Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Mid-Length Four

Cypress Point has lots of sub-400 yard holes including 13 and 17 on the back nine

This blog stems from EC’s question, “There are hard or as you put it insurmountable holes. There are fairly easy or as you put it breather holes. What are the playing characteristics of an "intermediate" Par 4 hole?” (he did ask more but I liked this topic)

The lost hole in golf is becoming the mid length par four. The hole used to be anything from 360 yards through to around 400 yards. The hole represented the option to hit a three wood or even a long iron and the chance to hit anywhere from a wedge through to mid-iron depending on wind, your ability and the club selection from the tee. Often playing the same hole over the week leads to different club on just about every day depending on conditions.

Pine Valley has more short fours than you think, including the second
a mid-length par four considered one of the world's greatest holes.

One of the recent developments that I have seen is as more people see the merit of the drivable or very short par four – which is a great trend - they are filling the rest of the nine with almost exclusively 400 plus yard par fours to help keep the yardage up “to be a championship length. The hole that is getting lost in the shuffle is the former mid-length par four. Some architects think that at 400 yards you have a mid-length or even short par four, but I beg to differ on this idea. If you eliminate the most elite player in the game – the majority of the outstanding players are not flying the ball 350 yards as the designs suggest. I personally think notion of a continuous string of 400 plus yard holes eliminates too many decisions for all but the most elite of today’s game. I still think that it is time that architects’ ignore them and design for the vast majority of players and make the game more interesting with far more decisions available to the players.

Merion has a series of short and mid-length par fours from 7 through to 12 and it makes the course

So why should this hole make a bit of a comeback architecturally. First and foremost is the notion of options from the tee – that in recent times has become almost lost in modern design. Everything is set up for the driver hole after hole after hole. Boooorrrrring! Once the yardage is reduced down on a few more par fours, the player can hit whichever club is most appropriate whether for accuracy or to play for position. Options like this make the players think, when a player is allowed to think and plan, they are allowed to show their creativity.

Four holes under 400 yards including 3 mid-length par fours, on the hardest course in America!

If the player can play to optional spots on the fairway, it also means they can explore the possible advantages and disadvantages of playing to certain locations and access the resulting approach shots in. In other words they can “explore” the hole to try finding the best way to score. Learning a hole is a lot more interesting than just executing shots. Its time to drop the yardage obsession in the game and get on with encouraging interesting and entertaining holes – Oakmont had four holes under 400 yards and I don’t remember those holes being the weakness.

MacWood's Response to Old Tom's Family

I must say I didn’t expect to hear from Old Tom Morris, or even a distant descendant. Let me begin by saying I have great admiration for the man, and I hope you are not suggesting I am belittling his achievements. As I stated in my previous comments OTM was a great golfing figure, a true icon: the first great champion, the first modern greenkeeper, and the face of the game during an important thirty or forty year period. He also laid out a large number of golf courses, and no doubt was instrumental in the spread of the game. Does his prolific career laying out courses translate into a great golf architect or golf’s first great golf architect? If judged by the same standard we judge Colt, Thompson or Simpson, I say no.

Based upon my research his architectural accomplishments are grossly overstated today. OTM the great-golf-course-designer is a fairly recent phenomenon, it appears to have originated about twenty or twenty-five years ago with Cornish & Whitten, and has been thriving ever since. Today when one reads about OTM’s design excellence you often find impressive lists like this one: ‘Dornoch, Machrihanish, Elie, County Down, New Course, Portrush, Wallasey, Lahinch, Muirfield, Rosapenna and Nairn.’ Impressive no doubt, unfortunately it is also misleading, and largely inaccurate.

Your mention of his experimentation is a prime example of the legend overwhelming the facts. You cite the returning nine-hole loop as one of his ideas. If I’m not mistaken that idea was based upon the returning nine-hole loops at County Down and Muirfield, which we have subsequently learned were the result of a redesigns he had no part in. Was he the first to propose the standard 18-hole course? I don’t know the answer to that question. It seems plausible to me; on the other hand I know OTM was associated with quite few oddly numbered courses, including 12-hole Prestwick and Muirfield, which originally had 17 holes. So who knows? This is the first I’ve read that OTM should be credited with the dogleg. No comment.

Regarding my previous post I was not passing on my opinion, I was passing on information I had collected from numerous contemporaneous newspaper and magazine reports. In the absence of well-documented club records, these contemporaneous sources are the most reliable facts, with all due respect to family stories and club histories. The problem with some club histories is that they are often written decades after the fact, when memories dim, records are lost and ‘big name’ associations are desired. You yourself provided an excellent example of contemporaneous reports at Askernish. The club history had the facts wrong and Kroeger was unable to confirm a Morris connection, but you uncovered the newspaper article.

Where exactly OTM should be placed in the pantheon of great golf architects, I’m not certain. I find it curious that when St. Andrews commissioned two new courses in the 1890s - the New and the Jubilee - they turned to Hall Blyth and John Angus II respectfully, despite OTM being in-house. I think it would be wise to go back and read what Horace Hutchinson wrote about the criticisms of these early golf course makers, men like Tom Dunn and OTM, ‘A man is not to be criticized because he is not in advance of his time.’

By all means we should celebrate the life of this noble figure at the anniversary of his death, but lets also take this opportunity to look at his design contribution in a more realistic light while at the same time celebrating the contribution of men like Benjamin Hall Blyth, George Combe, Charles Gibson, James McKenna, Archie Simpson, and John Sutherland who history has not been so kind to.


Brian said...

I am one of those golfers who enjoys a variety of lengths for the par fours. Anything over 425 is too tough. But then isn't that why you architects create multiple tees. If I want more mid-length par fours, I can always play off the whites.

When you design a course, are you only designing for the back tees and then throwing in a few others or do you not consider each tee block carefully?

Guy said...

I think I remember reading Tom Doak explain why he shies from mid-length par 4s -- his theory was that 390 yards is too tough for the amateur and too easy for the pro, and he much prefers the "half-par" holes.

Although I love the half-pars too, my own preference is for variety. I'm with Brian and Ian.

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