31 March 2006


How much trust do you place in the architect of your home golf course? Perhaps even more important, how much trust is placed in the architect at an away course? Not surprisingly, this question probably doesn't enter most golfers minds as they play their round, yet it can be a very important factor in the success of a round. Granted, there is trusting the yardages that are marked on the course, but often times blame for inaccuracy is on the maintenance staff that can't use a laser range finder correctly.

The idea is our assumption that the architect is telling the truth as to the nature of the hazards on the course. We rationalize that bunkers are at the corner of the dogleg to give the golfer something to think about if they chose to cut the corner. We understand that contour in the green is designed to make for interesting hole locations and angles of attack into the green from the fairway and that leaving the ball below the hole will leave an easier putt. But, how do we know for sure?

Ever cut a corner of a dogleg and find yourself with a bad angle into a green or a nastier second shot?

Ever stand over a putt thinking you've read to little or too much break and slowly inch your aim left or right?

Believe it or not, but architects like to play with your mind. Temptation, of course, is the most commonly known way they do this. We are tempted to carry as much of a diagonal hazard as we dare, and we are tempted to fire directly at a hole that looks benign from the fairway. Temptation, however, is not the only way architects play with you.

Next time you play a hillier course of some repute, take a look at how the slopes around the greens and fairways compound your eyesight. Good architects will make their unnatural grading and mounding integrate with surrounding and more natural contour and sights. Built up tee boxes, or those benched into a hillside, will have their built up slope match the grade of the hill side they were built into and both lines will run parallel. This actually does to things: make the golfer comfortable and make the golfer not notice. Well-integrated slopes are hidden from our eyesight precisely because they don't stand out. We may not notice that we are reading a putt from a sidehill lie. We may think the green is flatter than it is. Our aim may shift down the natural line of our eyesight and right toward a hazard lurking in front of a well-integrated mound.

Take heed and notice next time you're out slapping it around the course. You may find yourself placing too much trust in the guy who was hired to make your score higher.

25 March 2006

A Treatise on Equipment

I received a comment regarding my blog and the lack of equipment opinions and their influence on architecture. I've decided to state my feelings regarding technology.

I believe that they ball needs to be rolled back. I would like to see a return to either the Titleiest Professional-era of technology, or the first version of the Titleist Pro V1. This feeling is probably no coincidence in that it corresponds to the time when I turned professional.

It may well take a nuerotic to pay $100 and use $1500 of equipment in order to spend 5+ hours on a golf course that takes up real estate to the tune of 200+ acres. Economics drive any pasttime, and golf is no different. Golf has a problem - a serious problem. These aren't appealing numbers. Granted, these numbers are probably indicative of a limited percentage of those that actually play the game, but indeed, this higher end is the ultimate cost driver. As such, a simple solution must be found if the game is to continue retaining players (forget growth, let's worry about people STAYING in the game - since when is turnover a good thing?).

However, I also feel that architecture (the field) cannot make a living by demanding that the ball be rolled back. Simply stretching golf courses to 7500+ yards and whining about how high and far the ball is going is not going to help this game. Architects must be more creative, because frankly, the game is getting too big. I feel there are architectural solutions that are both cost effective and land effecient (the two main drivers that the architect controls) and that are fun and challenging to play (the purpose of hiring an architect in the beginning). I've proposed some of these solutions on this blog, and will continue to do so.

20 March 2006

The Jeff

I had the distinct pleasure of playing Jeffersonville GC yesterday with fellow GolfClubAtlas mate Mike Cirba. This course is the crown jewel of the West Norriton Township, PA taxpayer (that's a muni for those taking notes ;-)) and is also a crown jewel (of many) for Philadelphia golf.

The course is your prototypical Donald Ross/JB McGovern 1931 design that, to me at least, gets better with each subsequent play. My first experience with the course was in a High School match back in 1999, right before a Ron Prichard restoration was undertaken. I returned 3 years later after I turned pro and the difference was night and day. The course as I first encountered it was a pitiable maintenance nightmare. I am not sure if this was before or just after they discovered the Ross pedigree, but I would have never even imagined the sophistication of the design then.

The main affects of the restoration were much better (and integrated) bunkering and larger, more integrated green sites. These greens are a superb test of iron play, and as we experienced yesterday can be quite the challenge when fast. The routing also offers the golfer different angles through which the wind will affect play, and with one exception, no two consecutive holes play in the same direction.

While the first nine has many highlights (the short par 4 2nd, par 5 6th and long downhill par 3 8th among them), the second nine is as fine a test of golf mettle as I've encountered in my, albiet limited, experience. The 11th and 12th holes (formerly 17 and 18) are an interesting pair. The first is a long, uphill par 4. The green dictates play of the rest of the hole and its situation is as near to a "redan" style as I've ever seen on a Ross course. The front right shoulder helps feed a low, running approach.

As was our luck, the hole played dead into the wind - placing a premium on this feature. I was able to successfully punch a 3-iron from about 185 out up the hill and feeding toward the hole location on the left side just over the greenside bunker. I should note that Mike hit a wonderful approach right at the hole that nestled abotu 10 feet away, so while this hole has some features of a redan, it's not a true one as the green does not slope away from the golfer.

17 and 18 are a great finish, and the evolution of the 17th hole is of particular interest to me. 17 is a true dogleg where angles are gained by playing out away from the green near the bunkers at the corner. Playing down 18 is an option, but no true advantage is gained as the hole is both sufficiently long with a green angled in a certain way that the small distance advantage gained is not worth the shot due to the poor angle. Interestingly, this hole may have played much straighter or even as a dead-straight on shot. I'll follow up when I do the necessary research.

Jeffersonville is a sure treat, and the price can't be beat (I'm a poet, and the realization has yet to strike me). It's a worthy trip to anyone taking a Philadelphia golf tour as an accessible, playable, and fun sampling of later Ross.

18 March 2006

The Directional Hazard: Messing with Comfort

One of my latest ponderances regarding golf architecture has been that of what I am beginning to call the "directional" hazard. I am beginning to notice more and more that architects may force a player to aim toward a less favorable area in more ways than one.

The first example of this is noticed at Morgan Hill, a Kelly Blake Moran course in Easton, PA. Kelly's bunkering and green complexes may be considered avante garde by a lot of the Philadelphia school pastiche, and some even have a Raynor/Banks-ish quality to them. They resemble a cat scratch across the landscape, and the depth and direction of the "scratch" confound the next shot by forcing the player to aim in a certain direction simply to advance the ball more than a deep explosion shot would do.

To me, this is a very effective hazard, especially in a day and age where the bunker shot has been rendered "ho-hum" by the better player.

I've also noticed some visual deception in regard to direction. The Par 5, 13th Hole, on PSU White (Park, Jr.) has a large bunker guarding the right side of a blind tee shot. Since the bunker is roughly 200 yards out, the better player has little concern for actually ending up in bunker, however, carrying it renders an extremely difficult decision the next shot. Upon getting to the bunker (and looking down the hole for the first time) the player is confounded by attempting to hug the treeline (and OB) right or playing out to the left for a less-than-ideal angle to the green and a fairway area that falls into two cavernous bunkers. It is a very uncomfortable shot regardless of the aim or choice and the premium on concentration and execution is high.

Interestingly, these sort of features tend to force play to the edges, adding a certain amount of "internal yardage." Indeed, a player forced to zig-zag down a 490 yard par 5 is actually playing the hole at a 530 yard par 5.

I like the idea of simple golf features messing with the golfer's comfort level in an effort to "defend par."