Saturday, April 29, 2006

Patrick’s Questions Part 2

The 7th at Ballantrae, crowned green, bunkers left, short grass all the way around. My tribute to the duece.

I was wondering if you could discuss bunkers from an architect's viewpoint. From what I can tell, they have many purposes, including giving a hole definition as well as to add strategic elements. Many are supposed to be penal, and for many amateurs they are. But for professionals, it seems like they will sometimes aim to be in them as opposed to the greenside rough since it's more likely that the lie will be predictable. Doesn't this seem to be the antithesis of their original intent? If so, how can this be fixed? I've read that some people advocate not raking bunkers. This is a good solution for match play, perhaps, but not for tournament play.

I’ll let Walter Travis answer with the following quote about bunkers. "The primary idea of a hazard is to punish, to the extent of one stroke, a poorly played shot, and to make the recovery exceedingly difficult, and even by the virtue of the following shot being extraordinarily good. If this end is not attained, the existing hazard fails to fill its functions."

The bunkering that is done today needs to lose the idea of “fairness.” The approach is to make them as playable as possible, not just in the maintenance, but also in the shaping. Most are designed to run the ball down to a good lie and give the player the best opportunity for success on the next shot. We even have a standardization of bunker sand in Toronto for consistency – what happened to adjusting to the local sand? This is a long way removed from the origin which was an exposed area of natural sand where a player had to simply extract themselves in the fewest shots possible. Now the fried egg, ball against a lip, standing partially in or out of the bunker is called bad design instead of bad luck. Bunkers need to return to being hazards that the player wants to avoid them rather than just pretty splashes of white used to add contrast to the lush green. They have lost there meaning in many modern courses.

How course maintenance is crucial to maintaining the strategic elements of a course. For example, here in California, almost all the courses in the Monterey Bay area are soft in the winter from the rain, which means that even if the wind is up, you can't really play the ball along the ground, even if the architect had intended it, since it just won't release from the fairway. Are there design features that make sense when a course is brand new but end up deteriorating over time because it's too difficult or expensive to maintain?

The 10th, surrounded by short grass and the defended by the rolls in the front

Architects account for the predominant conditions like prevailing wind direction in their designs, but anything beyond that is too much to try build into a design. As a player you must adjust your game and sometimes your expectations to shoot the best score in those conditions. I always win money in the rain because of that.

I designed the course at Ballantrae with chipping and putting from the hollows in mind. After a few years the banks of the run offs became very thatchy and you couldn’t bounce the ball off the banks or putt up the slopes because your ball died as soon as it hit. This is where maintenance can remove the most important aspect of your design and there is little you can do other than to ask the super to get rid of the thatch.

The thing that usually disappears is elaborate bunker faces because they require a lot of handwork to keep. This is where architects and superintendents need to be on the same page to preserve the character of the course. If not the superintendent will slowly make changes while your not there if they don’t believe in the importance of the architecture you produced. Most bunker changes occur through inadequate budgets or an internal desire to reduce the maintenance on the course. I would rather remove a few bunkers than lose really interesting architecture.

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