Friday, April 14, 2006

Carry Angles

Carry angles are the simplest form of risk and reward. The hazard is placed on a diagonal to play, and the player is left to choose how much of the hazard they are going to try and carry. The more they try to carry, the longer the shot, but the easier the approach is into the green. The less they risk, the shorter the shot, and the tougher the approach into the green.

In the drawings the first red line of the drawing represents the carry angle. The second red line at the green represents another carry angle. The second line also illustrates the reason for trying bite off as much as you dare from the first angle. If you play wide to the left, you are left with a full carry over the hazard; but if you can play over the diagonal hazard successfully, you are left with a clear pitch into the green. This is very simple risk and reward architecture.

The reasons that I like carry angles to create strategy are:
1. risk and reward scenarios encourage more aggressive and exciting play
2. they clearly defend the shortest route to the hole without removing the aggressive play
3. they create varying degrees of risk depending on ability of the player
4. this style makes strategies very obvious and the ideal line very clear for players

Architect who most typifies this example:
1. William Flynn, the master strategist used this style predominantly in his work.
2. Canadian Doug Carrick uses this approach on most of his holes.
3. Bob Cupp enjoys this technique a great deal too.

The reasons I don’t like to overuse carry angles:
1. Technology renders these holes obsolete very easily since it is based upon a precise carry distance
2. When carry angles are overused, the player begins to make automatic decisions, which lessens the interest for the player.
3. Most carry angles are created by the architect, usually using bunkers, and there ends up being too much repetition in what the player sees.
4. While strategically strong, there is too little fun, chance and discovery left in the course. I think this architecture can fail by being too planned out to enjoy.

My thoughts about using this technique:
1. It remains one of the best techniques to use to challenge a player mentally
2. Do not use this exclusively since the best architecture mixes many styles. One strategy is dull, no matter which one you choose.
3. This is best used by finding a natural carry angle in a creek or ridge to avoid repetition
4. Alternate with other techniques like triangulation, doesn’t get compromised by technology.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

An Alternative to Dealing with a Perfectly Flat Site

The cape hole at National Golf Links. The green site is raised and recovered land, notice the lack of mounds.

One of my stated objectives as an architect is to move as little earth as possible and to try and retain as much of the natural contour as possible. So how would I deal with flat featureless sites? The answer is simple, I would have to move fill just like any other architect. The difference is how I would choose to do it.

The approach I would take to creating an interesting looking golf course on a featureless flat site is to build new landforms that appear to be part of the original site condition. Creating the appearance of an abandoned sand and gravel quarry will allow for lots of fill and a very natural looking condition. Building an esker or a flat topped ridgeline or ravine will give the site a prominent natural feature that will become a common element, tying the site together. Regardless of which feature is added to improve esthetics and interest, I would avoid placing fill where the golf course meets its boundaries. In this way, the course blends into its surroundings and yet still takes advantage of the surrounding views.

Most importantly, I would avoid creating any containment mounding which unfortunately seems to be the standard answer to just about any flat site in modern architecture. Containment mounding is used primarily to create definition. Unfortunately it also leaves the most artificial looking landscape possible no matter how good the shaping is. The course will always act as a contrast to the surrounding property and look forced upon the landscape. Without exception, the most highly regarded courses in the world all blend naturally into their surroundings.

The final secret to handling a site like this is a brilliant technique pioneered by Seth Raynor and Charles Blair MacDonald at the turn of the century. Instead of adding containment mounding to the outside for framing and definition, they used mass fills to lift the landing area and green sites. The playing field itself becomes the focus, by the very fact that they stand up and out from the surrounding landscape. Pete Dye did an outstanding job using this technique at TPC at Sawgrass.

Fairway raised up, but no containment mounds to compete with backdrop of trees

This has additional side effects too. First, the golf course will always blend perfectly into the surrounding countryside regardless of topography. Definition was supplied by raising the target areas up for clear visibility. The next benefit is the is the best of all. The bunkers are cut naturally into the raised areas, clearly framing strategies and fitting naturally into the landscape. Finally, the fairways drain naturally off into the roughs avoiding area drains in fairways and wet conditions in the key play areas.

Raynor and MacDonald were able to create golf courses with severe lines that also looked natural. What I have outlined is their technique, which also offers the perfect alternative to dealing with a flat site. Once again we learn and borrow from the past to make great work in the future.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Blindness – an architectural failing or charm?

where the golfer on the right is, only part of the green is visible

A blind hole: A hole where the golfer can not establish a clear line of site to his target on one or more of the shots because of intervening topography.

Blind shots have largely been eliminated from modern golf for three reasons. One is the architect has the equipment and resources available to move enough earth efficiently to eliminate blindness. The second reason is that many in the golfing industry see the blind shot as architectural weakness or poor design. But the main reason is that liability and safety concerns force the architect to try and remove any potential risk through earthmoving. And yet an enigma like Tobacco Road gets built that truly ignores convention and embraces the blind shots as part of golf.

Most golfers immediately dismiss the blind shot for having no place in the game. But I caution you on being so hasty, considering some of the most famous blind holes. The Road Hole at St. Andrew’s, the 8th at Pebble Beach (a hole Jack Nicklaus called the best par four in golf), and the stunning 9th at Royal County Down are three of the finest holes in golf and yet each has a blind shot. One of my favorite courses in the world, Royal County Down, has more blinds shots than any other great course I know. While the course is dismissed by some, others revel in a course that is barely touched by the hand of man. I think that people can ignore a blind shots when the following shot is of such high caliber that it more than makes up for the original blind tee shot. Where the debate becomes far more interesting is the blind approach.

Again there are wonderful examples to chose from; The Himilayas and Alps hole at Pretwick, MacDonald’s Alps and Punchbowl holes at The National Golf Links of America, The punchbowl hole at Cruden Bay. The approach shots are indeed blind yet they offer some of the best golf in the world.

the tee shot on 18 at Tobaccoo Road

The last style of “blind” hole is where a player is asked to play for position to get a clear view into the hole, and if they miss the shot to the wrong side they are left with a blind approach due to the topography. Many holes such as the 3rd at Muirfield, and the 13th at Royal County Down are fine examples. When I researched the lost holes at St. George’s, I found out both the 4th and 15th were holes of this very character. In older writings they were described as the finest holes on the course, and yet they fell victim to an architect who did not understand their merits

There is still room for a blind shot, it adds variety and interest to a round, and may help a transition across difficult ground without destroying the natural character of the land. It also offers architects another psychological tool to make a great player uncomfortable. Even blocking the green site from view, but leaving the flag visible has an impact on the how comfortable a player is over a shot. Players have come to expect everything visible and clearly defined on each shot, and break in this pattern bothers them. As architects, we are always looking for a way to add tension in small doses throughout the round; the blind shot has the same impact as water, out of bounds or a forced carry. All four add additional tension, but only the blind shot works without the fear of penalty strokes. Pete Dye has built a series of short par fours requiring a blind wedge into a small target. The PGA players hated the original short 12th at TPC because of the blindness, and it was this dislike that he used to torment them on such a short and easy hole. Pete was a master at getting in the players minds.

The Scots will tell you that a hole is only blind once and that a player need only decide upon a line and hit the shot. But then again the Scots never worry about fairness; they just play the game as it comes.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Part 3 of 3 - 7 Common Mistakes of Green’s Committees

The latest way to select an architect?

No. 1: Shopping for the Right Opinion
Many clubs are quite prepared to go look for a golf architect that will give the green’s committee the answers they are looking for. Often the right answer is not what they want to here, but many don’t like to let the facts get in the way of their own personal opinion. Dealing with a committee is quite complex, you have to deal with a lot of personal agendas and egos to make any progress. Some want to change everything whereas others want no expense or disruption. It is very hard to get the committee to focus on the real goal, which is what is best for the golf course.

No. 2: Not Enough Time or Money
I have been asked to ensure a restoration is accurate, only to be told that they can’t afford more than a visit every 10 days. Imagine a club finding their own contractor to save money, who then cuts corners on everything leaving behind work that needs to be rebuilt only a few years later. My least favourite was working with a dozer operator provided by the club who had no golf experience because he was half the going rate. The work was limited by his ability to understand. The only way to ensure a successful project is to provide an appropriate budget and a realistic schedule to get the work done well. Committee’s must remember, like everything in life, you get what you pay for.

No.3 : Micromanagement
Green Committee members and chairmen must first have a basic understanding of the membership, the club’s history and the golf architecture of their course. It is a steep learning curve, and often it involves removing preconceived views to understand what is best in their situation. There are no standard answers, particularly in renovation. With a little knowledge, and not enough understanding, it is easy to become a backseat driver. Rather than helping, the committee member will often inhibit the golf course architect from doing their best work. The architect needs direction and interaction with the committee to do what’s best for the club, but any uninvited involvement meddling reduces the ability of the architect to do his best work.

No. 4: Unrealistic Demands
Television has hurt the game. Members are enamoured by what they see on the television and want their own championship course in championship conditions all year. They want us to build bunkers that always provide a perfect lie. They want greens to run fast regardless of weather. They want any imprefection or uneven stance removed for fairness, regardless of architectural merit. If a green is too difficult with current green speeds, they would rather rebuild it for playability than save the great green by slowing the speed. Television, personal ego and the insistence on stroke play have all conspired to make the golfers demands unrealistic. Golf was never about fairness. I wish all members would understand that the ability to deal with adversity differentiates between a great player and a good one."

No. 5: The Legacy
The biggest hindrance can often be dealing with a large ego, with the worst being the retired golf pro that still considers the course his. Many members view serving as green’s chairman as a chance to leave their mark on the course, regardless of advice. This is usually how holes that didn’t need a change get rebuilt. Often key projects or vital equipment purchases are put off to get the vanity project done. Green Committees can avoid this pitfall by developing master plans for long-range improvement, and then having the architect put together a phasing plan to prioritize the work. Such plans often address proposed architectural changes for the golf course, but also should include the less sexy infrastructure necessities such as irrigation, drainage systems and maintenance facilities.

No. 6: Unbalanced Representation
Committees are cumbersome and often have difficulty reaching important decisions. It is even worse when they are unbalanced often fail to consider the golfers of different abilities. It should be no surprise that many of the changes made in the name of "toughening up the course" or "modernizing" it wind up making the course too difficult for the majority of players. Green Committees should be comprised of golfers of both genders and all abilities. This helps to take different perspectives into account, and it helps to keep lines of communication open with other golfers.

No. 7: The Inability to Make Tough Decisions
The duties of a green chairman and Green Committee are not for the timid. Issues often arise that require tough decisions that may anger factions within the golf membership. Flashy projects like bunker renovation is usually an easy decision, but replacing the irrigation system or adding miles of much need drainage takes some conviction, but it is trees where the strength of the chairman or committee is vital. I have yet to find a course that wasn’t in need of tree removal programs. Removing trees becomes such an emotionally charged issue, but the removal is so important to turf, playability, views and the health of the trees themselves. If you don’t like to offend anyone, don’t serve on a green’s committee.

I will look at something more design related tomorrow.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Green Committee's - Part 2 of 3 - The Role of a Greens Committee

I'll give Architect Alister Mackenzie, who apparently had little regard for committees, the first word. In his 1930s manuscript, The Spirit of St. Andrews, he wrote, "The history of most golf clubs is that a committee is appointed, they make mistakes, and just as they are beginning to learn from their mistakes, they resign office and are replaced by others who make still greater mistakes, and so it goes on."

The Greens Committee has a responsibility of overseeing the management of the golf course, but they must not be involved in its day-to-day management. They should be involved in the selection of a golf course superintendent and a golf course architect. They should also provide the superintendent with a basic budget and general direction for the club. They are not there to micromanage either expert. They need not have specific knowledge of turfgrass management or golf architecture, but they must understand the game of golf. They must be willing to learn and know when to listen. Know it alls or dictators are disruptive to a greens committee and the experts it hires

In charge of the committee is the green chairman. The chairperson’s task is to organize and hold regular meetings of the committee and superintendent to discuss new ideas or to deal with any problems that have arisen. The greens chair or committee representative should also be present for any meeting with the golf architect, and should be able to make to make quick decisions when changes arise in the field. An effective chairman and committee can develop and implement plans that can be enjoyed by golfers for generations. Conversely, an ineffectual committee can drag the course down, through meddling or poor decision making. Being a chairman or member of the Green Committee is not a popularity contest. Tough decisions frequently must be made regarding disruptive and expensive programs and projects, and thick skin and an ample dose of conviction are required. Green Committees serve a vital role in the operation of the golf course.

If you are going to serve on a greens committee remember you are there to serve the best interests of the golf course, not for your own personal interests. If you can not do this, do not serve on the committee. As a golf course architect that is my commitment, the best interests of the course must come first.

I think Alister MacKenzie should be allowed to also have the final word of advice to a greens committee. “How often have we known committees, presumably consisting of men of intelligence, receiving the statement that golf is played for fun, with eyes and mouths wide open in astonishment? It is always difficult to persuade them that the chief consideration that should influence us in making any alterations to a golf course is to give the greatest pleasure to the greatest number. Any change to a course that does not do this is manifestly a failure.”

7 most common mistakes: