I really enjoy playing tougher courses, but they have to be imaginative and interesting, not just brutally long!
Some of the best courses aren’t the longest, explains Rose. Our star man tells us why he prefers an imaginative and interesting design.
Every golfer has their course preferences. We all have certain styles that we favour and really suit our eye and game. In terms of the challenge, I really like the kind of courses we played recently like the Copperhead at Innisbrook (Valspar Championship) and Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invitational) where the winning score is usually around 10-under-par. If you play amazing golf you can shoot seven-under for a round, but if you play good solid golf and shoot even par you’ll hold your position in the tournament.
I’ve always played well at Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses. Memorial, for instance, is a second-shot course where the fairways are wide enough and then it becomes about the quality and precision of your iron play.
How a course is designed and set up to test the best golfers is the big question. It’s normally through the firmness and speed of the greens because that really determines where you can and can’t miss. When the greens are firm and fast, it can make it very difficult to chip the ball close even with a slight slope.
You can have lots of rough too, but that’s a bit more of contrived. Thick and deep rough around the greens used to be standard on the PGA Tour but I feel like that’s changing and there are a lot more run-offs and different kinds of chipping areas now. The ball can disappear 30 or 40 yards away from the flag sometimes if you miss the green now rather than just stopping in that chop-out rough. That thick rough is actually a bit easier to get the ball up-and-down from than some tighter lies, especially Bermuda grass, which really grabs the blade even when it’s mown short. I think this change has mostly been driven by a move towards more environmentally-conscious greenkeeping and acceptance from TV viewers of courses looking a bit brown if they’re going for that firm and fast style.
If you don’t have clever design features then you’re limited to adding yardage to make a course more difficult because the second shot will be coming from a longer distance so the landing angle won’t be as steep and this makes it harder to control the ball on the green. But there’s no doubt some of the best courses aren’t the longest. For example, Merion was under 7,000 yards for the 2013 US Open and it held up really well with a one-over winning score. Stretching courses isn’t always popular but we’re more athletic and hitting it further. We’re going into a 460-yard par 4 with a 9-iron rather than a 5-iron these days, so there has to be a certain amount of length.
Having said that, some of the great holes in the world are often the shorter ones. The risk-and-reward par 4s and the iconic par 3s like the 12th at Augusta and the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon come to mind. There’s a lot of talk about how long is too long for a par 3, but my take is that it’s too long if the green isn’t receptive to the shot you have to hit into it. I don’t really have a problem with long par 3s if they’re designed appropriately, like a redan hole where you can hit the ball up the right side and feed it onto the green – those are designed to take running shots from longer clubs. But any time you have a forced carry and have to stop the ball quickly, I think anything more than 200 yards is really too long.
I love the aesthetics of what Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw do – that sandy, natural look. I really love playing that style of course. I think it comes back to the Surrey sand belt courses that I grew up playing. I don’t think there’s any better golf than courses like Walton Heath, Sunningdale and St George’s Hill in the UK. Pine Valley in America, which is widely ranked as the number one course in the world, has elements of that and is very much a Sunningdalestyle course but on a slightly bigger scale.
When it came to choosing where I wanted to host the British Masters, the course was the most important thing. Walton Heath was an obvious choice for me as it ticks all the boxes – it looks fantastic and it will really test us without being massively long because it will play firm and fast and the layout puts a premium on course management.
Justin Rose is a US Open champion and Olympic gold medallist who has played on the PGA and European Tours for 18 years.
‘Walton Heath ticks all the boxes – it looks fantastic and will really test us without being massively long’