One of the leading architects of my time has chosen an architectural style that is definitely pretty, very comfortable to play and offers instant familiarity right from the first play. The best description I can make of this architecture is inoffensive. There is nothing wrong with the work, and it is popular with players, but there is nothing about it that stirs the soul. You never face a moment of angst or agitation from having to make a decision from incomplete information. You simply know everything about the work from first play. You rarely lay-up, you are not forced to think, or made to fear the ramifications of a miss. It could be describes as “comfort” golf.
The biggest problem I personally find with these courses is the lack of discovery over repeated plays. When you know each strategy from first sight, and the risk reward scenarios are at a minimum, you simply just play golf. I’m not sure how much fun golf is without risky options, alternate routes, overcoming extremely difficult scenarios, or paying the price for too much courage. The game is not meant to be fair, yet this architecture treats the game as if it is supposed to be fair. Options equal Interest. Interest equals fun. This golf offers little in the way of options or interest; it is simple as comfortable as your favorite chair. Somehow, I don’t think that is what Tillinghast, Colt and MacKenzie had in mind.
Walter Travis mentioned that it is the architect’s responsibility to improve the skills of the player by challenging their ability to overcome difficult tasks. I’m sorry, I should find the actual quote. He felt that the more challenge they were asked to overcome, the more their skills would improve. He felt courses should evolve and add trouble as the membership became more familiar “and comfortable” with the layout.
Why has golf headed in this direction? Is it the fear of criticism? Is it the desire or architects to please rather than push the player, which leads to a short-term popularity of the architect? Is it the marketing idiots and their terrible influence on the golf industry dumbing down the game?
Alister MacKenzie has the best quote on the subject:
“A first class hole must have the subtleties and strategic problems which are difficult to understand, and are therefore extremely likely to be condemned at first sight even by the best of players.”