Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Grassing Lines Matter

The runway fairways at Oakland Hills

On a recent thread I looked at Mark Saltzman shared images of Oakland Hills. I was aghast when I saw them since I had only last week talked about the value of grassing lines in Halifax. What I saw at Oakland Hills was the worst grassing lines since Merion.
They have essentially narrowed the course down to bowling alleys of fairway at very specific widths designed to make driving the ball terribly difficult. Interestingly they have almost removed the fairway bunkering from play since the bunkers are often well in from the fairway and the width of rough between fairway and sand will be enough to stop all balls from reaching the bunkers.
Once you narrow the fairways down to this level, the game becomes all about execution. The margin for error is so small that players are “forced” to play for the centre of the fairway. Because the fairways no longer wrap around hazards and they don’t offer width so you can play for a better angle of attack the game, the game is dumbed down target golf. They have removed all the decisions and all the thought from the game. This is the dullest form of golf play, which is sad considering this was once a much more interesting course.
The other aspect of this decision is they have removed the impact of the natural terrain. Most of the really cool rolls in the fairway or landscape are now hidden in long rough, which essentially mutes andy impact they could have had on play.
I find changes like this common at US Open sites. Rather than identifying the best player through their ability to make great decisions and superb shots under pressure, we now identify the player that can make the least mistakes.
So why go half way? I suggest the US Open be contested at the driving ranges of US Open sites where they can create a narrow ribbons of fairway leading to a samll target green all surrounded with deep rough.  Since every hole will feel like the last, you won't even notice that you're playing the same hole over and over again. That way the members don’t have to put up with such a lousy presentation of their golf course on a daily basis.

Update on March 2nd

Apparently they are working on this:

Click Here for Oakland Hills Turf Blog


  1. It's a stretch, but I can just about see the value of it for a US Open (and only a US Open). But why on Earth an amateur club member, who presumably plays the game for fun, would ever want to play a golf course like this is truly beyond me.

  2. Oakland Hills has started to remedy the problem

  3. Ian,
    It appears to me that the narrowing of the fairways may well also be a function of some tree encroachment. Even if the fairways were widened modestly overhanging tree canopys would hamper shots from the fairway. Perhaps losing the several smaller trees and widening the fairway to restore playing angles is the best bet.