24 February 2006

A Corollary to Ian

The Caddy Shack: Why a blog about being a golf course architect?

The above is the latest blog entry by fellow GCAer and Canadian Golf Architect Ian Andrew. I was struck by his thoughts on his role in architecture, namely:

"I believe a golf course architect's job is not to define a series of difficult tasks, but to make the game as interesting and fun as he can."

I like that, and I feel it draws a neat parallel to my own definition of the golf architect's purpose. The golf architect is charged with posing a series of questions which the golfer can answer. The course's challenge comes not in asking impossible questions, but asking questions which engaged the golfer's abilities to their maximum level. To me, this leaves golfers of all abilities with something to "contribute" to the answer.

A cape hole, for example, may pose the question, "How much of me can you challenge?" Every golfer has a different answer to the question, and each answer yeilds a different question on the next shot.

14 February 2006

Why are tees always built up?

Why do tees get put up on pedestals of ground?

Not only does this look unnatural to me, it also plays unnaturally. Sure, I can understand a little bit of elevation to keep the tee above surface water flow, but is 4 feet of elevation change really necessary for that? Also, since it IS a teeing ground, and the golfer is given the option of improving his lie with a tee or by picking the best spot of ground, I would imagine the tee can afford to be in less-than-optimum condition.

Tee boxes seem to be in one of two locations: flat ground, or benched from a hillside. For the latter example, we often see the box built up on one end so it can match grade with some aspect of the slope.

For example: The tee box on the Par 3 4th at Manufacturers' Golf and Country Club, Oreland, PA shown to the left. This is the response to a tee box being built on severely sloping ground, and the green and hole in general dictated the placement of the tee box here. While it may not be the most natural look thing (let's not fool ourselves, random flat shelves of land don't protrude naturally from rolling Pennsylvania hillsides) it is an example of the architecture following the function of the hole. Also note (click on the image for a larger view) how the slope built up to the left MATCHES the grade in front of the tee.

In the more egregious category comes the new tee box on the 13th hole of PSU's White Course. The tee shot on the hole from the old tee (now the back tee) is blind. The 13th being a long downhill par 5 with the crest of the hill positioned in just the right distance from the back tee to make the landing area blind. A new forward tee was built that puts the golfer on a 5 foot high stage, laying the hole out in front of the player - no more blindness, at least I'm assuming that to be the purpose for the height of the new tee box. Functionally, I find this less-than-ideal - as the blind tee shot was used to set up strategic decisions later on in the hole. Aesthetically, the rectangularly symmetric pimple of a tee box looks awful. While I recognize the need and desire for a larger teeing ground, I don't quite understand why several cubic yards of dirt were wasted on this enterprise just for the sake of sight lines down the hole.

While this may be a greater indictment of the growing golf culture for "everything right out in front of you" golf courses, and as such, the natural "form follows function" progression from there - I would think that simple aesthetic taste would ultimately win the day. Both my examples certainly aren't natural in appearance, but there is a limit between elegant and over-the-top.

As a corollary to all this, I just started a thread on www.golfclubatlas.com about the conditioning of tee boxes and their ultimate importance on the game. Is the sacrifice of tee conditioning worth the more playable and elegant grade level tee?