Friday, 4 February 2011

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.

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