The short, direct and dangerous route on the left and the long and safe route on the right - great strategy by Stranz at Tabacco Road
We all want to shoot lower scores. Almost everyone sticks to swing tips, lessons or practice to improve their ability to hit the ball better. A few spend the time to learn course management and make great strides in keeping rounds together when they usually would come apart. Very few take the time to analyze the strategies and the architects thinking in order to beat them at their own game.
Ever noticed how on certain architect’s courses you always seem to play well, whereas on another architect’s you seem to always make mistakes. And I’m not talking about the simple factors like width or green contour, but more about what the architect gets you to do. I find most architects are creatures of pattern and tend to use a similar bag of tricks most times out. The very clever ones seem to be able to spin an infinite amount of variation using a myriad of old ideas, but the majority sticks to a limited set of options on a consistent theme. The clever ones require a lot of work for you to learn the course and one playing is never enough to try and out think them (if you ever can – see my piece on the 10th at Riviera to understand what I mean). For the rest, all you need to do is spend enough time observing their habits and it will help you with your decision making.
Most architects seem to prefer to stick to the basics on strategy. Bunker the fairway right and the green on the left and you have the most common strategy in golf. Play towards the trouble for the best angle into the green. This is the base strategy of probably half of all “designed” holes in golf. There may be more bunkers surrounding the ones that matter, but if you remove the fluff, you will be able to often break it down to this idea. Now this can vary from Flynn’s use of carry bunkers on a diagonal to clearly indicate the line and location for the tee shot, or be illustrated by the use of parallel bunkers by Willie Park Jr. (and others) where you play as close to them as possible for that ideal line. My only warning is for someone like Pete Dye, he will offer this on 16 or 17 holes and then on that exception you find you made the perfect shot to end up with the worst line. As Pete said, you have to do it occasionally to keep their attention, otherwise they are too comfortable.
Where it gets more fun is when you play a course by a less conventional architect like Mike Stranz. Mike’s philosophy was enticement and punishment. He loved to offer a shorter dangerous route combined with a longer safer route. Scoring will come from avoiding the pitfalls with Mike, but the big challenge is how long can you avoid your desire to “give it a go.” I watched a clinic on how to score at Tobacco Road, my playing partner (Bobby Weed) took the occasional chance for some birdies, but also played safely away from certain death settling for a par right from the get go. Often restraint is the most important tactic on a course made for gambling – although it’s not near as fun..
Each architect has their favorites, William Flynn and Doug Carrick love carry angles and using that technique to indicate the ideal line. Rees Jones leans towards the most basic of approaches of position for line with almost no variation on that approach. Bob Cupp likes to guard the line to the “mayor’s office,” a spot which sets up perfectly for an approach into the fall of the green. Each of us has our beliefs in what we think “you” should have to do in your round of golf. Learn our beliefs and our habits and you may save an extra shot.