Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Bunker Week – Part 5 – Psychology

No course gets into your head like Pine Valley does......despite the width and playability that is there

If a bunker is easy to get out of you will give it little thought during the round, but if a bunker requires you play backwards you will always be aware of its location and what you need to do to avoid it. Pete Dye made the comment, “Strategic placement of bunkers subconsciously forces the golfer to head away from the bunkers, when the better route is to hug them….when you get those dudes thinking they’re in trouble.” I think the comment is missing a reference to depth and how it affects the thoughts and mind of the player. There still must be repercussions that force those dudes to think. What gets a player thinking is the difficulty of the recovery. If a player faces a bunker where any club is an option then they will hug the bunker looking for an ideal line since they have no fear of missing the shot. They will also swing without fear since there is nothing to loose and nothing to get nervous about. Tell me how that hazard offers any strategy other than to high handicappers who fear sand in general?

If the bunker is nasty and recovery may not be possible, now the player is aiming away out of fear. He will also make a tentative swing at the ball trying to steer by the trouble rather than hitting a confident stroke. This is when a bunker has enough presence to get into the players head. Donald Ross said, “Hazards and bunkers are placed so as to force a man to use judgment and to exercise mental control in making the correct shot.” If there is no risk, why should a player exercise either judgment or control? The usual complaint is about recovery from such a bunker, but if the player has tried an aggressive line and failed you must ask them why not choose a line further from the bunker? I’ve never understood why a deep bunker in a key location is unfair when an architect provides either width or an alternative route around. As Donald Ross points out, “Often the highest recommendation of a bunker is when it is criticized. There is no such thing as a misplaced bunker. Regardless of where a bunker may be, it is the business of the player to avoid it”

I must admit I love Mike DeVries blunt comment of, “it’s a hazard, deal with it.” It always strikes me as absurd that many a member will tolerate or enjoy the most penal of hazards on the links courses and yet be so critical of a feature at their own club. It is the great hazards at our own courses, and how we handle them that define us as a player. Maybe the issue is ego, since I often deal with players who continue to attack a hole or pin where better judgment will yield better results. The fault is not with the depth or difficulty of the hazard; it is with the player’s decision making. Charles Blair MacDonald said, “The object of a bunker or trap is not only to punish a physical mistake, to punish a lack of control, but also to punish pride and ego” The game is about management and execution, shallow bunkers do not identify either skill.

Mike Stranz uses pressure to make a short course seem impossible at Tobacco Road.....but really it's quite playable

Pine Valley remains the ultimate psychological test for a player. You are immediately intimidated by the amount of sand and the perception that every miss will be punished. The brilliance of Pine Valley’s waste areas is that players begin to visualize disaster rather than concentrating on execution. When you look beyond the trouble, you find the course has plenty of width between trees, wide fairways and large greens; but all you see is trouble! Mike Stranz borrowed from this psychological ploy to develop his courses, including the use of depth and punishment to keep the players attention. He pointed out that we get a bigger sense of accomplishment in overcoming these holes than we would a course without any penalty. I agree.

Tomorrow I take on strategy…………..or try at least

Next up Strategy: http://thecaddyshack.blogspot.com/2006/10/bunker-week-part-6-strategies.html


Guy said...

Hear, hear, Ian - insightful as always. If only you weren't preaching to the converted!

Ian Andrew said...


you never know, may be someone will read this and get it..........