Monday, August 21, 2006

Longer isn't the Answer

From Cam Cole in the National Post on Saturday:

[Cam Cole] “This is a big time course, so….”
“Is that what it is Calgary’s Steven Ames interjected.”…
…”He didn’t mean Medinah wasn’t a good golf course. He just meant that as major challenges go, this one is too soft, too getable – and it maybe proving the definitive argument that simply making courses longer is meaningless to the generation of professionals who can handle long but have trouble with narrow.
One of these days people who design courses – and the organizations who designate them as major sites – are going to figure that out.”

Since I’ve been on this particular bandwagon for quite sometime and have written a whole series of articles on this subject – you can understand how happy I was to read that everyone is coming to realize the truth. Only the USGA and other ruling bodies have not come to terms with this reality. The USGA and there “architects of choice” Rees Jones and Tom Fazio have set about a policy of lengthening every course to prepare for a major. Well we have all come to realize that all this policy has done is make the architects in question wealthy without having any impact on play.

So I ask you, what do you think are the factors that combine to make difficulty? The most common answer is length, rough and green speed. This is considered the holy trinity by the USGA and other tournament committees. They feel that length is needed to put long irons back in the hands of the players and to make the players play the courses “like the players did in the past”. Using the longer rough is an attempt to balance the reward for accuracy with the rewards for length. Green speed has become last line of defense with the idea that speed makes recovery shots and putting extremely difficult.

Well here’s my response to their methods. Length only manages to eliminates the shorter players from being competitive. It does not put long irons in most of the player’s hands because we can’t possibly make it long enough to battle technology. If we did go to that extreme and the weather was horrible, players would shoot ridiculously high scores because the course would become unmanageable. We would be better off with much longer fairways that restrict the roll of the ball and place some limits on spinning shots.

The rough is a deterrent, and here I feel they’re right. For the life of me I can’t figure out why it isn’t a policy to grow long rough at all the events to eliminate the boring “bomb and gouge” method of play. I don’t watch professional golf for this reason. It’s still a tough call since no rough on sloping sites allows for risk of letting the ball “really get away” because there in nothing to stop it from heading into the trees or down slopes to a much worse fate. The long rough places a premium on accuracy off the tee but also contains missed shots and saves many bad approaches coming into greens from being much worse. This is a good area to potentially mix the heights or approaches on a regular basis for variety.

Green speed has made the professional game easier! Yes I honestly believe this. Players now don’t have to have a putting “stroke” they only need to have a way to get the ball on line. The greens are so short and so perfect that they don’t have to think about grain, texture or any other factor that they once had to overcome. Since the greens are so fast many of the really great pin positions are lost because they are too extreme which takes away from the architecture of the course. Greens are now designed or renovated flatter for fairness which works to the player’s advantage. It’s easier than it used to be.

On that note, what is the number one way to make a course difficult, green contour! Pinehurst #2 proved that green contour and the fear of the consequences is the best way to keep the scoring in check. It got the players thinking and many of them played holes hesitantly which is not a way to “go low”. With many of the greens being so complicated, fairway position became important so that they could spin the ball and hit into a receptive slope to keep the ball on the surface. Green contours are what make the short 10th hole at Riviera lethal despite being only 310 yards. Green contours are what keep the scores down at the Masters, not the extra 500 yards and the rough. Green contours are the best defense against the modern players.

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