Sunday, 2 January 2011

5th at Merion

The tee shot with creek up the left
  I have been slowly building a list of holes that have captured my imagination, but very few listed match the next one. Merion’s 5th is more than a clever routing of a good long par four; it is also a unique concept that is brilliant yet underutilized in golf architecture. It represents the simplest way to create both difficulty and option all within a single hole, a concept so fine that bunkers are completely irrelevant.

As Tom Doak has described in his writings this is one of the more natural holes to find. The creek on the left defines the left edge of the entire hole, first as a diagonal carry from the tee and then as a hazard against the left edge of the green. The tee shot is hit into a natural bank rising from the creek which makes the fairway very receptive, but the second shot is most likely from a lie well above your feet. A prefect tee shot with a draw can find the small flat area by the creek for a flat stance and a good look at the green, but most shots are played safely away from the hazard up on the side slope.

The approach with same hard cross-slope including the green

The green rather than being flat or pitched back into play slopes the exact same way as the fairway. This is the genius of the hole. Wilson left ample room above the green to bounce a ball in from the right, but it is very hard to judge the right line to get it on the green. Leave it above and you will not get up and down, pull the approach and you will hit it through the green and into the creek. Most try to play a mild draw and bounce it in, it seems to be the safest play; but a few with great skill try to hit a fade from a draw lie. This is the shot only the most skilled player can make, but the green will reward this shot.
This is a hole where you remember your fours and accept your fives.

What I learned was a long list. Having the green and fairway all fall in the same direction requires that the approach be shaped to hold both the fairway and green for position. Keeping the approach right of the green also as fairway means that a player can hit both the draw and fade to find the green. Having the creek as a diagonal and a fairway with large cross-slope means a player can shape the ball to hold the fairway or the other way to feed the ball around the corner to the flats. Throw in the clever diagonal of the creek; the flanking hazard at the green, the fact that the hole uses natural slopes, the uphill nature of the hole making the hole play longer, and the list goes on and on. I hope to design a hole that good in my life time.

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