30 December 2005

The Greatest Joy in Golf

This is from a blog I kept a few years ago. Detailing an experience I had in 2003 regarding my finding a "hidden" but neglected gem in Central PA.

To me, experiences like this are the greatest joy in golf.

I was just in the most hell forsaken place on the planet I think.
After work today, I decided I wanted to play golf. Since the PSUGC is closed for a three day tournament I had to go to a different course.
For some reason, I wasn't feeling Toftrees so I did some searching. I decided on a course about 30 miles southwest of here called Standing Stone. I knew the architect of the club and I like his work so I figured I would give it a try.
The drive down was beautiful, over and through mountains and valleys and what not. The course is off the beaten path some, and unless you are paying attention you would probably miss it. The entrance was narrow and was only one lane. The road gave a good view of the course and I was moderately optimistic at my choice.
The gentleman in the pro shop let me out after I showed him my PGA card. One notable thing about him was his business card, which he gave me. He apparently teaches and does trick shot shows. The golf shop itself was a small hut that was no bigger than a back yard shed and was completely seperate from a larger building used as the club house and restaurant.
The course looks like it was once a really good course. Walking down the first fairway I noticed signs of painstaking and futile effort to put the course back together. It saddened me that I saw half completeled projects with the shovels and other tools still lying around. The fairways were long, and very wet considering the rain we've been getting.
The thing is, the design is there. The holes are routed logically, the greens located on good spots and the bunkering, while overgrown somewhat, follows a path that could be challenging.
I only survived four holes before I couldn't take any more. I made a mental note of the ground, and the basic routing from the score card and left. It is very hard for me to see a remnant of what once was. This was obviously a course conceived by a genius at design (Geoffrey Cornish, for those keeping notes) and it wasn't meant to be this neglected.
To most people, it may be just another course. To me... it's a waste of very good effort.

26 November 2005

The Logical Flaw of Modern Architecture

"I also believe to some degree we made this golf course a little bit more accommodating even for the member because we took out the trees, so it's easier -- they have a little more latitude than they did prior to our work."

-Rees Jones, during the press conference for the changes for the 2006 PGA Championship to Medinah Country Club's No. 3 Course

Mr. Jones,

I read with interest your comments regarding changes you made to Medinah's No. 3 course in light of the 2006 PGA Championship. The above statement immediately piqued my interest and I believe it can be categorized as the logical flaw of modern architecture.

Your statement implies that wider is easier. While this may certainly hold true for golf courses you design and build I feel this may be used as an indictment to your architectural ability (from a design standpoint, at least). The underlying premise of the statement is that the more lateral room a golfer has to play with, the easier a course will be - since the less skilled golfer will need more width to "stay out of trouble."

However, that premise ignores a basic tenet of architecture that his been practiced since formal architecture came into being. Width provides golfers with options. When a golfer is presented with options, he immediately has to make a choice as to how to play the shot. The golf course should be designed and laid out in such a way that some of the options provide the golfer with an easier next shot, and other options allow the golfer to make his own difficulty. This set of choices is the chief challenge presented by the golf architect to the golfer.

It is paramount to keep this in mind when designing a golf course, especially around the green. For example, Donald Ross rarely bunkered the outside of a dogleg, since he felt that an golfer hitting a shot there made his own trouble by making the hole longer. Similarly, Ross's Greens are known for the heavy use of contour and their premium on well-placed longer shots.

Ross, therefore, allowed the golfer to proceed around the golf course as he saw fit; allowing him to pick a path from tee to green that suited his game. However, he also rewarded the golfer by giving him ways to still score, despite choosing a less-than-optimum route.

I feel that your statement above sets two poor precedents. That tree removal will make a course easier, and that wider golf corridors will make a golf course easier. Often times, when clubs chose to plant trees on their courses, they would line the optimum corridor with trees, negating the lesser of the options off the tee and making the golfer execute, instead of think. They took out compromises that golfer could make that were allowed by Ross and replaced them with demands.

I think your efforts to restore and renovate classic courses are noble, however, I feel that your premises and logic are not in line with the original intent of the golf course, as you are known to say.

Humbly and Respectfully,

Kyle Harris

20 November 2005

Cake or Death!?

Kudos if you get the reference in the title.

However, for the purposes of this post, it alludes to the choices golfers make throughout a round.

The best golf courses I've played allow the golfer to pick and choose his way around a golf course, avoiding certain hazards, and in doing so, bringing other hazards into play. I often make a dichotomy in golfers as such: Cunning and Athletic.

The cunning golfer is able to think his around a golf course with less-than-average to average execution. Basically, he knows where and how to miss. This golfer scores by overcoming strategic difficulties with thought and often uses creativity to keep scores low.

The athletic golfer uses his execution to make his way around the course, often times ignoring the strategy of the hole in order to play to his strength.

I've found that good golf holes, and good courses for that matter, provide a balance and blend of both personalities in one hole or stretch of holes - allowing each golfer to choose his trouble.

A specific example of this blend can be found at Huntingdon Valley Country Club. With three nines designed by William Flynn and restored by Ron Prichard in 1998, the course is one of many superlative tests in the Philadelphia area.

Flynn routed the course through a bowl shaped area and allowed the contour to dictate strategy and feature placement. One criticism of the course is that it does not offer a level lie, however, multiple plays will show this to not be true. Knowing his half the battle and the clever golfer is given the means to position himself in key areas to score.

16 November 2005

Bare Bones

Besides the tee box and the hole, what are the bare minimum features to have on a golf course?

12 November 2005

Fibonacci Architecture

I've been toying with something I've come to call "Fibonacci Architecture" lately. The idea came from a thread on GolfClubAtlas regarding the presence of the golden ratio (1.61803:1) in nature. Naturally, the thread was about the ratio's presence in golf architecture, if there was any.

The majority of responses were regarding the size of the features, but I started to toy with actual distances. At first, I began to figure there could be a correlation to carrying various hazards and the overall distance of the hole. This lead nowhere, since the ratio would leave the hazard in a place too far or too close to be of any use.

The second thought I had involved landing areas, specifically their distance from the tee. I decided a good starting point from a middle tee box would be 220 yards to the first landing zone. Taking this number and multiplying it by the golden ratio gave me 355.9666, which I just rounded to 356. Needless to say, this excited me, since 356 yards for a par 4 from a middle tee is quite reasonable.

I was more worried about other tees, and determined to use a 270 yard tee shot to an landing zone for the back tee, and a 150 yard tee shot from the forward tee. Using the above method, this gave me 436 yards from the back and 243 yards from the forward tee. Quite a bit of variance but I decided to work with it. Since the hole is in a fixed location, I would have to vary angle and tee location. There would also be three landing areas - but relatively close together if the angles are played with.

Placing the hazards and green came next, and I've come up with some interesting ideas on just that one set of numbers. I also came up with some good stuff using 300 yards from a back tee, 250 from a middle tee and 200 from a front tee.

For me, transfering the idea to a par 5 and a par 3 is next, though I'm not quite sure how to execute on that.

The exercise, while not practical in the strictest application, is good for coming up with holes that have multiple angles and options. When technology allows, I'll post some of my renderings.