If you are liv­ing in a part of Aus­tralia that is drought-a ected or un­der wa­ter re­stric­tions, chances are you could be play­ing on firm, fast-run­ning brown fair­ways this sum­mer. Which, ac­cord­ing to Mike Clay­ton, is how the game was meant to be played.


Ev­ery­one knows it rains a lot in Bri­tain. If you lis­tened to those who moan in­ces­santly about the Bri­tish weather you might even think it rained all the time.

Mind you, no one com­plained more about the Bri­tish weather than the Aus­tralian golf pros play­ing there in the 1980s when ev­ery sum­mer seemed to be aw­ful and some years the only time any­one saw blue sky was when the plane flew above the clouds.

There were, of course, days when it was safe to leave the um­brella in the locker, and when a nice run of sum­mer weather set­tled in it tended to hang around for a while. Then there were the sum­mers we re­mem­ber by a hot Ashes series, burned o, fast courts at Wim­ble­don and bone-hard, bouncy Open Cham­pi­onships.

The Open at Birk­dale in 1976 was so hot Birk­dale’s dis­tinc­tive wil­low-scrub caught fire and Amer­i­can pros dis­cov­ered the joys of South­port’s ho­tels sans air con­di­tion­ing. Bri­tain in 1976 wasn’t built for hot weather.

More re­cently, 2006 was a hot sum­mer; one re­mem­bered for Tiger Woods’ mas­ter­ful per­for­mance at Hoy­lake where he won The Open hit­ting irons o ev­ery tee ex­cept­ing one snaphooked driver o the 16th on the open­ing day.

Aside from Woods’ irons, the abid­ing mem­ory of the week was how burned o the golf course was from weeks with­out rain.

None of the lo­cals cared – the course was uni­ver­sally praised by play­ers who found per­fect turf to play from, and a course where what the ball did af­ter it hit the ground was as im­por­tant as what it was do­ing in the air.

What was amaz­ing, and en­tirely pre­dictable, was the re­ac­tion in Aus­tralia and likely Amer­ica too.

“The course looks ter­ri­ble” seemed to be the com­mon re­ac­tion from those who think green is the game’s only le­git­i­mate colour and Au­gusta Na­tional is what a per­fectly pre­pared cham­pi­onship golf course should look like.

Golf at the top end in the United States is run with bud­gets way in ex­cess of what we or the Bri­tish are ac­cus­tomed to and if you’re pay­ing up to a mil­lion dol­lars in join­ing fees* you’re un­likely to be sat­is­fied with any­thing less than your idea of per­fec­tion – Au­gusta-type per­fec­tion with no bad lies, per­fect white sand in the bunkers and ver­dant green grass. “Golf cour­ses,” said Tom Doak, “have to be­come much bet­ter stew­ards of wa­ter if the sport is go­ing to thrive, but costly ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems are not the an­swer. When a mem­ber­ship spends $3 mil­lion on an ir­ri­ga­tion

sys­tem, good luck telling them not to turn it on.”

This year’s Open at Carnoustie was an­other burned-o , crispy brown cham­pi­onship and one where the most di cult course in Bri­tain gar­nered univer­sal praise from both play­ers and ob­servers.

We are only left to won­der what the Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent thought (as­sum­ing he watched) but his Twit­ter re­ac­tion to a dry and ‘scru y’ Pine­hurst No.2 dur­ing the 2015 US Open is prob­a­bly in­struc­tive.

“I’d bet the hor­ri­ble look of Pine­hurst trans­lates into poor tele­vi­sion rat­ings. This is not what golf is about!”

For­tu­nately a few pros in­clud­ing Luke Don­ald, Ian Poul­ter, Christina Kim, Richard Zokol as well as fel­low-colum­nist John Huggan chimed-in, ar­gu­ing the id­iocy of Trump’s com­ment. But his view is one shared by many and no mat­ter how much purists bleat about ‘brown is good’ the other camp isn’t chang­ing its col­lec­tive mind.

Aus­tralian’s sub­ur­ban golf cour­ses, es­pe­cially the more highly rated ones, tend not to burn o as they do in Bri­tain. We use more wa­ter. Fes­cue, the grass of choice on the Bri­tish links is a cool cli­mate grass (which is why it’s used at


Barn­bougle and Cape Wick­ham) and is much di er­ent from Aus­tralian couch or kikuyu.

Also, Aus­tralians tend to have more of ‘green is good’ men­tal­ity than the Bri­tish.

In Aus­tralia we tend to see golf as a “fair” and pre­dictable game but it was never that way in the be­gin­ning.

It’d be hard to find three more “un­fair” and un­pre­dictable cour­ses than St An­drews, Prest­wick or North Ber­wick, and for any­one con­sid­er­ing a golf trip to Scot­land th­ese are the three cour­ses to see be­fore all oth­ers be­cause they will change the way you think about the game … or con­firm how you see it. Ei­ther way, you can learn all you need to know about golf de­sign by play­ing in Scot­land.

Re­cently I was dis­cussing the virtues of the three links with a widely trav­elled mem­ber of a Mel­bourne Sand­belt club and in the very same sen­tence he pro­fessed to be­ing a tra­di­tion­al­ist but ar­gued all three o er up an al­most ab­surd ver­sion of the game.

Each to his own, but it’s hard to come to grips with the in­con­gruity of the ar­gu­ment.

If you’re a tra­di­tion­al­ist you are em­brac­ing the look of Carnoustie, the con­cept of bunkers in the di­rect line to the hole (as op­posed to be­ing down the sides of the fair­ways) and the odd blind shot.

Of course it’s a much di er­ent game over there. We don’t have any­thing like North Ber­wick or Prest­wick, not be­cause we don’t have the land but if an ar­chi­tect built that much quirk into a mod­ern course it would un­ques­tion­ably be damned by many as ‘silly’.

Th­ese amaz­ing cour­ses are not oned­i­men­sional. There are mul­ti­ple ways of play­ing

them and an­swer­ing their en­dur­ing ques­tions and their pur­pose is to con­fuse the golf­ing ‘en­gi­neers’ who like it best when it’s pre­dictable and think there is a for­mu­laic way to play golf. The job of the ar­chi­tect is to ask sim­ple ques­tions but ones with nu­anced and com­pli­cated an­swers.

From Carnoustie, the Tour went back to the United States and the US PGA Cham­pi­onship at Bel­lerive. It was ex­cit­ing, made by the play of Tiger Woods, who al­ways adds in­trigue and in­ter­est, and Brooks Koepka who added the PGA to the US Open he won at Shin­necock Hills.

Shin­necock re­verted to farce on Satur­day, as the greens (too fast and pin po­si­tions too con­trived for the weather) made golf not quirky or in­ter­est­ing, but just silly.

Bel­lerive went the other way. It’s an out-of-ar­chi­tec­tural-fash­ion course made by Robert Trent-Jones in the early 1960s and re­vised by his son, Rees, a decade ago.

It is green, long, and the golf is em­i­nently fair and pre­dictable and it made for a bril­liant tour­na­ment if ex­cit­ing fin­ish­ers are the mea­sure.

On the other hand, we saw balls splat­ter­ing into soft greens – greens made soft by the wa­ter nec­es­sary to keep them alive in a hot Amer­i­can sum­mer. The bunkers were “per­fect”, with no bad lies – a su­per­in­ten­dent’s night­mare, as tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tors sung their praises and bur­den­ing course sta– the world over with a group of mem­bers who think they are en­ti­tled to a per­fect lie ev­ery time they hit it into a haz­ard.

Ei­ther way, the con­trast be­tween Carnoustie and Bel­lerive couldn’t have been starker. Ar­guably it’s even good for the game that we can see such va­ri­ety only weeks apart.

What is more in­ter­est­ing isn’t open to de­bate – not for me, any­way.

Just be­cause the PGA had a great fin­ish, it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily equate to the course be­ing a great one. Heck – they have had many great fin­ishes at Crans Sur Sierre.**

* Se­bonack. ** Site of the Euro­pean Mas­ters but a bet­ter win­ter ski field than it is a sum­mer golf course.

Course de­sign­ers like Tom Doak would like to see less ir­ri­ga­tion of cour­ses in search of greener pas­tures.

Au­gusta Na­tional can af­ford to be per­fectly pre­pared to be shown off to the world for a week ev­ery year.

A beau­ti­ful mix of browns and greens can be found on the Old Course at St An­drews.

You can learn all you need to know about course de­sign play­ing the likes of North Ber­wick.

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