Pine Valley's 4th
One of the greatest surprises I ever had came from playing Pine Valley – I went there expecting to be tortured by an impossibly hard course where every miss was trouble. The misses were indeed deep trouble – but the fairways were surprisingly generous leaving the player the opportunity to challenge the course. I found Pine valley to still be one of the stiffest tests I have ever faced – but eminently fair since the fairways were wide.
The European Club's 3rd
I’ve played courses such as Royal Portrush where the landings are very narrow and bordered by deep thick fescue. One the 9th hole I had an unplayable lie 2 feet off the 25 yard wide fairway – I don’t see the need for such a set up. I found at Portrush that each miss was a disaster of epic proportions that day – yet there was no room left for the average player or to deal with the regular strong winds. I really liked Portrush its well designed – but I found the set up got so tight that it presented no options and did not provide me with the charm and pleasure I found at other Harry Colt courses I played.
Royal Portrush's 8th
I went to visit Marine Drive in BC a few years back and was flabbergasted by the narrowness of the fairway corridors. Each hole was walled with trees so narrow that even a slightly pushed or pulled tee shot was certain to find wood. What was even more mind-blowing was the new planting of trees inside those tree lines on a couple of holes. It was a test of golf with very few options.
Marine Drive's 15th - a wider corridow than 10!
I recently played a Gary Player course in Florida where the landing areas were all completely flanked by ponds on one side (16 shots in one round!) always with bunkers and trees framing the other. I’m sure Gary could squeeze a tee shot through the 30 yard corridor but the rest of us can’t. Why would anyone play there twice?
It doesn’t matter how you create the squeeze in the landings – it removes all the options for the player and turns the game into execution. There is no test of courage or decision making – it is a test of execution under pressure. Even the best courses can become victims of a stiff set up and lose some of their charm.
Merion's 14th - note the bunkers away from the fairway
On the same trip to Pine Valley I played Merion for the first time. I loved Merion for all the skill in routing and bunker placement but was stunned that the fairways were very narrow and the rough so thick and high.
It always struck me that Merion was tricked up through the course set-up when it didn’t need to be. I felt the narrow fairways took away the opportunity or desire to try and gain position or challenge the bunkers – there was too much penalty for a miss. I would like to play the course in the spring before the rough grows up to see what the difference makes.