Recently I went out to play a course I had designed. I had built the course with the intent of borrowing the concepts and ideas of Pinehurst #2. I was building a public golf course in a senior’s development and felt that playability was paramount to the success and enjoyment of the course. I made the course very wide off the tee and not overly long at 6,800 yards. Even the hazards were kept down with limited use of water and a liberal use of bunkering. Even the set up of the bunkering allowed for conservative play around the hazards. Most greens were set up defending one side and providing chipping areas on the other side to create a bail side to each green. I wanted players to have the ability to play within themselves and still make some pars along the way. The only place where I set up to make more difficult was the greens. The greens were intended to be the defense of the course and the defining feature.
I set out to make the greens dramatically contoured with lots of difficulty. I also borrowed from the Pinehurst concept and set all of the greens up in the air to place a further premium on the accuracy of the approach. I also used short grass intentionally around all of the greens to create short game opportunities and to even to further repel the ball away in some cases. My intention was to create a second shot golf course that was fun. All the soils were sandy loam which created a great opportunity to keeping the short grass fairly tight and fast. Originally the turf around the greens was kept tight enough that players could hit a flop shot, a chip shot, or most importantly could putt when they felt that was the best option. I wanted the best player to make choices and possibly make mistakes in judgment. I wanted the weaker player to always play to their strength so that they could enjoy the challenge around the greens. The key to what I had designed was the use of short grass around the greens
When I played that round I found myself in one of the green side chipping areas right away. I looked forward to the fun of creating a shot that used the slopes to find its way to the hole. I love to bump and run my way around those shots since I have a fairly good ground game. I also love to watch opponents (in a match) try the flop shot because it’s the most dangerous of all the shots. I hit my chip at the bank to use the slope to direct the ball up and at the hole and my ball hit the slope and literally stayed where it hit. What did I do wrong was my first thought? When I had a closer look at the bank and the turf in the chipping areas I found it was very thick which had eliminated the opportunity to use the ground. You now had to hit a flop shot everywhere and that was not what I intended. The playing conditions had compromised the most important feature of what I designed.
I got together with superintendent and we talked about it, to his credit he made immediate improvements to the chipping areas which brought back the options. It shows how important it is to communicate with the superintendent about what you are trying to do with your course to make sure you both understand what you are looking for as a designer. It can also confirm that your expectations are reasonable. I was grateful that he could and would make such an immediate change in the playing conditions to return the intent of the design. Architects are very dependent on superintendents to keep our vision intact, and often the best and the brightest ones make us look good with their ability and skill.
Friday, July 21, 2006