Friday, December 29, 2006

I won’t ever Build….A Double Green or Island Green

Island Greens

The 17th at the TPC at Sawgrass is one of the greatest holes ever developed in golf. It is also one of the worst concepts ever to be copied by architects. Admittedly this idea actually goes back to Herbert Strong at Ponte Vedra Golf Club and Pete’s version was not the first – but it is the ultimate version of the idea. As a one off, the 17th is an exceptional hole and ideal for the tournament format it serves. It teaches us a lot about nerves, psychology and finally shows us a way into the players head; and not just for that hole, but the entire round. Think about how much the impact would be reduced if the hole were the 3rd or 4th.

Now let’s look at the island green as a concept. The concept has no recovery unless the island is expanded beyond the green perimeter – although even that is semantics to me. Every shot is either hit or miss the island – not long on options is it? Think about this, the approach shot is a forced carry. The approach shot has no safe play or alternative route to reach the green surface by skirting around trouble. A player could easily find themselves in a position where they can not finish the hole and potentially the round! All the great holes that I have shown you over this year have at least the opportunity to recover – this is one of the few exceptions in architecture (architorture?). My personal belief is that recovery is a key component of the game. There is a fine line between extremely difficult and unfair – and this crosses “my” line.

I played in an event this spring that involved an island green on a private course in North Carolina. Most of us picked up after a couple balls in the water. How is that fun on a daily basis for the average player? As much as I enjoyed the 17th at TPC, the thought of playing it daily is dreadful. It works well as a resort experience, given the circumstance of the annual TPC Championship.

Double Greens

Yes they work at St. Andrew’s to create one of the greatest experiences in golf.

OK, now name a second course where it doesn’t feel forced as a concept? I can offer you lots of examples of double greens, but each one seems even more contrived than the last – doesn’t it.

The concept is fraught with problems and compromises that leads to mediocrity. The concept opens up all sorts of liability issues that should be avoided at all costs, so the only way to overcome this is to make adjustments for safety. One method is a huge green, but the expense of this is too much with the modern conditioning and water requirements. The second method is to bring the holes in on opposite lines or create enough distance to separate the approach shots but over clubbing and skulling will bring safety back to the forefront. The last is to keep the green joined but “seperate” the green into two distinct areas through grading and using bunkers in between, but these look incredibly unnatural and forced. No matter what anyone has tried to date the results are less than what two greens could have accomplished.

The double greens at Grand Cypress, I've seen this concept at least 20 times!

So why does St. Andrew’s work? There are very few settings that have enough scale to allow that large a feature to blend in; it’s the vistas and space at St. Andrew’s that make them fit. The greens are so massive that the risk of being hit is minimized, and many greens encourage a ground approach by there very nature and conditioning. The main reason it works well there is history – we all accept it as the way it has always been – but we can’t borrow that sense of history when we copy the concept; it must stand on its own merits and that’s why the concept almost always fails.


Mark Nessmith said...

Good stuff, Ian. Care to come on the ' This Week' podcast to discuss your thoughts on TPC Sawgrass with host Dave Berner? Check out the show at

paul m said...

Hi Ian,
Have worked at Glasgow Hills(Furber)that has both miscues in one course (the island green featured on a drive and pitch par 4 that is disaterous for most) and currently at Andersons Creek(Cooke) we have a double green on the 7th and 12th holes. Both greens are much to small and the concept is both dangerous and architecturally foolish. When I asked why the only reply I got was the American tourists love them? I think the reply says enough.
Thanks again,
Paul M.

Ian Andrew said...


I'm interested, I just need the details. The details to contact me are on


You can't import everything you see on any project - the key is understand where each applies.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree with you on the island green front. Yes it requires one shot. Yes it has no safe way around. This is what it has going for it: It sends the nerves in a tizzy. The elation if you make it can make a week/year of golf. To get the beginer foursomes around quicker without losing 10 balls each, create a drop zone that is very forgiving to recover from.

On the double green side. yuck.


dave k said...


I have played Paintbrush a couple of times and think it is a wonderful place. The one thing I did think was over the top was the double green on the back (11 and 15??).

Not sure if the fairway on 15 at Woodington Lake fits your definition of a double fairway or not but it is a farce. Two fairways running parallel to each other, one sitting higher than the other (next to a wetland). The upper fairway sits adjacent to a hill so guess where the drainage is headed. I suppose the lower fairway is intended to be a shortcut but it is always so wet it is almost unplayable.


Guy said...


The only split fairway I can specifically recall enjoying was the ninth at Bigwin Island. Short enough for anyone to enjoy, but still a significant advantage in playing left.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you on island greens, there has to at least be a bail out, even if it leaves a difficult chip, at least everyone can finish the hole. As for split fairways, for the most part I don't like them (as with #15 at Woodington), but I think they can be effective if there is a good risk/reward, such as the 15th at National Pines, where the drive to the right is much more difficult, but offers a simple pitch second to a wide open green if succesful off the tee.