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