Sunday, 27 February 2011

Template Series - #4 Road

The approach shot into the green

The strength of the entire hole revolves about a single perfectly placed bunker and the brilliant green complex built to emphasize the position and importance of that bunker.

While I love the diagonal off the tee, because it plays off the opposite diagonal back into the green, I don’t think the tee shot is great. An artificially blind carry that has to skirt a hotel played over an out of bounds is not my ideal of a design feature I need to reproduce in my own work. But the real crime to me is the grassing lines that narrow the area where players can play safe. The greatest attribute of the tee shot is the ability to take enormous risk to gain a tremendous advantage. That and the opposing diagonal are all that I need to borrow.

Stay right and short for safety
The approach is one of the finest in the game. No matter how much you try and concentrate on any other aspect, everything comes back to the single bunker and how close you are willing to flirt with it on the approach. You have the option to play short and right of the green, but most feel compelled to shave off some of the distance in between that line and the bunker to provide a better result if played well. We all know the smartest thing to do is take that bunker completely out of play, but because the green is fairly open on either side of the bunker we are drawn into the possibility that we can be more aggressive.

What makes that shot great is the diagonal of the green combined with the road behind. Add this all into the equation and the approach is a nightmare unless played right and short, something we all seem unprepared to accept. So even if we carry the bunker, most approaches end up long and over the Road and against the wall. Once again we have been drawn in by all the opportunity and fail to weigh that against the enormous potential for disaster.

Notice the slopes lead into bunker
So how do I use this template?

It’s important to use the contrasting diagonals to reward aggressive play from the tee. After that the critical feature is the green site. The diagonal and supporting green contours in the front right are key elements, the drop off the back has options, but the single most important element is the depth and difficulty of the front bunker. This feature trumps all others since even the tee shot is made with the intent of avoiding that bunker.

17th Green from Above
I don’t like the template as a three since I like the double use of diagonals a great deal. The hole was once a par five and most templates involve a five and I’m fine with the idea, but I particularly like the combination of that hole, that length and a par four designed to bring intense pressure late in the round. It would be my preference to use the idea in a similar nature, but it could also make a fascinating short five too.


17th at The Old Course
8th at Fishers Island
10th at Shoreacres

The List:

#1 Riviera
#2 Redan
#3 Azalea
#4 Road

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Template Series - #3 Azalea

The Tee Shot

The tee shot on the 13th has to be shaped from right to left to get around the corner for a chance to go for the green. The golfers who hit the ball straight can easily find themselves in the trees on the far side of the dogleg or a very long way away facing a tough second. So players must turn the ball over to use the heavily canted landing area to gain position and create an opportunity to go for the green. Only a player able to control a strong draw can flirt with the creek to leave a flat lie and the perfect angle into the green.

A player who finds the fairway now faces one of the tougher shots in all of golf. The shot calls for a left to right approach since the creek crosses diagonally in front of the green and then continues down the right side. The safe play is to the front left of the green since there is some recovery from this area, chasing any other pin becomes a gamble that you won’t turn the ball back into the creek. This is an important time to mention that because it’s a creek, it contains the potential recovery, which encourages more players to try the shot than should.

The next factor is the stance in the fairway. The approach is hit from a right to left lie for a majority of the play to the green, so players are trying to cut a ball from a hook lie. Even the lay-up area has the same cant which creates the risk of hitting fat and ending up into the creek. Many over compensate and end up long from this position.

The Second Shot

The genius of this hole extends right to the green itself. The swale and bunkers beyond leave the player with a downhill shot to a green running away, with a large tier in the middle and short grass right into the creek on the other side. The green itself is wickedly sloped towards the water with a tier making up much of the grade in the middle. Only a shot on the correct level will lead to a makeable putt.

What makes this hole so very special is the balance between opportunity and disaster. Players can attack this hole at will, particularly because the hole is so short by modern standards, but they can pay a tremendous price for overconfidence too.

So how do I use this template?

The combination of fairway cant and hazard on the inside of the dogleg defines why this tee shot is so great. The ability to use a draw to work the ball around the corner is a key element since the draw is one that can best use that slope. It must be a hole that turns right to left and the cant must be strong to have the full impact.

The Lay-up Approach

The hole requires a fade off a draw lie on the approach which requires tremendous skill to accomplish. This rewards shot making and so does having to work the ball in both directions to attack the hole. The green site with the creek warping around the front all set against the hill is something worth emulating all on its own right.

Special note: In today’s day and age where we are no longer allowed to set holes on a creek, I would expect the best opportunity to create this hole would be using a valley edge to replace the creek off the tee and another valley sedge to represent the creek at the green. This template will be hard to find, although it would be easy to create if a creek/ditch is required to deal with a high water table. And that is where I expect to use this idea, possibly sooner than you might think.


13th at Augusta National

The List:

#1 Riviera
#2 Redan
#3 Azalea

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Template Series - #2 Redan

The 4th at NLGA - the best I know

My favorite hole concept is the Redan because the concept favours intelligence and creativity over strength.
The name Redan is used to describe a green that falls away diagonally from right to left. The original Redan hole is still played at North Berwick and is thought to be a creation of the green keeper David Strath. That hole is partially blind with a carry over a couple of bunkers used to indicate the line for the bounced in approach. The left diagonal is defined and defended by the two deep fronting bunkers. The original Redan also features three very deep bunkers on the far side of the approach used to collect any tee shot played through the intended line.

The Creek Club - par four approach

Strategically the hole is set up by the diagonal line created by the front left bunkers. This is then reinforced by the green following the same diagonal. Due to the green’s slope towards the back left the player is provided with two options. The player must carry the bunkers and hold the shot with a hard cut, or play around the front bunkers using a draw to cascade the ball onto the green. Playing around requires deft touch since playing through the intended line will place the ball in the right side bunkers. The recovery is almost impossible since the green runs away from play.
The best position to miss may be long which goes against your instincts. The joy of the hole remains the dilemma from the tee, do you play the high fade with no margin for error or a slight draw and trust the ground to get the job done. This is all possible because of the clever green. Not only the fall from right to left, but also the subtle backstop that will help hold the well hit fade or corral the well positioned draw.

Sommerset Hills - Tillinghast's gem of a Redan

This concept is good that almost every great architect has their own version. The entire hole was copies extensively by Macdonald Raynor and Banks. They even found occasion to use it in par fours and in reverse too. There are versions by Tillinghast, Thomas and Flynn just to name a few. The one thing these architects tended to do was make the concept visible from the tee.
This is the greatest concept the game has ever produced because of the options from the tee and the clear reward for skillful play.

Chicago - built on flat land

So how do I use this template?

This is such an obvious choice as a three. But I do think the concept has a great opportunity to be used in more par fours. I think mid to long fours with this feature would create a lot of interest for the approach shot. The option from the tee would also involve how you want to attack the concept. Having the chance to play aggressively left may make the high cut an easier approach. This certainly opens up some interesting concepts that can be extended out from the green site.


15th at North Berwick
4th at National Golf Links of America
1st at the Creek Club (par four)
12th at Fishers Island (reverse Redan four)

The List:

#1 Riviera
#2 Redan

Monday, 21 February 2011

Template Series - #1 "Riviera"

Alternate routes

I’ve said on more than one occasion that the 10th hole at Riviera is the best “designed” holes in golf. The original site was essentially featureless and what makes the hole special was essentially all created by George Thomas and Billy Bell. This makes this a very obvious post Macdonald hole to choose as a new template.

The hole from the clubhouse

What we need to do then is breakdown the critical elements are and understand how we can reapply them into a new design.

The essential first point for me is the shot is, or at least appears, makeable from the tee. What reinforces this is the bunkering which essentially frames and therefore “recommends” the wrong line to the green. The player finds themselves compelled to go at the green.
Anyone who has seen the hole knows that green makes the hole special. It begins with a strong diagonal which remains in play unless the lay-up is almost picture prefect back and to the left or very close to the green. The diagonal essentially makes the target area smaller because it removes the “corners” of the green since the green begins to get too small in these locations to receive any ‘planned” shot. Since the green is long and narrow the margin for error is small. When you take into account the area of the green that runs away from play, the margin for error is almost nil and that is why it’s a great short hole.

The green from the left

The green is receptive, but in small tight areas surrounded by trouble. What complicates the approach is the fact the green is deceptively slopped away from play in a couple of crucial points. The most important of these is the front left where the seemingly safe pin is set on a slight knoll since all grades run away to the sides. The safe play is to this area, but the approach is delicate and so is the recovery shot since its all uphill to the pin and downhill once on top. Once again the margin for error is quite high once the green speeds are up.
From Golf Digest
The fascinating aspect of the hole is that it goes against your logic centre. We all know that the longest way to the hole, and least obvious route, is clearly the most effective way to play the hole. But George Thomas has overloaded the senses with information to clearly showcase all the other routes. And we all simply “can’t help ourselves” and chase the more aggressive path.  

So how do I use this template?

It is an obvious short four that literally could be quite literally replicated. But as an architect you would like to think you have more creativity than that. One new twist that is available is this template does not have to be part of a short four. This could easily be used as the second half of a par five too. There are other possible twists that could involve natural features for the bunkers and even a twist and turn on the diagonal lines to create something slightly different. Even some ground contour would add a unique and interesting spin on the original too.


10th at Riviera
The List:

#1 "Riviera"

Monday, 14 February 2011

Riviera Country Club

18th hole - draw from fade lie

George Thomas combined strategy and beauty as well as any architect in the game’s history.

At Riviera he has created a course that rewards positional play better than most. But what makes the course even better is that Riviera insists that players shape their shots to get into those areas of the course.

At Riviera golfers are constantly encouraged to hit either a draw or fade off the tee because of how the holes are set up. Thomas did this in a variety of ways, including the use of key trees, careful placement of bunkers, slopes of the green, and even the keen use of side slopes that require a tee shot to be shaped to remain on the fairway. The joy of Riviera is the constant flow back and forth between fade and draw, even alternating on the some hole at times, like the 3rd.
5th hole - fade from draw lie

One of the other aspects I also enjoyed was the use of opposing slopes. There aren’t many shots in golf that take pros out of their comfort zone more than having to manufacture a draw from a fade lie, or vice versa, which you must do at Riviera. This is why the course is one of the game’s great Tour venues. Elements like this separate the good from the great. The result is one of the few remaining courses where a clever shot maker still holds the advantage over the bomber.

4th at Riviera

The tee shot on the 4th

I'll spend the week talking about Riviera. I think this is the best golf course the PGA plays all year.

One of my favorite long par threes is the 4th at Riviera. The hole was conceived as a redan with players facing the option of flying the ball over the massive front bunker or hitting a 
The hole in plan
draw to use the natural contour of the fairway right of the bunker and green to feed the ball down onto the putting surface. Thomas created a daunting carry with the placement of the front bunker, but gave such an open and inviting alternative by adding fairway right of the bunker for the player to use the natural slopes to funnel the ball around the bunker. The only unfortunate thing about Riviera is the infestation of the Kikuya grass really has ruined the viability of this clever approach.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Pebble Beach Golf Links

Best feel shot in golf

I have had the good fortune of playing Pebble Beach three times. The first round was with my father in 1989 on a windy summer day. The second round was in high winds at my first ASGCA meeting in 2005. The last time was on a beautiful spring day recently with very little wind.

The golf course is one of the ten or twenty best the game has to offer and certainly a course that is worth paying the excessive green fee at least once in your life. I agree with many people’s contention that the interior holes are sometimes disappointing, but I’ll also point out that the greatest holes have no peers.

Some feel the openers are far too ordinary but I don’t. I think the first green is excellent, the second hole is very good long four and the third is a very strategic hole with the ways it’s designed. I certainly struggle with the recent bunker work on the outside of the hole which makes no sense and removes the subtlety. I personally think the recent bunker work is damaging the quality of the course. Which is too bad since I thought the work before it was an improvement from when I first saw the course.

Best Finish in Golf
The course really takes off at the 4th tee, a brilliant short four and highlight of the round for me. The 5th is stunning setting even if the new hole feels slightly out of character from the others. The 6th through to the 10th is flawless with the 7th being the greatest feel shot in golf. Even the 8th’s odd tee shot is easily overlooked because the next shot is so spectacular. My favourite hole of the set is the 9th a super dominant four that only accepts two exceptional shots.

The back nine suffers partially from the quality of golf that precedes it. We play the 11th feeling let down that the best run of golf is now behind us. The truth is the11th, 13th, 14th and 15th all have good green sites, with the 14th being a fascinating study in slopes. Interestingly for me the pin was set low right in 1989 and was a fun shot, which is now lost to the current green speeds. The 16th is an excellent hole set up by a canny and clever green slope.

The weakness in my opinion is the threes. The 12th is a plain Jane with little aesthetic appeal and very limited options from the tee. The 17th is the most overrated hole in golf where the green does not fit the shot and you quickly find out the aerials deceives you since nothing is visible from the tee. Fortunately the round finishes with the greatest final hole in golf. The slow curve around the bay makes the 18th strategically interesting and flat out beautiful.

I would pay to play there again. It’s very expensive … but it’s worth it!

Spyglass Hill

The Good

I have also played three rounds at Spyglass Hill and each time I had played the course the less I like it.

The first does nothing for me personally, other than get you down to the bottom of the hill efficiently. The green site has some interest, but it’s a way to get to the next four holes right away. The 2nd is good hole and I do enjoy the idea of playing to the elevated green site. I thought the holes was a little more natural and interesting the first time I played it when more of the dunes were visible. The third is beautiful and was well worth the routing to achieve this moment. The view deceives you into thinking the ocean is near when it’s actually a long way away.

The 4th is simply the best four Robert Trent Jones every built using a brilliant set of angles. From the he compels into playing way too far to left when the right side opens up the green. I love the contrasting angle set by the narrow green and the tier sets up a super tough approach on this diabolical short hole. Everything is brilliant here! The 5th is my favourite three and wonderfully set in the dunes. The setting on the shelf and surrounding dune line is really quite striking.

The Bad

Unfortunately the rest of the course is drudgery. Almost every par fours is very long and almost always uphill. In fact the breaks in this pattern at the 10th and 16th are a joy although they remain excessively long fours. Almost every four is played into an elevated green and bunkered on the front right and front left resulting is a series of long irons that must be flown all the way to the putting surface. Nice idea a couple of time to add pressure, bad idea on a continuous basis.

The fives are also too consistent, or at least were before changes to the 11th eliminated the pond, where they are designed to be reachable with the element of water in play on the second shot. The change to the 11th did add some variety that was much needed. The threes follow a pattern too. They are downhill with water directly in play. I felt like I’ve seen the holes a thousand times before.
The Consistant Pattern

Many of the holes that fall into my criticism of the final 13 holes are good holes. My issue is the lack of variety in Jones's design and the impact it has on the course as a whole. This is a course that is perennially ranked in the Top 100 in the World, yet I would be happier never to play it again. How can that be one of the World’s Greatest courses?

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Tipping Point to Minimalism

Bandon Dunes 16th

While on holiday I decided that I would read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. The book not only explained how and why new trends emerge but also broke down the factors and the people required for a trend to occur. I loved the book and found myself often applying the concepts back to my own business to see if I could influence my own future.

Gladwell describes the tipping point itself as that magical moment when something begins to spread like wildfire. It eventually got me thinking about golf architecture, looking at how Minimalism was finally able to push Modernism aside and wondering at what was the Tipping Point.

The populist appeal of Minimalist courses has exploded in the last 10 years. The next generation of architects are more rooted in this style than in Modernism. That makes this trend the future of architecture for some time to come. What fascinated me in retrospect after reading the book was how did Minimalism get to this point?

My first experience with Minimalism was a trip to Columbus in 1995 where I saw The Golf Club designed by Pete Dye. While odd in places, like the use of ponds, I still loved the way it sat on the land. Interestingly, my next trip took me to Michigan to see Crystal Downs, and on a side trip I saw a new course called High Pointe which really tweaked my interest in the concept of Minimalism.

All trends begin with an innovator, someone willing to step outside of convention and go their own way. The innovator would be Pete Dye. His choices in the 1960’s were absolutely revolutionary and created the foundation for the current crop of Minimalist architects to build from. Interestingly his innovations did not create an immediate and lasting trend, but simply developed the starting point. While many trends to appear to be overnight sensations, the reality is most take time to emerge.

It turned out to be the future generation of designers who worked for Pete that would play a much larger role in developing the trend than Pete himself. While his initial work remains inspirational, his move to Maximalism (modernism to the extreme) saw most key players start their own enterprises.

Pacific Dunes 11th
The first clear sign that architecture might be in for a major shift was Sand Hills. While it was not the first project for Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, nor the first minimalistic work built, it was the one that caught everyone’s attention. It received massive critical praise and was covered extensively by the golf magazines. While the architecture was refreshingly original, and the site was certainly unique, the notion of Bill and Ben finding a golf course had its own wonderful appeal creating some stickiness to the story. I’ll return to that concept later.

Every trend needs the Maven who finds the new places to go and see. The Maven in golf architecture terms is that person we trust to make a recommendation on whether we should travel to see it ourselves. We use them to make those decisions for us and often their opinions on architecture shape our opinions. While some would expect that the Mavens are the golf writer, they are not. The writer’s role is the connector. Most of the Mavens have found their way to architecture panels through recommendations of others who recognize their knowledge over their own.. They are the golfers who are far better travelled, read and informed than most. Tom Doak is the most famous of the Mavens and his book The Confidential Guide is seen by many to be the bible on the subject. Whether you agree or not with what’s written, the influence is undeniable.

Every trend needs a connector, someone who spreads the message far and wide, to help push the trend into the forefront. The connector is usually a person who reads about, hears about, or sees something they consider worthy of particular interest. They are the ones that get the message out to a greater audience through their network of friends. The golf magazines and architecture critics have long played a role, but now the internet has become far more efficient shortening the distance from Maven to consumer.

Bandon Trails 15th
No trend can happen without having stickiness. Minimalism has many elements that have made it sticky. One of the appeals of Minimalism is golf’s love for tradition and its clear connections to the past. Another is the increased playability which addresses the fact that for most people find the game too hard. Another is the increase in options which has appeal in an era where more people desire to express themselves even in sport. Lastly the costs of the game have come into question and Minimalism represents a more cost effective alternative in tougher times.

Every concept needs the Salesman. I talked about Bill Coore’s ability to articulate the vision and Tom Doak’s influence as a Maven, but the Tipping Point was Bandon Dunes. The man who made Minimalism main steam or populist was Mike Keiser. He believed in Minimalism, he believed in his architects, he believed in a different way to present the game and the average consumer bought into the concept in a massive way. He has since taken that concept onto a number of successful projects and is now considered a key Maven because of his role.

The interesting thing about all trends is while they are enjoying their success, quietly somewhere the next trend is already beginning to emerge and look for the same critical players to bring it to the forefront.

I enjoyed writing this today and hope this essay brings some interesting comments.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

10 Things I Don't Like in Design - The Predictable Finish

Doral's 18th is all about the water

I can’t think of anything more predictable and disappointing than having the final hole be the toughest on the course. This is such an epic letdown for me. How often have you got to the final tee to find a back breaking par four with water in play from tee to green? Not only is the hole staggeringly long, but you have to face the prospect of any miss being catastrophic.

I’m sure the designer probably pictures an Open being contested there, but the reality is they are almost always at high end public courses where most players are two sleeves further into the round than they want to be already. They just want one par to justify the six hours lost from the office.

It’s time that golf architects thought more carefully about the role of the finishing hole. We don’t need to look further than the 18th at Olympic, a short uphill par four with a decidedly tricky approach shot. It’s still a great finish, even during a US Open. Winged Foot’s 18th is longer, but not overly long, and is defended mostly by a very aggressive shoulder and a wicked green rather than bunkers or water.

Oviinbyrd's 18th with the typical pond

Why don’t we see more holes that we can attack at the end of the round? I love St. Andrew’s 18th where a birdie is completely in the cards but the hole is still full of danger if you become foolish. Think about all the links courses and the finishing holes. None have water beyond the occasional burn and yet many are brilliant at shorter distances. It’s such a pleasure to have a realistic opportunity for par, particularly when you’ve faced many other tough holes along the way.

 It’s time to mix up are finishing holes a little more and stop being so damned formulaic. We need a lot more quality finishing holes with much less emphasis on distance and difficulty as the key elements of the final hole.

Friday, 4 February 2011

10 Things I Don't Like in Design - Wide Greens with fronting bunkers

17th at Tobacco Road - 100 yards wide
 An elite player rarely misses short or long. They tend to have excellent distance control and will usually club themselves effectively if there is no wind or elevation to deal with. They miss more often on the left or right, particularly when they are required to work a ball or come in from the rough. Therefore a wide green has a tremendous benefit for the better player.

A weaker player tends to miss most often in short of the green because they have either miss-hit or misjudged the approach shot. They will find themselves left or right of the green and occasionally through but the vast majority of shots wind up short. Wide greens tend to be fronted with bunkers making this a particularly tough test for the weaker player.

A strong player is rarely intimidated by a carry over bunkers into a green. They have more issues dealing with a narrow target or a green that slopes to the side than trying to make a carry. In fact a fronting bunker often makes the shot clearer and easier to execute since the carry clearly defines the distance and they also know the bunker is a good place to miss since it will play directly into the slope of the green making the recovery likely. The weaker player hates this situation because they fear bunkers, have limited trajectories and often limited ability to hit the ball far enough to make the carry.

The final issue is scale. A green that is shallow and wide is running in direct contrast to the flow of the hole and usually the flow of the land. When they are wide often they overwhelm the setting of the green site and appear completely out of scale.

10 Things I Don't Like in Design - Consistently Narrow Drving Zones

Royal Portrush - the toughest driving in golf
One of the greatest surprises I ever had was playing Pine Valley. I went there expecting to be tortured by an impossibly hard course where every miss was a disaster. The misses were indeed nasty but the fairways were surprisingly generous leaving the opportunity to challenge the course. I found Pine Valley to be very tough, but very enjoyable because the fairways were wide.
I’m not a fan of overly narrow courses. Narrow holes have their place, but a course that is consistently narrow from start to finish is very one dimensional to me. Sometimes it’s the architecture and other times it’s simply the way the course is set up. I recently played Royal Portrush where I found the landings very narrow and the rough impossibly thick. I absolutely loved the course but was very disappointed in the way it was presented. Even a little wind makes the course a ferocious test, played in the standard three club wind the test is too much for all but the elite.

Other courses are narrow because of the trees. A few years back I went to walk Marine Drive in British Columbia and was flabbergasted by the narrowness of the fairway corridors. In their defence the course is built on a tiny property. Each hole is walled in with trees which in turn make the playing corridors so narrow that even a slightly pushed or pulled tee shot was certain to find wood. What was even more mind-blowing was the new planting of trees inside those tree lines on a couple of holes.

Carnoustie taught us about set-up

The very worst course I ever saw was designed by Gary Player. This was a course in Florida which had every single landing areas flanked by ponds on one side and bunkers and trees on the other side. What made it unbelievably narrow was the fact that all the landing areas were crowned. Any shot heading towards the edge was kicked further into the trouble. I think he should be forced to play there every day as penance.

It doesn’t matter how you create the squeeze in the landings, it’s the impact it has since it removes all the options for the player and turns the game into a test of execution. There is no test of conviction or decision making because everything is dictated from the outset. Even the best designs can become victims of a poor set up.
For example on the same trip I played Pine Valley I also played Merion. I greatly admired the routing and bunker placement but was stunned that the fairways were so narrow and the rough so thick and deep. I felt the narrow fairways took away any opportunity to play for position or challenge some of the architecture. It was always smarter to play something safe and straight. There was far too much emphasis on the rough over all other hazards. I would like to play the course without the rough to see where I would choose to play to and what new risks I would take on.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

10 Things I Don't Like in Design - Trees in the Direct Line of Play

This hazard punishes the weakest the most
We can all think of memorable holes where a majestic Oak or Maple sets the corner of a dogleg or stages a great green site. We are awed by the scale of those trees and find it exciting to play a shot that flirts with the tree in order to reach our intended target. These are not the trees that I am about to talk about.

A.W. Tillinghast stated the trees can have strategic value as long as it “does not interfere with the sound play of the game” The problem that I consistently run into time and time again is that most courses have planted trees inside of the tree lines trying to reinforce “strategy” and ended up with a jail effect each time the player strays off line.

When you think about the tree as a hazard, it represents the only vertical hazard in the game. Even a perfectly struck shot can be knocked down by the branching structure and redirected into deeper trouble. Where committees have made their greatest mistakes is when they place trees they forget that they will mature and eventually remove all the options on the hole if planted in the wrong spot. As Donald Ross said, “Trees should serve perhaps as the scenery, but never as part of the stage.”

The most offensive of all trees is the one “in” the fairway proper. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a situation where a player can hit their very best down the centre of the fairway only to have their tee shot knocked down by the tree or become stymied on their next shot. There is not a single great tree found in a fairway in golf, each is as ridiculous and inexcusable as the last. Their only value comes one year after they are cut down when the firewood is dried out enough to make it to the clubhouse fireplace.

10 Things I Don't Like in Design - Artificial Ponds

The most famous of all
I had the chance to look at someone else’s Master Plan for a new golf course built on flat land a few years back and was taken aback by the approach. It was the typical approach where every time the architect was faced with limited natural features he simply dug a pond to create a pond at the green in the perceived notion that this would add interest. I counted water directly in play on nine green sites including most of the threes and fives. The architect had four holes with water in play from the tee all the way to green and two of those were par fives that doglegged around a large pond all the way to green. If I lived there, I would play Tennis.

The reliance on water as a primary hazard probably began with Robert Trent Jones but it quickly became a staple of modern design. That was the era where “Championship” courses became the vogue and the use of the water hazard was seen as key defence in order to protect par. Since most sites did not offer natural bodies of water, the architects simply added ponds where required at the green sites to add the challenge. Photographers were drawn to the water and the popularity of the holes soared.

The problem came when the “average” player was facing the same level of challenge on an increasing basis. They are far more fearful and intimidated by water since they lack the control to continually avoid hazards. A ball in the water represents two lost shots, whereas a bunker may represent no lost shots if a great recovery is made. Water’s judgment of the shot is absolute and final and in many cases the player is forced to repeat the shot until they succeed or pick up.

I’m not total against the inclusion of water or even completely against “a” pond. In fact I do like the incorporation of streams, burns, rivers and lakes into a design.  But I abhor the continuous use of ponds to bring water in play throughout the round as lazy and dull. I particularly question the need to constantly bring water hard up against the green when the hazard can be varied like the placement of bunkers. Water certainly has its place, but the architect who continually places water in play simply frustrates me and the average player who plays their courses.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

10 Things I Don't Like in Design - Island Greens

Not the original - but definately the most famous

Golf Digest once had a golfer tournament where they took the four worst “avid” golfers and had the group play 18 holes against each other at the TPC at Sawgrass. Three of them ran out of balls at the 17th. The one remaining player putted his way around the pond including going up the causeway with a putter in order to preserve his last ball so that he could finish and win. Is that really good golf?

The 17th at the TPC at Sawgrass may be one of the greatest spectator holes in tournament golf, but it may also be the single worst architectural concept of all time since it creates a situation where a player may not be able to finish a round due to the absolute nature of this hole. This is a hole with no recovery options, unless the island is expanded beyond the green to include additional surroundings, but I’ve played a couple of those in high wind and even the additional area does not overcome the fact that there is really nowhere to miss.
Country Club of North Carolina

Every shot becomes either land or lost. The approach shot is a forced carry and there is no alternative route or safe play for the weakest players to reach the green. A player could easily find themselves in a position where they can not finish the round and that sucks. My personal belief is that recovery is a key component of the game and this concept has no recovery and no options, therefore its bad design.

10 Things I Don't Like in Design - Two Bunker Styles on One Course

Lots to like at Dakota - but I don't get the saucer bunkers

In nature there is as much variety as there is repetition and since great architecture comes from reflecting what we see in nature golf architecture must also have some repetition and consistency too.
In golf architecture most would select variety as the key component to creating superior golf courses, but consistency plays an equally important role in drawing all the individual pieces back into the broader canvas. The variety is hopefully greatest in the playing experience whereas the consistency is usually more predominant in the style or aesthetics of the course.

I have found through my own experiences that bunkering is generally the most common element what links the course together. This is a particularly important element when there is a transition from one setting to a completely different one on the golf course. The key to the success of a course like Cypress Point is the linking of the dunes to the forest to the ocean side through the bunkering.

Like the course - but not the mix of styles
I have recently gone out to see a couple of really good modern designs where the bunker work was done in multiple styles. I found that despite some great holes and some really good bunkers, the architecture felt disjointed. In particular a couple of designs tried to combine naturalized bunkering with formalized bunker and the results were so jarring as to be distracting. You can add an element that contrasts with the land or one that compliments the landscape, but in my opinion you can’t place two similar elements like bunkers that work in contrast to each other.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

10 Things I Don't Like in Design - Target Bunkers

The bunker straight out is a good example
The ideal bunker is one that you have to either fly over or skirt by in order to gain a clear advantage on the hole. When you stand over the ball, you should be conflicted between the advantages that you can gain versus the punishment you may receive for being too ambitious.

The target bunker is largely a modern concept. Robert Trent Jones began the practice of bunkering the inside and outside of a dogleg to require absolute precision of driving.  Architects in turn were drawn to the definition that this design philosophy created and set about utilizing the ideas to suit their own philosophy. Most Architects adapted this to a more playable model than Jones.  As the bunkers were moved further away from the landing zone were enlarged we ended up with bunkers that were out of reach but ideal for aiming at.  Hence the target bunker was born. Players have become used to this luxury and architects now routinely add the bunkers because of their popularity.

Bunkers on the right are completely out of play

The dominant style of architecture in the 1980’s and 1990’s believed in clarity of task. While the designs contained challenge, interest and even options, they also included target bunkers designed to make direction and placement absolutely understandable from the tee. Their philosophy was not interested in discovery and because the tasks were so well defined instead sought clarity.

I believe the bunkers on the inside of the hole are the ones that define the challenge and create risk and reward scenarios. The only real use for a target bunker is to provide a line when there is no other feature available for a player to focus on. I’ll argue forever that with trees, long grass and landforms all found on the outside of holes target bunkers are completely unnecessary, expensive and a waste of resources to maintain.