Thursday, December 28, 2006

I won’t ever build.....A Split Fairways

The 9th at Kinloch an expensive concept that doesn't work

This is a short week so I’ll concentrate on two ideas that I won’t use and why.
The first is a split fairway.

From Riviera’s famous 8th, through to the 7th at Valhalla (used for the PGA), there are many examples to choose from. While modern golf has tried to present this concept numerous times as a source of option, I can’t think of any example where I see the need in having a “full” second option. The problem is that all these holes have a smarter route and good players play the percentages.

The 8th at Riviera, why would you ever go left off the tee?

When we look at the 8th hole at Riviera, the left fairway has a tough tee shot that must be shaped to find the fairway which is full of great undulation. When the Fazio team "returned" the right fairway, the tee shot required no shaping of the shot and further encouraged the player with a flatter landing. There is no reason for the PGA players to play to the left any more. Riviera has also lost one of the best tee shots on the course as a result!

The 7th at Valhala, when you can get home going right, why would you go left ever?

The 7th at Valhalla is the ultimate strategic dog. The left side alternative was to an island in a lake where anything but the perfect shot was a disaster. Nicklaus got rid of the lake and replaced it with an island of fairway surrounded by sand (as the image shows), because nobody during the PGA tried the island route. Why doesn’t it work? There is no reward for making the shot. Right allows the player to play around the trouble, with the only real loss being length. Players are less likely to be able to get home in two, but with all the length some have this is still possible! There is far too much risk going left for so little reward, and in this case the smart play is truly the only play. Everyone went around during the PGA – even Tiger.

Even Walter Travis drew plans where the fairway alternated like stepping stones with rough in between. The idea is that players play conservative or aggressively to each island in order to gain an advantage on the hole. There are two problems with this concept. Wind ruins this concept by making carries unreasonable or too easy. More importantly it penalizes the average player far more than a strong player since they may be forced to lay-up to avoid rough on “any” shot. Even a few modern courses are based upon this concept, and all they do is increase the number of forced carries that a player has to deal with, since most like Kinlock have a creek in between.

The argument for the concept I expect to get:
I know people will point to the 15th at Pine Barrens and say that hole definitely works. What they miss is this is not a split fairway. This is a short route and a safe route, which is not quite the same as a "full" alternative fairway. Fazio offered a direct and risky line "to the green" and a safe play for everyone else. This concept works because the risk and the reward are a "fair choice"; and a play at the small approach fairway is actually a play for the green.
Another example you might suggest is the use of a diagonal line of bunkers that split the fairway. The 2nd landing at the 13th at Osprey Valley Heathlands is a great example. There players can avoid the carry by playing low and to the right, or gamble to make the carry for an an easier approach to the green. This is not a split fairway either, but an overlap in the fairway extensions reinforcing the risk and reward strategy of carrying the bunkers. And yes there is a difference.

I have player numerous courses with split fairways and not one of them was near as interesting or "playable" as a hole with a central hazard. That hole takes on the elite player and adds playability to the average player; isn’t that a much better option?


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the more that it's a tossup as to which way to go, the more decision making comes into play and hence more interest. In the case of the 7th at Valhalla, that would mean making the direct route more rewarding and the safe route less rewarding.

For the left route, rather than having all that sand, I'd think it'd be neat to have that area comprised of moguls and other sorts of bumpy short-rough lies. While still penal, if it were more forgiving it would be more enticing. Especially if the entry into the green was kind rather than bunkered.

At the same time, I'd like to see more protection on the right side make it near to impossible to get home in two by going the safe route. That means taking the 300+ yard drive out of play, and making it too risky to come into the green with a long club on the second shot. Why not let the fairway go feral between 290 and 320 from the back tees, as well as the 30 or 50 yards abutting the green down the right side?


paul m said...

Hi Ian,
I liked the point regarding the the split fairway penalizing the average/shorter hitting player. I am just finishing up reading George Thomas's Architecture in America and the book is filled with many great drawings of his origional holes. A few seemed to reflect this split fairway notion and it struck me that the shorter hitter was always coming up with the shortest straw. Risk/reward is great but it must get a bit tiring to never get a shot at greatness based on your inability to hit it long.

Brian said...

I'd like to know what you think of #15 at National Pines.

Anonymous said...

Regarding split fairway. What are your thoughts on the 9th at Bigwin. I would call it a split fairway, and I ike the hole in general.

Ian Andrew said...


As you pointed out the bunker at the left front of the green is the biggest error.


I'm a huge fan of George Thomas, I'm still not sure if I get the 8th at Riviera still.


Never seen the course - I don't care for course cut through wetlands - very few work.


Love the hole too since the hole offers a short cut - and this concept works better than the idea of two seperate fairways.

To clarify (I hope) - I like alternate routes - I don't like two seperate routes.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ian,

Coore and Crenshaw have done one at Colorado Golf Club. If you get a big money account, would you reconsider.