Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Technology Part 3 – Defending without length

I couldn't find this post in the archives - I think I may have forgoten to post it when it didn't become an article for a magazine.

So what can an architect do to add difficulty without adding length and till maintain playability? Island greens, more water, forced carries, long rough, fescue and fast greens all add difficulty and 6 hour rounds, so what are the alternatives?

1. Make the player think. Alister Mackenzie said, “A first class hole must have the subtleties and strategic problems which are difficult to understand, and are therefore extremely likely to be condemned at first sight even by the best of players.” Giving the players options and tempting situations keeps them a bit off balance, even with the equipment they have today. If the strategy is simple and straight forward they will play to their strengths, but if a hole is full of enticing options they will often entertain the most foolish line trying to gain an advantage on the course. The 10th at Riviera is the perfect example, where the smartest play is the least obvious and the riskiest play is the most understandable.

2. Make them manufacture shots. The shot that the professionals are most uncomfortable with is being forced to hit a fade from a draw lie, or a draw from a fade lie. They would rather take their natural swing than have to manufacture a shot. Using the natural cross-slope of the land to influence play is the least used and most effective method to add additional difficulty to a hole. This is a technique perfected by William Flynn at Huntingdon Valley, where he routed many holes against the natural slope of the land to force the players to work the ball against the grade.

3. Place pressure on their expectations. Short holes are wonderful things; they give the average player a chance to make a par, whereas the great player feels the pressure to “make” a birdie. At Merion, the better player feels great pressure to score on the shorter middle holes and almost always become far too aggressive trying to score through this stretch. The results are usually disastrous, particularly when the shorter holes require more management than some of the longer ones.

4. Closely mown grass around greens. This has long been a staple of links courses throughout the world. Bluegrass surrounding a green offers only one type of recovery — the flop — a favorite of good players, and it also contains a missed approach. However, if the green surrounds are closely mown, the near miss often gets propelled away from the green. Now the good player must decide whether to putt, bump and run, or to attempt a flop shot. Options present opportunities, but also lead to mistakes. The US Open at Pinehurst showed the difficulty created by short grass around greens.

5. Bold undulations on the greens. With bold undulations on the putting surface, positional play becomes even more important to gaining access to many of the pin positions. It will even dictate strategy right back to the tee. If you miss the approach, you are left with a delicate putt requiring the player’s full imagination to avoid dropping a stroke. St. Andrew’s is a great example where a player will hit many greens and still make lots of bogies by being on the wrong side of the hole.

6. Bunkers that are a Hazard. Walter Travis had the following quote about bunkers. "The primary idea of a hazard is to punish, to the extent of one stroke, a poorly played shot, and to make the recovery exceedingly difficult, and even by the virtue of the following shot being extraordinarily good. If this end is not attained, the existing hazard fails to fill its functions." When the player aims at the perfectly groomed hazard because it offers an advantage, the hazard ceases to be relevant to the intent of the game.

7. Intimidation. A hazard with little penalty for a miss has no psychological impact on a good player and the player will swing with confidence. When the penalty for missing is severe, a player’s pulse will quicken and they will feel the pressure to make the shot. If the player begins to think about the consequences of missing his shot instead of a good result, the architect has intimidated the player. At Pine Valley, the first time player is so overwhelmed with the possibility of disaster everywhere that they rarely notice the wide fairways and large greens that George Crump has provided.

8. Removing the clear line of site to a target. As architects, we are always looking for a way to add tension throughout the round. The blind shot has the same psychological impact as water, out of bounds or a forced carry (without the penalty strokes). Players have come to expect everything to be visible and clearly defined on each shot, and any break in this modern pattern frustrates them. Even blocking the view of the green, but allowing for the flag to be seen, upsets the player’s ability to visualize the shot. Tobacco Road uses this technique to make the player uncomfortable, but as the Scot’s would tell you the hole is only blind once, and because of this Tobacco Road is much less intimidating on the second play.

Is a Larger Ball the Answer?: http://thecaddyshack.blogspot.com/2006/05/larger-ball-this-is-new-idea-that-has.html

Working with Golf’s true sculptor – the shaper

Paul Timbers, Grant and Donnie Robb at Kawartha

The first green surface I had any involvement with was the 5th green at Greystone. It was one of the first times Doug had me join him out on site to teach me some of the basic things I needed to learn about creating greens and other features on the golf course. It was a great chance to see drainage installed among other important details that I had to learn before I could design anything. Through circumstance Doug had to go review some major drainage works and grading and suggested it would be better if I join Albert and see how a green is built first. The 5th green was set into a natural amphitheater and was an excellent green site already. Albert was in the process of making the plateau when I arrived.

I introduced myself to Albert and said I’m here to learn from you, and I received a smile and an “OK, that’s not what I’m used to but that should prove interesting.” Little did I know that a little humility was the perfect way to get to know the often cantankerous and moody Albert, who also happens to be one of the best shapers I have ever had the pleasure of working with and a good friend. Albert asked me what I wanted on the green surface, and to be honest I just kind of repeated what Doug had talked about out of fear. Albert said, “what about the swale in back it’s not on the drawings but it would be a good idea.” Lesson one - listen to what the shaper suggests - I said I agreed with him that a swale was a great idea, but asked can we keep the green surface the same size. Albert said “Sure but I need to lower it a couple of feet and take it slightly right, but that will work fine.” Lesson two - when a good shaper says he can make it work - get out of his hair and don’t give useless directions. In 15 minutes it all fit in wonderfully, and I can say I honestly had no part in this. I realized right then that Albert just knew instinctively what would work - lesson three - trust them and work “with” them.

Albert shaped up the green and we got out a laser to shoot some grades. The green looked awesome to me, but I though a pin position was impossible to access because the slope was away from the approach on a long iron in. I explained how I thought the ball should be received particularly on such a tough shot and asked what he thought. Albert smiled and said you’re right that would be too tough and said give me two minutes and he reshaped the section to receive the ball. Lesson four – always explain how the shots should work- they can make anything work but must understand clearly what you intend (as opposed to what you drew). Intent is the key direction we have to offer. Talking in broad strokes helps a shaper, micromanaging a shaper is a great way to get crap (and that’s your fault not his).

My advice to any young architects is to respect the shapers, explain yourself fully on what you expect, trust them for input, let them contribute to some of the final forms, take a stance that you have a final say to avoid and idea you don’t like but allow them to venture a little to discover better ideas. Treat them like a good friend and they will make you look better than you are, and you will end up with some of the closest and most reliable friends you will ever make.

I’m going to miss at least a couple of names, but I want to thank all the great shapers who have made me look like I have a clue:
From Evans – Albert, Louie Melo, Mike Zant, Dave Sutherland and Dan Minduik (sp.?)
Gateman – Richard Armitrage (Ballantrae), Louis Pedro, and Darren Hancocks
TDI – Steve Tate, Jamie, Domenic Carrere, Brian and Paul
NMP – Michele
And all the independents or small companies – Spencer Adams, John Northy, Doug Shwartz, Gary Elison, Ron (be gone), Peter, Dan, (I miss) “Moose” Thompson, Gord Wendover and the unbelievable talented Thomas (“Dickie Do”)
Finally the ones that have seen everything and done it all and continue to share their wealth of experience - Dick Kirkpatrick and Paul Timbers

Monday, August 21, 2006

Longer isn't the Answer

From Cam Cole in the National Post on Saturday:

[Cam Cole] “This is a big time course, so….”
“Is that what it is Calgary’s Steven Ames interjected.”…
…”He didn’t mean Medinah wasn’t a good golf course. He just meant that as major challenges go, this one is too soft, too getable – and it maybe proving the definitive argument that simply making courses longer is meaningless to the generation of professionals who can handle long but have trouble with narrow.
One of these days people who design courses – and the organizations who designate them as major sites – are going to figure that out.”

Since I’ve been on this particular bandwagon for quite sometime and have written a whole series of articles on this subject – you can understand how happy I was to read that everyone is coming to realize the truth. Only the USGA and other ruling bodies have not come to terms with this reality. The USGA and there “architects of choice” Rees Jones and Tom Fazio have set about a policy of lengthening every course to prepare for a major. Well we have all come to realize that all this policy has done is make the architects in question wealthy without having any impact on play.

So I ask you, what do you think are the factors that combine to make difficulty? The most common answer is length, rough and green speed. This is considered the holy trinity by the USGA and other tournament committees. They feel that length is needed to put long irons back in the hands of the players and to make the players play the courses “like the players did in the past”. Using the longer rough is an attempt to balance the reward for accuracy with the rewards for length. Green speed has become last line of defense with the idea that speed makes recovery shots and putting extremely difficult.

Well here’s my response to their methods. Length only manages to eliminates the shorter players from being competitive. It does not put long irons in most of the player’s hands because we can’t possibly make it long enough to battle technology. If we did go to that extreme and the weather was horrible, players would shoot ridiculously high scores because the course would become unmanageable. We would be better off with much longer fairways that restrict the roll of the ball and place some limits on spinning shots.

The rough is a deterrent, and here I feel they’re right. For the life of me I can’t figure out why it isn’t a policy to grow long rough at all the events to eliminate the boring “bomb and gouge” method of play. I don’t watch professional golf for this reason. It’s still a tough call since no rough on sloping sites allows for risk of letting the ball “really get away” because there in nothing to stop it from heading into the trees or down slopes to a much worse fate. The long rough places a premium on accuracy off the tee but also contains missed shots and saves many bad approaches coming into greens from being much worse. This is a good area to potentially mix the heights or approaches on a regular basis for variety.

Green speed has made the professional game easier! Yes I honestly believe this. Players now don’t have to have a putting “stroke” they only need to have a way to get the ball on line. The greens are so short and so perfect that they don’t have to think about grain, texture or any other factor that they once had to overcome. Since the greens are so fast many of the really great pin positions are lost because they are too extreme which takes away from the architecture of the course. Greens are now designed or renovated flatter for fairness which works to the player’s advantage. It’s easier than it used to be.

On that note, what is the number one way to make a course difficult, green contour! Pinehurst #2 proved that green contour and the fear of the consequences is the best way to keep the scoring in check. It got the players thinking and many of them played holes hesitantly which is not a way to “go low”. With many of the greens being so complicated, fairway position became important so that they could spin the ball and hit into a receptive slope to keep the ball on the surface. Green contours are what make the short 10th hole at Riviera lethal despite being only 310 yards. Green contours are what keep the scores down at the Masters, not the extra 500 yards and the rough. Green contours are the best defense against the modern players.