The 4th at Bandon Dunes
I was at a course a few weeks ago where one of the best holes on the course drops around 60 feet from the tee down into a beautiful valley and then doglegs to the left around a stand of mature pines and oaks. The club was quite convinced that the green must have been visible - when built in the 1920’s - from the tee and that trees had encroached and taken away a beautiful view of the entire hole.
In today’s day and age of golf design, it’s pretty rare to find an architect would present a hole in this manner. In fact in this world of “comfort” architecture – the main overriding philosophy is putting everything in front of player right from the tee so they can see it and understand the strategies. The idea of unveiling a hole a shot at a time is rare since this type of hole isn’t quite as photographic as a hole that unveils itself slowly. This MTV style attention span has spread to golf too – and people simply want it all and want it now – even in golf design. One of the great losses because of this is the near disappearance of a technique called compression and release.
What is compression and release? Compression is when you find yourself in a location that is narrow, very clear defined with no long views. To excellent examples are playing out of a chute of trees or playing a tee shot from a tee surrounded by higher dunes on either side. You don’t have a feel for the landscape around and only feel the edges on the landscape that you are “with-in.” In these situations you find that the golf hole is the clear single focus. The release is felt when you exit that space to a wider area with a long horizon. You immediately feel the expanse of the space around you and tend to look anywhere but at the hole. It’s actually an instinctive reaction to the change – but a fascinating aspect that can be exploited to have a larger impact on a setting you want to feature.
The 4th at Bandon Dunes is a wonderful example where David Kidd takes you between the dunes and out to the landing area. When you get there you find yourself well above the 4th green with a wide open view down the coast. You can’t help but be humbled by that experience and it takes you a while to really take in the green, since your busy admiring the stunning Oregon coastline. David did this intentionally so you’re your first look at the ocean would be as dramatic as possible. The technique he used is compression (down between the dunes) and release (having as wide a view as you get anywhere on the course).
The hole I saw works on the same principle but on a far more subtle level. The tee shot is into a clearly defined tree lined valley that feels tighter than it really is because of the elevated tees and angle. You walk down to the landing area and look to the left to see a spectacular green set up on a natural hogs back. The valley is wider, the clearing is more extensive, and looking from below widens the perspective of the view. You are stunned by the beauty of the green site but also taken back by how beautiful this glade is and how much of the natural undulations of the land that you nw can see. This too is compression and release but a far more subtle version.