SIX THINGS THAT MAKE FOR BAD GOLF
There are elements of design that encourage great and endlessly fascinating golf. And then there are those things that make for bad golf or lesser golf. Here are some of the more annoying things.
Golf Australia Architecture Editor Mike Clayton details the six aspects of course design he believes can lead to bad golf.
All good golf courses are variations on, and imitations of, The Old Course at St Andrews where the principles of great design evolved over centuries on a strip of land ideal for playing the game.
The ball bounced. Long green grass close to play wasn’t seen as a virtue. Rough ground o the fairways o ered up random lies and dealing with that uncertainty was one of the games great mental challenges. Players were free to play the shots they wanted and to discover how best to play the holes given the shots at their disposal. The course doesn’t particularly favour one type of player (other than the thoughtful one) and nor does it dictate anything much except you have to pitch in the air on the first hole to carry the Swilken Burn.
The Old Course continues to ask the game’s most fascinating questions. It has its own incredible beauty. And perhaps best of all it begins in the town, finishes back in the town and is closed for golf on Sunday so people are free to wander the course and even kick a football around on the big double fairway in front of the clubhouse.
It was everything golf was meant to be and it remains so. There are no closed gates because there are no gates.
C.B Macdonald built The National Golf Links of America in 1913 and not only did he make one of the very best courses in America, he did it entirely by replicating the principles of the finest holes he found in Britain.
Of course golf around the world usually looks much di erent to the original form of the game found on the links in Britain.
It went inland. It went to climates where the ground was soft, taking something from the original concept of the bouncing ball. On the PGA Tour we see the celebration of a game played through the air with great power. It’s one-dimensional and not particularly interesting – something making the professional tour more a celebration of competition and well-conditioned courses than it is of great American architecture.
Either way there are principles making for great and endlessly fascinating golf.
And there are also things making for bad golf or lesser golf and this article focuses on a few particularly annoying things.
HOLES WHERE THE QUESTION IS UNCLEAR
The best holes in Australia ask simple questions. It’s obvious the ideal drive on the 17th hole at Royal Melbourne is close to the fairway bunker on the left because the big greenside bunker on the right of the green and the contours at the front of the green make play from the right more dicult.
It’s clear you want to drive close to the bunkers on the outside of the dogleg on the 7th hole at The Australian. The green clearly opens up from close to the bunkers and like so many worthwhile holes the middle of the fairway isn’t the ideal line. The 280-metre 3rd hole at Kingston Heath looks much di erent but it asks the same questions. You just answer them with di erent clubs and whilst the questions are simple, the answers are far from apparent. Any club from a 5-iron to a driver is a legitimate choice from the tee and its genius is the confusion it engenders in the minds of both short and long hitters. Alister MacKenzie’s great 3rd at Royal Adelaide qualifies as a similar hole of world-class.
The opener at Royal Sydney is a comparable length hole but I’ve always found the question a mystery. What exactly is it asking?
The green doesn’t really o er any suggestions because, unlike the aforementioned holes, there isn’t an obvious place to play from giving an advantage to the well-thought-out tee shot.
ON THE PGA TOUR WE SEE THE CELEBRATION OF A GAME PLAYED THROUGH THE AIR WITH GREAT POWER. IT’S ONEDIMENSIONAL AND NOT PARTICULARLY INTERESTING ...
Maybe I’m missing something but it looks simply to be an exercise in missing the bunkers. Interestingly the old aerial of the 1950s hole shows a perfectly logical design with a line of diagonal bunkers challenging the drive and a green orientated to reward the players who had accepted their challenge. I’m fascinated to see what Gil Hanse makes of the new hole because his incredible short par-4 16th hole on the Olympic Course in Rio is one of the game’s great drivable fours. Few holes I have seen ask such a simple question but oer up a multitude of confounding answers.
REVERENCE FOR THE PREDICTABLE FINISH
So many of Australia’s best courses finish with strong two-shot holes whether they are longish par-4s or short par-5s. Unsurprisingly – because there are so many fine finishing holes on our best courses – many think any other form of finishing hole is somehow deficient. See the kerfue over Hanse’s suggestion to finish on a par three at Royal Sydney.
I’ve never thought the par-3 to finish at The Lakes took anything from the course. If the 18th was the 17th and the 17th was the 18th, the critics of the par-3 finisher would have an utterly dierent view of the merits of the final two holes.
My guess is many would see it as one of the more dramatic finishes in the country.
The par-3 finish is unavoidable given the shape of the land and the position of the clubhouse but would it make any dierence if the holes were played in reverse order?
The 18th holes at Grange West, Royal Adelaide and Kooyonga are short fours but all three ask worthwhile questions of both the tee shot and the pitch. None is a lesser course for not boasting a 420-metre par-4 to finish.
One of the worst trends of the past 40 years in America, because it’s so predictable and overdone, has been to replicate the curving hole around a manufactured irrigation lake. Robert Trent-Jones did it at Coolum as did Arnold Palmer at Sanctuary Cove and they were novel holes here but two is well enough. They are contrived imitations of the great 18th at Pebble Beach and so utterly predictable to be best avoided. Largely they are on PGA Tour courses in America where death or glory is a requisite of television and cheap thrills.
A DISTASTE FOR BLIND HOLES.
Anyone who has played golf in Scotland understands blind shots are a part of the game. The great links at North Berwick and Prestwick were made long before big machines came to reshape the ground and make the game much ‘fairer’ and more predictable.
Sure, no one wants an overabundance of it but every now and then it makes for something dierent and those who would criticise and eliminate, miss the lesson of holes like the 17th at Prestwick (and its direct spawn, the 3rd at National Golf Links of America) the 14th at North Berwick, the 17th at Kingston Heath or the 8th at New South Wales. The blind tee shot at Kingston Heath’s 16th hole sets up the best long approach on the course and it’s more than worth the payo.
The lesson? Not everything should ‘be right there in front of you’.
If you ever hear a pro say that of a course it’s code for, ‘It’s boring and not very good.’
It’s a modern version of Gary Player’s line, “It’s the finest course of its type I’ve ever seen.”
MAKING 475-500 YARD HOLES ‘HARDER’ AS OPPOSED TO JUST CALLING THEM PAR-4S
It wouldn’t bother me if every scorecard in the
country just eliminated par. Just play the holes and let’s go back to calling them ‘one shotters’, drive and pitch holes’ ‘ long two shotters’ or ‘three shotters’.
Of course, it’s not going to happen, but the misunderstanding of the concept of par has lead to some poor decisions being made in order to have this group of holes play ‘harder’ because on some level committees understand they are very ‘easy’ par-5s. They don’t want to make them par-4s (which is what they are in this age if par is measured by how a scratch marker plays the hole and a scratch player – not a 10 marker- is the measure of the par of a hole) because they would, with the stroke of a pen become ‘too hard.’
Of course the hole isn’t any harder or easier – it’s just harder to par.
Too often the decision would be made to alter an ‘easy’ par-5 in order to make it more dicult for the club champion to par.
The 447-metre par-5 8th at Victoria is one example. I well remember watching Bob Shearer crushing a 6-iron onto the green in the early 1970s so making a ‘par’ was hardly onerous. Presumably a committee saw the evidence of the play in the many tournaments at Victoria in the early 1970s and determined the hole needed to be more dicult to justify its par of five.
The result was the introduction of a copse of trees down the right in order to narrow the drive. The hole was still a drive and a middle iron but the width was gone, the beautiful view from the tee through to the greenside bunkers on the right was lost and elegance was replaced with inelegance. Despite that the hole was still a long ‘two-shotter’ and it was still an easy four so long as you hit reasonably straight.
The oending trees are gone now, a short drive bunker was moved up to make it relevant for long hitters and it plays as a par-4 in tournaments. It’s an easier hole than it was but it’s a better hole and as a par-4 it’s ‘hard’.
At Killara in Sydney the 9th is a 425-metre par-5 with a 15-metre gap between the fairway bunkers equidistant on either side of the fairway at driving distance and it’s a really
STILL MANY, FOR REASONS BEYOND ME, STICK DOGGEDLY TO THE UNTOUCHABLE 72 CONCEPT AND MANY TIMES THE STAUNCHEST ADHERENTS ARE PLAYERS UNLIKELY TO EVER SHOOT WITHIN 15 OR 20 SHOTS OF IT.
hard hole to make a four. With the bunkers filled in it would be one of the better holes in Sydney but as it is it’s just silly. The 18th at Royal Perth would be a muchimproved hole for filling in all the drive bunkers, added purely for diculty, shortening it by 10 metres and calling it a par-4.
In the late 1960s the 13th at Yarra Yarra, 10 and 15 at Metropolitan, the 1st and 17th at Kingston Heath were all par-5s but in 1971 the golf association mandated the measure of a par-5 would move from 465 yards to 475 yards.
Does anyone seriously want to argue the ball isn’t going 25 metres further for scratch players – over two shots – than it was in 1970?
I didn’t think so. PAR 72 Just over half the Top-100 ranked courses in the world are not par 72s.
Still many, for reasons beyond me, stick doggedly to the untouchable 72 concept and many times the staunchest adherents are players unlikely to ever shoot within 15 or 20 shots of it. Somehow in their minds 72 is a more legitimate par than 69, 70, 71 or 73.
I would give them Swinley Forest, Pine Valley, Muirfield and National Golf Links of America respectively. Would they be better courses if their par was 72?
Of course St Andrews is a par 72 but good luck selling the concept of two par-3s and two par-5s to the ‘72 is superior’ lobby.
Royal Melbourne is the best course in the country and it’s still a par 72 despite two back nine par-5s under 440 metres. So it’s really a par 70.
Would anyone think it a lesser course for not having a par-5 on the back nine given it would be exactly the same course aside from two numbers on the scorecard?
The last of Merion’s two par-5s is its long 4th but Hugh Wilson’s course has served admirably as one of America’s greatest courses for almost a century. CLUTTER Everyone knows clutter when they see it and there is no place for it on a golf course.
There is no clutter at Augusta. There is no clutter at St Andrews or Royal Melbourne. There is clutter in my wife’s wardrobe. Clutter is everything that doesn’t belong and anything you don’t need.
The problem with clutter is it’s always someone else’s treasure.
The principles of great design all stem from the Old Course at St Andrews.
Looking at the ideal line from the edge of the bunkers into the green at The Australian’s 7th.
Anything from a 5-iron to a driver can work from the tee at Kingston Heath’s par-4 3rd hole.
A large body of water alongside the 18th hole, like at Sawgrass, is too predictable.
The lakeside closing hole of The Pines at Sanctuary Cove.
Merion’s last par-5 is the 4th hole of the round.
The blind shot (from the right) over a hill and the Sahara bunker at Prestwick.