Sunday, 2 January 2011

Undulating Tees

Don't Make Sense to Me

Chambers Bay

Ron Whitten’s review of Chambers Bay. The link to the article:
http://www.golfdigest.com/golfworld/columnists/2008/02/gw20080215whitten?currentPage=2

There was one particular part of that article that got me laughing - it was a pitch down the middle of the plate that I could not resist.

There is hardly a flat spot on the premises, and that includes the tee boxes. In what may be the first truly original design idea of the 21st century, Charlton convinced his colleagues to abandon traditional tee pads in favor of long, skinny, free-flowing ribbons of teeing space. Many are not much wider than walking paths; many are recessed rather than elevated; most are gently contoured with a variety of flats spots just the size of throw rugs. The idea is to pick the lie that might best help shape a shot off the tee: sidehill lies if you wish to fade or draw the ball, a slightly uphill lie if you need help getting airborne, a downhill lie if you want to keep it under the wind, or a flat lie. It's too early to know whether USGA officials will accept those unorthodox teeing areas for the U.S. Open. Jones hopes they will.”

"We'll probably address that after the [2010] U.S. Amateur," he says. "But it's not like there are no flat spots out there. We have dozens of 'batter's boxes' within the undulations. I would hope they'd position the markers far apart and let golfers chose their particular lies. Our goal was to get into the players' minds, even on the tee, and to put some integrity back into tee shots. Don't let them just stick a peg in the ground and bomb it."
For what it’s worth Chambers Bay looks like a great Modern course and is perhaps the rival to Whistling Straights for the Best Modern Style course ever built.

Now what made me laugh was the idea for the tees - which is the worst idea I’ve heard in a long time. Ask any player where they want to tee their ball and they will ALL say on a flat lie. The reason is because that lie is predictable and that is what we practice on – a flat lie. If you need to “work” the ball, like they suggest you might want to, you will make an adjustment to your swing. There’s no way any player will CHOOSE an uneven lie to work the ball since it’s unpredictable – and they never actively practice this.

Here’s the secondary problem of this idea. Let’s say that 50% of the tees are flat and 50% has undulation. Given the choice, as I said before, all players will choose a flat lie. What we end up with is all the wear on the flat sections. If you think putting the tees only on the roll will solve this – go play a public course and watch what happens to the tee markers on a poor section of tee. I digress, essentially assuming the 50-50 ratio we have cut the useable area by not half but by in reality by 60% when you take in account of the lost area around those flat spots. So golfers will choose to go to 40% of the available tee every time. So what we have is a poorly conceived idea that will lead to concentrated wear. If the Jones team thinks golfers will accept this notion of uneven tees they’re kidding themselves. This is not “old school” as suggested but a completely foreign idea that will never be accepted.

I ask you to ask all your friends to see if anyone of them in competition would intentionally tee the ball up on an uneven section of a tee.


Part 2

For definition purposes: An undulating tee is not one where two flat areas are divided by a slope still cut at tee height – an undulating tee is one that offers intentional uneven lies usually in the form of a side-hill lie. Just to make sure we are on the same page.

OK, let’s look at both sides of the argument using a few comments I received.

First, I got this email for Jeff Mingay, “I was speaking with Dick Zokol today, and he asked me if I saw your blog this morning. Zokol says he loves the idea of uneven tees, and that he always looks for uneven spots on tees, created mostly through topdressing and maintenance of course, when playing. He chooses uneven lies depending on the type of ball flight he wants. He says other PGA Tour pros and high-caliber golfers he knows do the same.” (I got his permission to share this – thanks Dick). Dick clearly uses the opportunity of an uneven lie to shape the ball when it suits the situation. Kelly also mentions he does the same in a comment yesterday. So there is a case for good players taking advantage of this situation.

The second comment supporting the idea is from a man who has very strong architectural opinions. He believes that the game needed more variety and more shot-making opportunities. He felt that the use of undulating tees would allow the players a chance to use their imaginations - which touches on the above comments. His idea is that good players should be made to hit from un-even lies since this further identifies the abilities of a great player - which is the idea of a fade lie when a draw is required. I've identified that as an idea to generate pressure - but I'm not sure I like the idea of doing that intentionally with tee slopes.

The last comment came from a superintendent I saw last night and it was all about logistics. He mentioned that if you have uneven tees, you will need to treat the sites like greens to avoid localized drying and wet spots. He saw the need to drain the tees and liekly use non-native soils in most cases except with exceptionally well drained soils. He wondered how much bigger they would need to be to deal with wear since nobody would accept a downhill lie and most people would gravitate to the flat areas. He wondered if the extra maintenance would be worth the few players that would actually embrace the concept. He finally finished up asking me why anyone would want to build this when a vast majority of golfers can’t use the feature.

I think philisophically we should assume that uneven tees be restricted to only the back tees. But that’s not the case in each instance if I understand how it has been used. I had it pointed out to me by a friend that Bill Coore has used the idea at Bandon Trails – and I would love to have a confirmation from someone. I can point to Pete Dye using the idea intentionally at The Pete Dye Golf Club on the short par three – which I can remember the numbering. I would love for the architects to spell out whether it was for pressure, variety, shot-making or opportunity.

I work with quite a few clubs - most of them spending money to level tees (which means a fall in with the natural slope at just over 1%) but none of them have yet spent money to unlevel a tee

Part 3


Comments from Lorne Rubenstein (used with permission)

"This is a fascinating subject. I'll submit only this comment by the grand old British writer/golfer/architect John Low. He wrote, "Undulation is the soul of golf." Crenshaw is always citing this comment as going to the very heart of the game. I see no reason tees shouldn't undulate. If we're going to encourage pliable, imaginative minds in golf, we need the same in design--tee through green."

He continued in a further email, "I think anything that advances creativity and imagination is healthy. The game is moving in the opposite direction, what with GPS for yardage, mandatory carts (which reduces the likelihood of feeling the ground under one's feet and seeing all around--taking it all in, so to speak), delusional thinking about what equipment can do for a player. I'm far from a Luddite, and I applaud legitimate advances in the game. But I don't think it helps when the emphasis is on, well, minimizing thinking. It's also interesting that most golfers respond to design elements that encourage them to think and feel. Isn't it the same with film, writing, music and art? People can't always say what they like, but they respond when confronted with genuine experience that opens the mind and eyes. There's something in us that wants to be stimulated, to be moved, to feel, to be shocked out of our complacency."


I leave the final comment to another writer who contacted me on the subject, "Is this really the fight you or other architects want to fight - when ideas like shorter holes, width for freedom and central hazards will need to be explained and sold before they become more acceptable?"

Part 4


In contrast to Lorne and Dick, architect Kelly Blake Moran wrote the following:

"I agree, the ability to shape a shot from the tee should be based more upon the player's creativity and skill in adjusting grip, stance, swing plane, etc in order to shape the shot, rather than prowling the tee looking for that one spot in the tee where the architect deemed he/she can use to shape their shot. It is another case of dumbing down design in my view."

I underestimated the subject matter entirely - this has been a great discussion.

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