Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Template Architecture – Borrowing from the Past

the original redan

Before beginning the National Golf Links of America, Charles Blair MacDonald toured the great courses of the United Kingdom and Europe. He set out to find the finest holes and to dissect them to use their strategies. He didn’t try to replicate any of the great holes, he was far too smart for that, instead he choose to take the holes and adapt them to suit the site conditions. His decision to adapt meant that he could use multiple ideas on a single hole, and it also meant that a hole could become more through better ground than the original.

The 15th (The Redan) at North Berwick, Scotland is more than a hole, it is an architectural concept. The green is set on an angle running away to the left, what makes the green unique is the land from the fairway in front to the back of the green runs away from play too. Add in bunkers tight on the front and back, combined with the narrow nature of the green, and you have one of the most imaginative holes in golf.

the redan at NLGA

MacDonald brought the Redan to NLGA. His Redan is better than the original for one main reason. It offers all the same architecture, but it is clearly visible since it is slightly downhill the whole way. All Raynor’s and MacDonald’s Redans were made visible, because he saw the blindness in the original as a weakness. While following the architecture of the original, he looked for ways to improve the architecture. This is template architecture.

the 3rd at Tobacco Road

At Tobacco Road Mike Stranz’s 3rd hole borrows directly from the 3rd hole at Pine Valley. Pine Valley’s 3rd is a par three surrounded by sand with a green that feeds the ball from right to back left to access the tucked pin positions. Both holes look much alike, but the problem is they do not play alike. The 3rd at Pine Valley the steep grades are used to feed the ball into flatter areas on the green; whereas the severity of Mike’s green make much of the pin position relatively inaccessible due to strong slopes and the lack of good flattish pinning areas. While they look very similar, this is an example where the original works strategicly better than the newer version.

the 3rd at Pine valley

Finally since it is Master’s week I thought I would talk about the 4th at Augusta National. The 4th was MacKenzie and Jones’s tribute to the amazing 11th (called Edan) at St. Andrew’s. The front bunkers at Augusta are placed to mimic the Strath and Shell bunker fronting the green, while a little more formal and a little less intimidating, the position is quite close. The biggest difference now is the green at Augusta is missing the huge shelf that makes the Edan at St. Andrew’s truly unique and a tough test of distance control. Augusta’s green is well sloped but has no major change of elevation. The other new difference is the hole at Augusta is 240 yards, which removes the remaining comparisons by the distance alone. The Edan has been built at Garden City (#18) and lots of other course too. None have matched the cunning of the original green contours.

All great architecture has roots in classic holes, seeing and understanding the great strategies is vital in creating your own great holes. Even the best architects in history paid attention to what others did well before them.

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