Friday, July 28, 2006

More Great Holes - the 13th at The Golf Club

The low timber wall and marsh very much in play from the tee at The Golf Club.

In modern times there is no greater influence on the latest crop of designers than Pete Dye. Not only has he helped personally shape the thinking of the two top designers in the game right now, he has also had at least some influence on all the designers of his generation. His attempt to change golf architecture worked, initially ushering in style that dominated the 80’s and 90’s, and later on ushering in the new school of “minimalism” as more people caught on to The Golf Club and Crooked Stick.

There is no question in my mind that Pete Dye’s work in the 1960’s and 1970’s was far more revolutionary and important than the work he is better known for. I have talked at length about The Golf Club being one of my influences and an inspiration to many of the current architects leading a new trend. I also think it showcases much of his architectural thinking and his strong use of strategy to make a great golf course.

The Golf Club initially blew me away with its look and feel, it took longer to recognize the underlying strategies of holes like 6 and 7. The fact that it was done right in the middle of everything Trent Jones is really fun historically. The hole that caught my attention the most was the 13th. At 370 yards, it was relatively short, but what an interesting hole to play. Pete Dye took uninspiring section of land and created first a marshland and then a pond to influence play. This also impacted the look and feel of the hole too. Dye says he was influenced by Prestwick when he created this course, but truth be told it is 100% Pete Dye. The marsh is a wonderful natural looking feature that gives the hole a soft edge; he then accentuated this with a hard defined edge using a low timber wall to define the carry line. The blue line on the plan locates the low wall, the red line shows the effective carry angle, the yellow the logical lines in to the green. The player stands upon the tee and has the opportunity to play short, but because of the obvious carry line is drawn into risking a carry over the corner of the marsh to shorten the hole. If successful, the next shot in is a beauty with the pond on the left, the fantastically clever timber edged waste on the right and the pond in behind the green. Of course the front is wide open, since the flanking hazards are the ones that the best players have the most trouble with and the weaker players are left with a safe route in. This is a classic set of strategies within a very natural setting - which was 100% created by Pete!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

More great holes – Bigwin’s 9th

Everything is clear from the tee, now can you make the carry?

I had a lot of fun going through my favorite Doug Carrick holes to come up with this one. It brought back some wonderful memories of Osprey valley and other projects I worked on. I think his most famous would be “Cliffhanger” at Greywolf at Panororama in BC. My favorite course of his remains Eagle’s Nest, but I couldn’t find one hole one hole that I considered his best work. In the end the hole that I enjoying playing the most was the 9th at Bigwin Island.

The interesting thing about this hole is this one evolved a lot in the field because the site of the hole was the only good source of sand on the project. They continued to mine it in order to take as much sand as possible trying to limit the amount of barging of sand across to the site. The interesting thing is the cut that sourced all the sand ended up being the feature that made the hole.

The drive is from a high tee looking out over the hole. You are faced with a long carry up the left side of around 240 yards to make the upper fairway. Since the bank is bluegrass, and the green is directly on that line, you almost always have a go at the short upper route. The other option is to play to a nice wide lower fairway on the right where you have lots of room. Either side, you must avoid the pair of deep menacing bunkers that splits the two sides of the landing. From the upper fairway the green is flanked right and left by bunkers, but is clearly open in front and can be attacked since you will hit a short iron. From below, you must carry the right front bunker and hit into a narrow angle of the green with either a mid or long iron. This is a much more difficult shot.

Into the wind the tee shot is very daunting and sometimes you have no choice but to go right. With the wind you automatically have to have a go the shorter route because of the advantage. The most common wind blows across the hole towards the trees on the left of the upper fairway, so you usually have to start the ball over the bunkers. Either way this is a fun hole to play and one you look forward to.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More great holes – French Creek’s 15th

The 15th hole from the tee

I thought I would spend this week describing “other great holes” that really inspired me. I’ll try to mix up the architects and concentrate on the ones I have not mentioned in my first 18 holes in 18 days series.

Every once in a while you find yourself out touring a courses where you run into a “true” original hole. They are the rarest of all gems, since most holes can be traced back to the holes that inspired them or the habits of the architect. These great holes almost always occur with the influence of the natural land leading the way, but every once in a while someone has the skill to create one. I think this is why most of us admire Mike Stranz so much, there may be other architects that I admire more, but he is one of the few who could possibly build a great hole from scratch. For the non-architects reading, this is much harder than you can possibly know.

Looking back from the green

The 15th hole at French Creek is one that recently caught my attention. First off there is nothing as much fun as a 290 yard par four that is easily drivable from all the tees. Gil Hanse created a hole where the green is attainable with only the most precise shot, yet the distance and visibility instantly draws out your driver; exactly like a good short four should. Hanse also provided an upper fairway that leads into the green in cas you can’t hit it far enough to drive the green The upper plateau and bowl collects tee shots and long lay-ups as long as you carry the fairway bunkers and keep the shot out of the long grass on the right. A tee shot finding the upper fairway is rewarded with a clear shot into the green flanked by bunkers on either side. The last option is play to the unguarded lower fairway which can be accessed with a short iron. The problem with this alternative is that the approach is hit up hill to a green that you can’t see. The green is perpendicular to this angle and is protected both long and short with penal bunkers.

I love this hole since each alternative works well; you simply pick the route that suits your style of play best. Gil does a nice job of creating a short four where the risks are worth the gamble and the opportunity to play aggressive is hard to ignore. This is what a short four is supposed to be about.

Monday, July 24, 2006

More great holes - Highland Golf Links 13th

A sketch of the knol in front of the 13th green

I have always had a soft heart for any hole that presents the option of playing a running shot into a green. It is most often encouraged by a downhill approach or by a green that falls away from play. Sometimes weather gets involved and the holes become best approached along the ground. But the rarest and finest version of this type of hole is the one where the landform dictates the running approach. Last week I pointed out the ridges that front the greens at Thousand Islands Club that are certainly best approached by playing short and bouncing the ball on. The hole that pushes this idea out the furthest is the 13th at Highland Golf Links.

435 yards away from the green Thompson places you on a high tee with all the elements of the hole clearly in view. The fairway slopes very hard from right to left with a series of wonderful undulations throughout. The player will likely cut the ball of the tee to hold the slope of the fairway and be left to face a draw lie on the approach, although any stance is possible because of the wild undulations in the fairway.

The prominent feature of the hole is the large roll right in front of the green. The player is simply left with the decision of how are you going to play over, around or along the prominent mound to get to the green. You can fly the mound, but the green has no slope, so a ball just short or long will easily skid over the back. You can not play right, since the ball will bound into the right swale for a very awkward up and down. A ball hitting the left of the mound will likely be run into the only bunker on the hole. The player is left to try to bounce the ball off the mound to find the green or they can even play the long running approach over the mound and onto the green. How often do we face that as a legitimate option?

This offers a window into an older view of architecture that is built around chance as much as shot-making. Modern architecture likes to control each view and each type of shot throughout the design, but often removes the elements of luck and fun by removing unusual landforms. Golden age architects, like Thompson, left the natural and unusual contours for players to contend with by using the landform instead of a formal hazard to define and defend a green site. The landform on thirteen offers multiple options and the player is left to use their creativity to play the hole. Stanley’s use of the natural roll in front of the green makes for one of the most entertaining approaches anywhere in the world of golf.