Thursday, November 08, 2007

10 Things I Don’t Like - #4 The Predictable Finishing Hole

I can’t think of anything more predictably than having the final hole dogleg around a large pond or having a pond up tight against the final green. When you start to go through all the new courses that you know – check out how many times the architect has turned to this technique. Throw in the fact that most of them are either back breaking long par four to provide a “championship” finish or a shorter par five “so that a tournament can be decided by one heroic shot” zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

It’s time that golf got more thought in the finishing hole. Look at the 18th at Olympic, a short uphill par four with a decidedly tricky approach shot. That was still a great finish despite the fact that it had no water or no length. Winged Foot’s 18th, while long, is protected by a very aggressive shoulder of the green with no bunkers – let alone water. Southern Hills was a wonderful uphill approach to a very tough green – yet so many of our courses revolve around a man made water feature to bring in the “drama” of water at the close.

What ever happened to the notion of a hole that we could attack at the end of the round? I love Troon’s 18th where a birdie is definitely in the cards but the hole is still full of danger if you become too aggressive. Think about all the links courses and the finishing holes. Very few have water except the occasional burn – streams don’t bother me as much as ponds do. Almost all the finishers outside of “Car-nasty” are quite playable with many being downright easy.

So coming back to North America – why the hell has the long par four or short par five become the defacto finisher. I get TPC – because of the tournament – but 99.9% of all other courses built won’t even see a significant amateur event let along the pros. Look at Weston’s finisher that requires a bounce in approach, look at Toronto Golf’s that is largely misunderstood but a great little hole. St. Georges, Hamilton, Westmount, Jasper, Banff (the real one), Capilano, Highlands. It’s time to break this silly notion and design better finishing holes.

Before you point out Pebble Beach is the best closer in golf – which I agree – that one is all natural. I’m talking about a created situation that I’ve seen way too many times.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

10 Things I Don’t Like – #3 - Two Bunker styles

I like the courses that I used as examples - I'm not trying to criticize them - only to illustrate what I won't do. After all, others may really like what they see.

Playing a course is like a journey down a meandering path. It may be full of deviations and amazing surprises, certain sections that are more difficult, others are more comfortable, but there are also many consistencies like the width of the path or the setting of the walk. In nature there is as much variety as there is repetition – and since great architecture comes from reflecting what we see in nature – golf architecture must have some repetition and consistency too.

In golf architecture most would select variety as the key component to creating superior golf courses, but you also need consistency to link it all together. The variety is usually found in the hole design or playing experience whereas the consistency is in the style or aesthetics of the course.

On most great courses, the bunkering is what links the course together. It is particularly useful when there is a transition from one setting to a completely different one on the golf course. The key to the success of a course like Cypress Point is the linking of the dunes to the forest to the ocean side through the bunkering.

I have gone to see a couple of really good courses recently where the bunker work was done in multiple styles. I found that despite some great holes and some really good bunkers, the architecture felt disjointed. Eagles Nest is a really well designed layout – probably my favourite by Doug - but the use of traditional pot bunkers in combination with expanses of sand rather than complimenting each other conflicts. I would like the course more if the one choice was made simplifying the look of the course.

Another interesting layout I went to see was Dakota Dunes - a nice course by Wayne - where I was taken by the natural blowout bunkers that he routed holes around. What I did not understand was where he added new bunkers and built them to be circular pot bunkers which run in such stark contrast to the natural blow outs. You can add an element that contrasts the land but you can't do that when the other one compliments the site - it doesn't work when used in combination.

Cypress Point manages to flow through three unique habitats as one consistent golf course – all because of the bunkering Mackenzie built.

I think its very important to point out that I probably have created an example of this too. This is Ballantrae where the project required "waste" bunkers to collect all run-off and have the water infiltrate naturally into the sand sub-soil as part of the approvals. The rest of the bunkering is more formal creating a contrast in styles.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

10 Things I Don’t Like - #2 Target Bunkers

The ideal bunker is one that you have to either fly or skirt it in order to gain a clear advantage on the hole. When you stand on the tee or in the fairway, you should be conflicted between the advantage that you could gain and the penalty that hitting in will produce. When you hit by or over you should get a thrill and when you hit in you should be terribly disappointed. It should be a bunker that once you’ve hit into it – you will steer clear for a while before you once again begin to flirt with it – up until the point where you hit it in again. This should be a continuous dance between the course and the player.

A target bunker is a point in the distance where a bunker indicates an ideal line but offers little or no strategic value. Many architects bunker the outside of holes in order to make the player more comfortable since the ideal line is so clearly defined – and player like that. Ever wondered why so many tour pro courses have so many bunkers.

Think about this – an architectural feature with no strategic value – something used to make the player more comfortable. I’ve already indicated that the ideal bunker should make a player “uncomfortable because of the decision and consequence. This is how an architect achieves not only strategy – but interest too.

The target bunker came with modern golf – Trent squeezed the landings for challenge – and the next generation of architects pulled the bunkers apart for playability. They liked the definition that bunkers on the inside and outside of the hole created – so they left the outside bunkers for definition. Since most are out of play intentionally, they are simply eye candy or targets. Think about this – there is no need to defend the outside of a dogleg since the hole plays longer from playing to the outside. The inside route needs is defending to complicate the desire of a player to take the shortest route. While there are a few exceptions to their use – in general – they are unnecessary. Throw in the cost to build and maintain them and you wonder why we have so many.

To Part 3

Monday, November 05, 2007

10 Things I Don't Like - #1 Containment Mounding

This the K Club - look at the mound on the right side and how much it stands out from the land around it.

The following series will be about the 10 architectural features or techniques that I don’t like. The intent is not to put down the other architects that use these techniques because it’s a matter of taste. I have spent a lot of time talking about holes I admire and techniques that I would use in my new design work – what I want to do with this series is further clarify my style and technique by explaining what I won’t do.

The architectural feature that makes me “throw up” the most is the containment mound.

The containment mound is an artificial hillock that sticks up from the surrounding grade with no relation to the land around it. It is commonly employed to create separation between holes and to supply definition to a landing area or green site. They tend to be used in groups and quite often down the entire sides of holes so that the entire hole feels like your playing in a “valley”. Modern architecture can largely be defined through the extensive use of this technique.

So what’s wrong with them you ask?

Any course where they are used extensively tends to be very artificial in appearance. Trust me – no amount of fescue can hide these bad boys – they always scream “I’m man-made.” Alister Mackenzie explained to all of us how important it was to create new features that look like existing features so that they blend into the surroundings. Architecture is at its best when the beginning of what was created is not clear from what the architect left alone. The containment mound never blends – in fact it “blocks” out the land or trees beyond making a natural tie into the surrounding landscape impossible. It tells the player that the only thing that is important – is inside the high points. Imagine that at a place like Cypress Point!

See how the mounds block out the trees

But they help me aim my shot.

We come from an era where everything is over defined. If you have a carry bunker on a corner – it says make the carry and gain an advantage. Then why place containment mounds on the outside when the one single bunker defines the hole. It’s the addiction to definition that has made the containment mound far too common. With grass being different colours and different heights – it provides us with clear contrasts and definition of what is long grass, what is rough, what is fairway and what is green. Add a few splashes of sand for emphasis and everything is easy to understand. The reason the feature has become so common is that every time an architect runs into marginal land they feel there must be a limit to the hole when the reality is it can simply blend out to the surrounding landscape.

The technical problem with containment mound is as they tend to flank holes they also collect the water into the centre of the fairway. Often they create wet areas on fairways and lead to poor fairway turf. The common technique to deal with this is to use an extensive and expensive system of catch basins and sub-surface drainage. This is particularly a shame when there was often enough natural grade to remove the water across the fairway removing the need for catch basins and leaving the fairways firm. Not to mention the wasted earthmoving and topsoil stripping used to create them.

They are expensive to create and a blight on the landscape.

To Part 2