Friday, December 08, 2006

The 9th at Jasper Park – Cleopatra

“Oh, was Thornton (Sir Harry Thornton of the Canadian National Railway) ever upset with me! Harry and I played golf at Jasper for the first time together, and when we arrived at the ninth tee he stopped and just stared down at the hole. I had a good idea what he was starring at. He had finally noticed the hole was modeled after a woman reclined on her back (laughing)! Well, Harry blew a gasket! He said, “Mr. Thompson, we have been friends for many years. I never thought you would have the audacity to do this to the Canadian National!” I had no choice other than to make some minor alterations to the hole, to hide the woman’s form! The hole no longer resembles a woman, but it kept its name!"
- from interview with Stanley Thompson found on Golfclubatlas -

That story contains real quotes, but is largely a stitched together account of what happened to Cleopatra after the opening. In the open day photos, Cleopatra is the one hole not clearly shown. Too bad!

So what makes this hole a great long par three? For one, Stanley Thompson lined the hole up with the most spectacular peak in Jasper, Pyramid Mountain. He created a hole that drops close to 80 feet from tee to green. He used a green site that sits on a plateau, that hangs above the valley 20-30 feet further down. The shot is fun since missing right, left or long is severely penalized; the smart play is short and bounced in. Where the fun begins is which route to play to bounce it in. Most now like to fly the ball all the way to the green and risk being off line, but the original intent was to fly the second bunker and use the natural slope to feed the ball onto the green.

This is not a conventional use of land
, otherwise the green would be at the bottom and the hole would likely have become a par four or five. He did a number of things that I think were very clever. There is no question that there is some suggestive forms to the hole and the bunkering around the green certainly resembles hair! While you can’t see a woman’s form, you certainly begin to imagine that you do. His bunker placement is critical in giving the fairway a beautiful sweep left, then right and back left at the green. Very few architects have achieved this graceful a contour. By building up the green site into a plateau, he created a perfect peninsula green site. His real genius was to have the green widest in the front and narrow in the back and straight on to play. The average player looking to bounce it in has the simplest task – carry the front bunker. The aggressive player has to control the ball from going long which is not easy at altitude. Even the green itself has some fantastic contours to make putting a treat.

The green site is the key to the hole, on a downhill slope; he created a plateau part of the way down instead of placing the green at the bottom. This leads to a green that favors using the slope in front to reach the surface. By adding bunkers to get the contours pitching wildly back and forth he opened up more options for the ground game and fun. Lastly instead of trying to compete with the backdrop, the hole falls out of the way revealing the stunning vista in the distance. Stanley was truly a genius.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Redan’s, Biarritz and other clever holes

One of my favorite long par threes is the 4th at Riviera. The hole was conceived as a redan with players facing the option of flying the ball over the massive front bunker or hitting a draw to use the natural contour of the fairway right of the bunker and green to feed the ball down onto the putting surface. Thomas created a daunting carry with the placement of the front bunker, but gave such an open and inviting alternative by adding fairway right of the bunker for the player to use the natural slopes to funnel the ball around the bunker. The only unfortunate thing about Riviera is the infestation of the Kikuya grass really has ruined the viability of this clever approach. What makes the redan so good is that the concept is not land driven, although that makes them easier to build, but driven by the green and approach which can be manufactured in flat land.

I have seen personally seen redan’s by Colt, Thomas, MacDonald, Raynor, Tillinghast and Flynn. Some are not set in great pieces of land, but still play just as well. Flynn in particular used the concept almost exclusively on longer threes since it made most players come into the green along the ground. He felt players would always take to the air unless they had no choice, and only length made the alternative to bounce the ball in a better option.

The 4th at Riviera

To better understand the Redan concept , please click on this link to the previous blog on the origins of the Redan:

The next concept that also is adaptable is the Biarritz. The Biarritz is a concept where the green site and bunkering can be done on any property. The bunker is simple flanking in nature, the green is raised up as a plateau above native grade, and the green contours are the key. Great ones like Yale also have great settings, but others like Fox Chapel (Raynor) are set on plain land. The green itself features a high front plateau, a deep pinnable swale, and high back shelf. The hole is all about accuracy and creativity to find each separate elevation. The interesting thing about the Raynor and MacDonald version of this hole is that they are long just like the original. This once again suggests the option to bounce the ball into the wide open front to access certain pin positions. It also provides options for both the average player and the scratch player.

The Biarritz green at St. Louis CC

To fully understand this idea you may need to read the pervious blog on the origins:
This is just two, there are other concepts that can be drawn in. So as you can see, many of the great concepts of golf can be adapted for a longer, and potentially running approach, so that a long hole is more than just……well…… long.

My final long hole is the long downhill par three:

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The 5th at Pine Valley

It could be argued that this is the single hardest shot in golf. The old tag line for this hole was “only God can make a 3”. At 235 yards up hill all the way with huge trouble short, left and long, and a complete disaster looming right; you have no choice but to hit your absolute best. Every part of this hole is hard. The hole is cut into a hillside on the left but Crump created a green up on its own natural plateau to intensify the challenge. This created a false front further defends the green and he included a strong pitch from back to front so even putting is a struggle. A three is well earned here.

Many of the greatest holes, like the Road Hole at the Old Course, are practically impossible to make par on for all but the greatest players. Overcoming one of these “par and a half” holes means a lot more to the average player than making a par on a on a simple par four or three. The insurmountable hole is important to providing interest and contrast in the collection of holes. It often provides memories too, make a birdie and it becomes the story for a lifetime!

“It is an important thing in golf to make holes look much more difficult than they really are. People get more pleasure out of doing a hole which looks almost impossible and yet is not so difficult as it appears.” Alister Mackenzie, Spirit of St. Andrew’s

It is also an interesting technique taken in context of an 18 hole course. Most insurmountable holes tend to be par fours. The idea of one being a three is fascinating since the player begins the challenge with the ball on the tee and the opportunity to hit one great shot. It makes an ideal place for a hole of this type for this reason. No matter how much trouble sits between tee and green ONE great shot can overcome all!

Why is this hole great rather than unfair? You have to understand the value of the hole first; it is used to apply pressure to the player. Crump has given players limited opportunities to get going on the first four holes and this is the point where he says, you thought that was hard, now I want only your best. Holes like this play with the players psyche, it tests whether the player will try rise to the occasion, or be beaten before they play the shot. Some revel in the chance for greatness and rise to the challenge, it’s these moments that set them apart. Pine Valley is all about pressure, there are lots of opportunities to score, but the apprehension it creates about missing shots is what sets it apart from all others.

What Crump did so well at the 5th at Pine Valley was use an exacting par three to ask the player to make one “great” swing under immense pressure, before he opened up more opportunities to score.

Tomorrow a concept or template par three on average land:

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cypress Point #16

The greatest setting in golf

The tee shot on the 16th at Cypress Point may be the most thrilling single shot in golf. You stand on the tee with the waves breaking below you against the cliff. You can hear the seals below and the cry of the gulls and the sound of the wind in the trees behind. The wind is usually coming into your face. The green sits out on a gorgeous point on land with only the ocean between.

From the tee, all carry, the layup is the left edge of the photo

Your ego tells you to give it a go regardless of the weather or practicality of playing at the green. The tee shot at the green demands perfection. The ball must carry approximately 210 yards to clear the ocean, and any shot leaking to the right ids lost too. The back of the green is framed by bunkers and “ice plant” a nasty succulent that will not let a club get through the ball. Although I must say that the ice plant offers an exotic accent to the green adding color and beauty to the incredible backdrop. You can’t miss left since the cliffs cut in sending another near miss to the beach or ocean 20 feet below. Knowing all this from the tee you realize that you need to be perfect to have a memory of a lifetime. And that sums up the shot perfectly, whether you succeed or not, Alister Mackenzie and Marion Hollins have given you a memory of a lifetime.

The story goes that Mackenzie was worried that the carry was too long to be reasonable and was looking at a short par four for the same general area. Marion Hollins, an exceptional player, promptly teed one up and knocked it across and onto the green site and the hole was born. The artistry of Mackenzie added minor finishing touches to what was almost already all there.

What makes the hole the hole memorable is the heroic carry and the opportunity to do something spectacular? What makes the hole even more brilliant is the option from the tee. There is more than one way to make a par on this hole. Most players will instinctively try to make the carry, even in really poor weather. As shown by the aerial, there is plenty of room left off the tee to lay-up and then pitch the ball into the bowl like green on the other side. The greatness of the hole is the heroic option is not the only choice, there is a route for all classes of player to enjoy the hole.

The pitch shot to the green from a lay-up

Footnote: The only time Dad and I played the hole was into a howling wind. We both lay up and Dad promptly made the putt for par. He said it that was more satisfying than making the carry would have been.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Long Par Three

'Calamity' at Royal Portrush

This week I am going to concentrate on the value of a long par three.

My own personal belief is the architect must provide a full balance in the par threes to build a great golf course. One should be very short, one around mid length, one longer par three, and one very long par three. I have adopted this belief through my experience with Stanley Thompson and the strength of his par threes. I have always held the firm belief that the middle two are the easy ones to develop, but the shortest and longest are in reality the key to a great set of par threes. Eventually I will take on the short par three, because it is easily the most enjoyable single shot in golf, but it is the long par three that often makes the difference from a good set to a great set of threes. Many of the most memorable par threes in all of golf are from the very long variety.

15th at Catarqui, 1930

The long par three is usually presented as the dullest hole in golf because it is used as a brute test of strength over very unimaginative land. Too many architects use this as their connector hole between better land for a four or five. It is seen more as a chance to add length and yardage rather than an opportunity for a unique style of hole or a chance to create the most heroic of circumstance. This can be the most important hole on the course yet I think it typically gets the least amount of thought.

The problem is you can’t ignore this hole type. A great set of threes carry more weight in the quality of the golf course than a great set of fours or fives. Many such as #16 at Cypress Point and #5 at Pine Valley are the best single shots on their respective golf courses. Courses such as Thompson’s Jasper and Cataraqui feature more than one great long three. Architects such as William Flynn, George Thomas and CB MacDonald came up with unique versions of holes like the “redan” to make the long threes more interesting and strategic. There is lots of opportunity and a wealth of great ones to emulate, so why is this still typically the least interesting hole on most courses?

A great one at Hamilton, by William Diddle, not Colt

There are two keys to developing exceptional ones. The first is finding the appropriate terrain for a natural par three of over 200 yards. Often it involves the decision to consciously look for this hole in the routing rather than concentrating on natural par fives and par fours which is a common technique. Stanley Thompson was quite clear when he said he looked for the natural par threes first. The second is take the time to design a creative hole like the redan, a hole with options from the tee.

While I will show you a couple of great natural long par threes where the architect identified an exceptional opportunity, I will also show you a couple that have been "created" to show you there is no excuse for a long dull par three.

The 16th at Cypress Point: