SET­TING THE UL­TI­MATE TEST

Fer­gus Bis­set con­sid­ers what makes for the firmest but fairest tests of golf in these isles...

Golf Monthly - - Florian Fritsch -

hen he fa­mously said, “We choose to do these things not be­cause they are easy, but be­cause they are hard,” JFK was talk­ing about some­thing very few have done, or ever will do. But his in­spi­ra­tional speech about go­ing to the moon is so of­ten re-quoted as it re­flects our in­nate de­sire to push the bound­aries.

WHard but fair Dif­fi­culty is by no means the pre-de­ter­min­ing fac­tor in the con­sid­er­a­tion of the Top 100 list. The qual­ity of the test is an im­por­tant el­e­ment in the de­lib­er­a­tions, but the ques­tions asked by a lay­out must be fair. A key point is that dif­fi­culty on golf cour­ses comes in dif­fer­ent guises. What makes the hard­est cour­ses and tough­est stretches of holes stand out is a re­lent­less­ness in the qual­ity of test through va­ri­ety. Con­sider the mag­nif­i­cent Royal County Down with holes con­stantly switch­ing in di­rec­tion, nar­row fair­ways, domed greens, par 4s be­tween 318 and 475 yards... never is it un­fair, but it is al­ways in­tri­cately ex­act­ing and al­ways, it seems, chang­ing. By the sea­side Links cour­ses will be test­ing when the wind is up, but the most dif­fi­cult of them re­main tough even in be­nign con­di­tions. At Carnoustie, the place­ment of bunker­ing to cap­ture a slightly er­rant shot, the wend of burns into hit­ting ar­eas and the sub­tly un­du­lat­ing greens re­quire se­ri­ous con­cen­tra­tion. The clos­ing stretch at Carnoustie is fa­mously The 11th at Cas­tle Stu­art The 10th at Royal Troon tough and other links tracks have runs that in­spire trep­i­da­tion and re­spect, like Troon’s back nine or the open­ing holes at Birk­dale.

More re­cent de­vel­op­ments, like Trump In­ter­na­tional Golf Links, Scot­land, take the tra­di­tional chal­lenges of the links and add a mod­ern twist. Trump Links can be long, that’s for cer­tain, but it’s the pres­sure of find­ing the dune-lined fair­ways and avoid­ing the vex­ing run-off ar­eas and loom­ing bunker­ing that makes the chal­lenge so mem­o­rable. Cas­tle Stu­art pro­vides an ex­am­ple of a sea­side course where the dif­fi­culty in scor­ing is more sub­tle. Hit­ting ar­eas are gen­er­ous but the re­quire­ment for strat­egy and skill grows nearer the putting sur­faces. Away from the coast Mov­ing in­land, the chal­lenge may vary slightly. Trees can be an in­tim­i­dat­ing fac­tor, as can heather, wa­ter or whins. Tracks like Sun­ning­dale’s New course, Gan­ton, Notts and Al­wood­ley stand out as in­land tracks where that re­lent­less va­ri­ety of test is par­tic­u­larly no­table. These are cour­ses where any poor shot or de­ci­sion is likely to be pun­ished.

We won’t go to the moon, but we will en­joy these test­ing golf cour­ses – not be­cause they are easy but be­cause they are hard, and the chal­lenge is one we are will­ing to ac­cept and one we in­tend to win.

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