Monday, 16 September 2013

Routing - Where to Begin?

I’m thinking about touching on Routing this week. I’ll start with this piece and then see if I have the same inspiration after. It's a subject that I've generally avoided till recently in my writing.
Walter Travis Routings: CC of Scranton
Strange use of land held together by great greens
If I gave you a topographic map – would you start at the first tee or the 18th green?

I’ve been out with a number of architects either looking at a potential routing or discussing how a routing was arrived upon. One of the most interesting aspects for me is from what end they start a routing.
I find the vast majority look for starting points and work outwards. Many begin the process by locating the natural “holes” and then look for the holes between. These architects generally see holes in the direction that they will be created and played. This approach sees the progression of holes as a series of shots along the landscape leading eventually back to the clubhouse and the 18th green. This would be the most common approach used.

The strength of this approach is it makes for a great driving course, promotes clearly visible holes and usually manages to incorporate the most impressive natural holes on the property. The weakness of this approach is the strong desire to utilize all the best natural holes locks you into a routing choices where the holes between become a series of connector holes that take you from one great location to the next. Unless there are natural features along the way, they always feel like an interruption in the journey. The worst are par threes with no natural features or holes with nothing around the green to distinguish the location.
In my opinion the greatest courses are more than the sum of their parts.

Walter Travis Routings: Spring Brook
Good use of natural terrain as part of the architecture

The alternative is the older approach that was used when architects did not and could not move earth. The architect walked the land in search of green sites and connected each great green site to the next. It led to some awkward holes where players were forced to play up and over large features in the land to find the next site. But the great routings like Royal County Down teach us that blind tee shots can quickly be forgiven for great natural holes after. Royal Melbourne teaches us that a few blind shots that unlock a series of truly compelling holes is well worth the sacrifice for a great whole.
In a discussion with the designer of one of my favourite courses I found the overriding aspect he brought up again and again was the importance of where the holes ended. Not where they began. When he talked about all the other possibilities for the site, the emphasis was always on where the holes needed to conclude to work. He was very specific about what holes had to cross the least interesting areas of the site to reach natural conclusions to avoid a connector hole. He was constantly thinking about back drops, views and natural green locations when establishing the routing.

Walter Travis Routings: Lookout Point
The routing stands out over the architecture

If you answered from the 18th green back, you actually had a better chance of creating great routing. The end is far more important than the beginning of a holes.
 I’ll continue this conversation over the week and explain some additional ideas to further this premise.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Alternative Routing Approaches

Winged Foot - and excellent use of a tough property
Go onto any architects web site and you’ll get to read about how they use or utilize the natural contours of the property. Every architect seems to have their own version of this “philosophy” but very few accomplish that end. You see I believe very few architects actually allow “the land” to create holes. I think the vast majority of architects find the holes “they want” in the land and make that work in their routing.

Does this sound like I’m splitting hairs to you? My belief is the gulf between the two approaches is enormous and so are the results.

I’m going to break down the architects into three approaches:

Augusta's routing - makes excellent use of this undulating property
The Spectacular

There is nothing wrong with identifying the most exciting holes on the property and trying to find a way to incorporate them into a design. But when the architect concedes a series of awkward holes to accommodate that end, they are more interested in the photo than they are in the playing experience. These architects are drawn most too dramatic tee shots and all world holes than a complete composition. They also tend to over-shape, over-bunker and essentially overdo everything they touch. It’s art, or at least their version of it, rather than sport.

The Comfortable

These architects wish they could have 18 holes running up or down a valley. In fact many of them will find as many valleys as they can before moving enough dirt to make the rest feel like they play through valleys. They tend to look for natural fours and natural fives over par threes. The work is pretty solid, but generally too safe to ever achieve greatness. They like visible, well defined and easily understood holes.

The 13th at Highlands Links - a masterpiece of unusual choices
The Eccentric

They are drawn to natural green sites because they feel holes must have a destination. They look for features like undulating ground, opposite cants or eccentric knolls to incorporate into their holes for interesting shots or opportunities to work the ball. They look for features that will affect the ball on the ground because that makes for the best playing experiences. They understand that a razorback landing, play over a hill or some other eccentric shot will often unlock a better set of holes through its incorporation. And besides a little mystery in the round is sporting right? They use a little less bunkering in defence and a lot more short grass in their approach to the game. The best of the group understand the holes that embrace and incorporate the most eccentric piece of land are where the great holes are found if you’re daring enough to try.


Minimalism has been ill defined as an aesthetic. The top two categories describe the Modern Approach to Golf Design through routing. The bottom one describes the Minimalist’s approach to routing. It also describes the best of The Golden Age. It’s easy to see why so few great courses were built by the Modern School of Design.