Saturday, May 06, 2006

Routing to Add Difficulty - Part 1

How do you make holes easy by routing, very simple, route the holes through valleys because it contains the ball and propels the shot to the flattest area. They happen to be very attractive and very popular holes because of the natural framing. This is why a lot of architects use containment mounding; it creates artificial valleys along all holes. This is also why so many big budget architects cut all the holes into the land and create to make valleys where they don’t have them. I really hope by now this blog has established that a popular approach, like above, does not lead to greatness, it only ensures comfort to the player.

I wanted to discuss four (possibly more) different ways to make a hole more difficult by routing alone, so that you may understand the value of using the land in creating difficult situations. Once you see the techniques, you will understand more of what goes into creating a great hole in the routing stage.

The easiest shot is hitting into a bowl, the most difficult shot is hitting onto a crown. When a crown is used as a landing in a fairway, it places a premium on the ability of a player to hit a shot. This unpopular technique is one of the best to place accuracy at a premium above distance.

The 13th at Pine Valley shows us that the crown defines the landing area and the difficulty just fine without bunkers. The actual amount of fairway we have to try and hit is quite small, since anything on the edges will be propelled of into the rough. While the corridor for the hole is as bigger than most of the other holes, this is by far the toughest and tightest landing area to find on the course.

The 5th at Crystal Downs goes one step further on the idea. The player has to decide whether to try leaving it on the diagonal ridge for a clear shot, but most likely from an awkward lie; or to try and take it blindly over the ridge to a flat plateau and risk having it roll into the rough in the lower right bowl. The landform dictates every part of this hole since even the green slopes hard right away from the ridge making placement a key from the tee, and going for the green a pipe dream. All this difficulty at 335 yards.

The second method is using the natural cross slope against the player. When the land falls hard to the right, it sets up a natural fade for the golfer. If the green also falls the same way we get have the difficulty of having to hit a draw from a fade lie. Now only a simple cross slope is dictating the shot making of the player.

The first example is so simple and so effective. The 15th at Garden City slopes hard right from tee to green, with fescue on either side. The player must hit a light draw to hold the ball on the fairway and then hit a draw from a fade lie to find the green. Both require shaping shots on a hole with no bunkers in play, just the slopes of the ground dictating the play of the hole. I can’t believe we don’t see this one a lot more, its so simple and so effective.

William Flynn took this one step further when he used a more aggressive version of this technique at the 16th at Huntingdon Valley. The slope of the hole falls very hard to the right, but Flynn chose to bend the hole around the trees to the left. You end up with a hole falling to the right and doglegging to the left. You have no choice but to draw the ball into the slope to hold the fairway, and you must hit a perfect tee shot to do it. Then you face an uphill approach from a heavy fade lie into a green that requires a draw, because he angled it to only accept that shot. This is the most difficult type of hole to play, and a very unpopular hole with modern players because they must manufacture a shot under pressure. Very few architects will build this style of hole due to the difficulty it creates.

Sunday I’ll provide two more types and two examples of each again.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A larger ball - this is a new idea that has huge merit!

This from David Feherty who talks about how technology is hurting the game and what he'd do if he were Commissioner for a day:

"I would change the size of the ball. I'd make it .02 bigger. With one fell swoop you would cure a bunch of problems. The ball wouldn't go as far. It would spin. It would be harder to hit straight. It would be harder to hit far. It would be very slightly harder to get in the hole. On the upside you'd bring a lot of old courses back into relevance. It also sits up nicely around the greens. The amateur player has more fun playing with it. I grew up with the 1.62 (ball) and I remember changing to the 1.68 and thinking, wow, this is so much more fun playing with this ball. For the high handicapper, those shots around the greens are difficult. When the ball is a little bigger, it makes such a difference. There's more of it to get underneath.We've done it once before. I don't see a reason not to do it again"

Absolutely the most brilliant idea I have heard to date.

Routing a Course

The 5th hole at Crystal Down, a hole only an architect as good as Mackenzie could find

Routing a golf course is a very subjective skill. Most architects have their own preferences to what they think makes a great hole and in turn the composition of holes that make a great routing. No two architects think alike. No two players appreciate the same routing either.

The architect’s job of routing usually revolves around the natural features available on the property. Architects, or at least this architect, are always looking for natural undulation since it produces the best “natural” holes. Great use of undulation has more effect on the quality of a hole than the careful placement of hazards. This is so important I’m going to repeat it; great use of undulation has more effect on the quality of a hole than the careful placement of hazards. The architect’s job is to use all the available topography to get the best collection of holes possible. Occasionally one exceptional hole must be abandoned to get a series of better holes or to find the best flow for the golf course. Why, because one great hole does not make a great golf course.

The wild a short par four 17th.

An architect starts out by identifying the best sites available for “natural” holes. The best sites for greens such as plateaus, natural bowls, or locations natural framed by features found are immediately identified on the site walk. Ideally the architect can find a string of holes that they can follow in a logical sequence, and this usually helps to start the process. The rest is an exercise in laying out holes, testing a sequence and laying out more holes till a natural progression finally appears on the routing plan. The routing plan is massaged through many options which are tested until the architect finds the best routing. Immediately the architect heads out into the field to test the routing and the process begins again. This continues until the architect walks a routing where they know they have the best collection of holes. The next walk is to plan the strategies and feature work to make the best individual holes. The

What many don’t see or understand in the process is the small things that make a big difference. The long vistas off site that can be “borrowed” or a stunning view found right on the property is easily taken for granted by the player. These are identified early and planned for by the architect. Unless the property is exceptional, the architect will have to use connector holes between the natural holes to find the best routing. Almost every course has a connector or series of connectors, even Pacific Dunes and Friar’s Head has them. Anyone can design a hole that sits naturally in the landscape waiting to be discovered, the great architects are the ones that can hide the connectors within the routing so that you can’t find them.

Part 2 Tomorrow – routing to add difficulty or playability

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Technology overwhelming architecture - Part 2 - The Result?

At 126 yards, the postage stamp is proof that length and difficulty are not related.

Technology killed tennis – will golf be next? Tennis is nowhere near as popular a game as it used to be. Why, because technology changed the game to a point where watching the sport became dull. The change in (racket) technology replaced shot making with the power game. Professional golf has gone through a similar transition. When people stopped watching professional tennis, the participation dropped and has never recovered. Interestingly, participation in golf began to decline the same year the power game began to dominate men’s golf.

Technology is impacting the way we play, but the problems of technology run much deeper than that. While it does matter that we no longer can relate to the play of the professionals, it matters much more to us that technology is changing the economics of the game. Technology in golf is pushing the cost of the game up dramatically, and creating a situation where people can’t afford to play.

Does this affect architecture? Whenever the issue of challenging the impact of technology comes up, the solution always seems to be adding length to retain difficulty. Look at the professional tour – each new course is longer than the last, and much of our great architecture is being dismantled just for length. The problem with building longer and longer courses is that it increases the acreage required, increases the costs of acquiring the land, increases the cost of the build, increases the cost to maintain, and ultimately increases the cost to player. The longer the courses get, the more expensive the game becomes, the less people can afford to play it.

But the problem is not just with the equipment. It lies also with the reluctance of designers and owners to challenge this direction. Everyone has become scared to build a golf course less than 7,000 yards because it will not be a “Championship” test. As Tim Morghan from the USGA suggested at a meeting I recently attended, why don’t we just ignore the elite 1% of the game and build shorter courses for the people who really play the game. I spent Tuesday trying to convince a potential new client to build less than 6,800 yards to meet the real demand in golf and to keep his costs down for a more economical project.

The argument is if we remove length from our design palette, then we’re left with short courses that can’t defend themselves. Until very recently Pine Valley, Merion, Myopia Hunt and Cypress Point all were less than 6,600 yards and they are considered to be among our very best courses. Merion and Pine Valley are two of the hardest courses I have ever played and length is not a key factor to the difficulty of either.

So what can an architect do to add difficulty without adding length? Remember we also want playability so I’m going to ignore the idea of island greens, more water, forced carries, long rough, fescue and fast greens. That puts me at odds with the current trend, doesn’t it?

Part 3 - Defending Without Length:

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Technology overwhelming architecture, Part 1 – The problem.

This is nothing new Harry Colt was one of the first architects who had to deal with the huge changes brought about by the Haskell Ball. Colt altered and expanded many great courses to compensate for the greater distances golfers achieved with the rubber-cored golf ball.

The Golden Age architects saw the problems coming. As they saw the distances of equipment increase, they realized their strategies that were so carefully laid out were in jeopardy. The also recognized that the variety that they so carefully laid out within the round would be lost on lengthening. It is interesting to read the comments of AW Tillinghast, when Tom Fazio was recently praising him for building “intentional elasticity” into his layout at Winged Foot.

“…the fetish of distance is worshipped entirely too often and there should be a quick end to it.” – AW Tillinghast"

Alister Mackenzie was never a strong player and recognized that golf was a game dominated by the dub (that phrase has been used by many of the Golden Age architects to represent a high handicapper). He felt that he was more than capable of testing the good player, while providing an enjoyable test for the average player, as long as the distance between both players’ games stayed reasonable. What he recognized very early was that the gulf between skill levels and distance requirements for both was growing too vast for architects to deal with.

“Something very drastic ought to have been done years and years ago. Golf courses are becoming too long.” – Alister Mackenzie

It was the father of modern architecture who was smart enough to see where we were going long before we got there. William Flynn is one of the greatest tacticians golf architecture has ever seen. He understood the strategies and shot making required to test the best players, and wrote about this extensively. Some of his brilliant ideas will come up in tomorrow’s blog. He realized with the change in technology of clubs and balls that to getting players to “hit every club” (theoretically) would require the back tees to be pushed back to enormous lengths to accomplish this.

“All architects will be a lot more comfortable with the powers that be in golf solve the ball problem. A great deal of experimentation is now going on and it is hoped that before long a solution will be found to control the distance of the elusive pill. If, as in the past, the distance to be gotten with the ball continues to increase, it will be necessary to go to 7,500 and 8,000 yard courses and more yards mean more acres to buy, more course to construct, more fairways to maintain and more money for golfers to fork out.” – William Flynn

He was also smart enough to see that the economic fall too. I was talking with Rick Phelps about distance a few year back when he was teaching me about the gains made on the ball by elevation. I asked a simple question of how do you plan the course for the back tees (8,500 yards) and still provide a similar challenge or game for the shorter tees (5400 yards). He was frank (which I like about Rick) and said you can’t. So how do you design to a widening gulf between skills levels. Tim Morghan from the USGA might have been right when he said “Don’t, ignore the best 1% and the game will be better for it”

The biggest problem architects have is designing around a moving target. Most of golf architecture is based upon distances. Whether is it the use of carry bunkers at the crucial decision distance that create risk and reward or the measured placement of landing areas to set up a hole or bring the natural contour into the design. Distances are important to great architecture, particularly on average or flat sites where the land can’t assist us in dealing with change.

Here’s a great example. Look at Pine Needles where the tee shots once landed into the upslope of the crowned fairways leaving a long iron; they became pushovers when tee shots carried the plateau and got a boost from the down slope on the other side. That’s what architects are facing. Carefully laid out strategies and placement of features are overrun by technology. I’ll give Jay Morrish the last word.

“I’m just trying to figure out where to put the bunkers on today’s courses. I don’t think lengthening existing courses is the key and it just plays into the hands of long hitters like Tiger Woods. I think the only way to challenge them is with angles and placing the bunkers out there long where they hit those drives.
The problem is technology. It’s hard to think fast enough to stay ahead of how far the golf ball goes today. It’s a guessing game and very difficult to uphold the old standards of making golf courses that will make you hit all 14 golf clubs. We are going the wrong direction as far as the long golf ball and it’s a sad situation.” – Jay Morrish

Part 2:

Monday, May 01, 2006

The One that Got Away

The par five 11th, lots of width and lots or rock.

I will not identify the site, since this project is still a possibility, but the likelihood is now very small.

I was asked to get involved with a group to look at the purchase and development of this site. The site is a very large quarry in an ideal location for golf. I’ve seen some great sites through my time at Carrick Design, but I consider this better than all of those. What made the site so special was how all 18 holes would fit entirely inside the quarry. Imagine playing 18 holes off of the top of the quarry, along side the quarry walls, or right into the quarry faces for the entire round. Very few courses can match that drama, and it all of it was natural!

The short par four 8th, over the corner of the lake and the quarry wall, with25 feet of wall in behind.

I was very proud of my routing. I took a great deal of care to weave the holes down into the quarry bottom, through the maze of exposed quarry walls, around the two natural lakes, through the collection of enormous dune like spoil piles, and finally along the miles of quarry faces. I used the internal elevation changes to maximum advantage, providing numerous high tees that looked over multiple holes; yet the course was easily walked. I carefully mixed the par threes from 140 yards to a plateau, to a 235 yard downhill side hill redan. The par fours ranged from 470 to 315 yards touching all yardages in between. I stuck to my desire to have many short fours; one was a very drivable 315 yard hole on the back nine, and there was a cape hole of only 350 yards on the front nine where the green could also be challenged. Adding another at 370 yards and I had three par fours under 370 from the back tees! The par fives ranged from a long 590 yards playing into a quarry end, down to a very reachable 500 yards that was very uphill on the second shot hugging the quarry walls all the way along. Holes played downhill, uphill, side hill; the green sites were completely flat to the grade, up on natural plateaus and even two high in the air to maximize the mixture of approaches. There was a natural punchbowl, a redan, a fall away green site all sitting in the land looking to be used. I was fairly certain that this project could be my “career maker” because I knew I had the routing and the site to do it. But I guess that’s a familiar story in this business.

The 350 yard 5th, a cape around the lake, were you can go directly at the green.

What I have posted is some of the images I had done to show what the project would look like. We used them to secure the investors to finance the project, but unfortunately lost the project because another competing bid was higher for the property. This caught us completely off guard, since we were not fore warned, and it upset me a lot when this turn of events came about. I have been reluctant to post about this project or any other project that I’m working on until they become real projects.

I have spoken to a series of people looking to build new holes, and I have a couple of great prospects, but I’ve been through this enough times to wait until I have project that is going to happen. I will post announcements when things are confirmed, but not until then, that’s my personality I guess.