Saturday, June 10, 2006

Galt Country Club and The Valley Holes

The 185 yard par three 16th, with the tees and green set at the height of the protective levee.

On Thursday I attended the 100th Anniversary of Galt Country Club. It was a wonderful day, where I finally got a chance to play the new holes AI had built a year previous. I was asked to speak to the media and members and this was approximately my speech. Thought you may find the whole thing interesting.

Galt can be best described as a course where the scorecard does not mean a thing. It is a course where position and accuracy are rewarded over length and brawn. I have always enjoyed the opportunity to introduce the course to anyone who hasn’t played there. I’m used to people checking the card and saying “let’s play all the way back”, and “this should be a good opportunity to shoot a low score” I always chuckle and smile knowing the last comment they will make is “this course is harder than I thought”.

I have a long love affair with this course, from the very first time I was invited out to play. I love the way it sets into the landscape and I enjoy the ease in which you can get around the course. I love the fact I can not score here, but I think I should. I admire how so much great golf is placed into such a small package, a testament to a series of architects before me and Doug, Percy Barrett, Stanley Thompson and Bob Moote. I have been fortunate to work with the club and Mark Piccolo for a long time. We have done a lot of small things for a lot of years. A little bunker work, added some additional tees and even rebuilt a the 7th green along the way but I don’t think we really changed much of the character of the course.

The 15th, with the new water course on the left, the fairway at the levee height and the river on the right of the second landing.

A couple years ago we were faced with a project that would change the nature and character of the course. The Valley holes had become an increasing problem over the years and were out of play so often that something needed to be done. The decision was made to raise the holes, so that all playing areas were out of the 100 year flood. Easier said than done, the restrictions and negotiations with the Conservation Authority to get this approved were very trying, but perseverance from the club and Merv Redmond in particular helped finally obtain our approvals. The reason there is so much water on the Valley holes was simply to balance cut and fill in the valley and to provide enough long term water storage for the club. The technical aspect of the project dictated the design a lot.

The original three holes were very open and mildly interesting holes but had no relationship to the Grand River. The architectural vision for the Valley Holes was to try including the Grand River as a key part of the design. The trees were cut down along the Grand River and the holes were raised so that the 15th and 16th felt like the River was in play along both holes. I knocked it in the river on my first play of the new 16th hole, a place I had never been before!
We opened up spectacular views down the river which improved the overall feel of the holes. The club now had a view up the grand on the 14th and down the Grand on the 16th. The water on the interior represents the water course that once flowed through the holes when it was an island. The original concept was to allow the river to flow through once

Friday, June 09, 2006

18 Holes – Day 6 – 9th at Cypress Point

One of the most beautiful and inviting shots in golf.

I must tell a story on this one, my father and I were lucky enough to play Cypress Point together. On the ninth hole we waved up a group up to play through but instead they suggested they join us for a few holes. We eventually parted ways after some fun together but it was pretty cool for my father to play with his current favorite player Mark O’Meara

You stand on the tee and you feel compelled to have a go at the green, the same feeling you have on most great short holes. At just shy of 300 yards the green is very reachable, when you couple this with an inviting stretch of fairway all the way to the right front of the green, it is an invitation to be aggressive. Mackenzie does a beautiful job of tempting and teasing you with such an inviting target.

Mackenzie provides you with all the options, you can lay-up and then play a short iron approach, or risk the driver and be left with an easy pitch run straight up the green. Where he proved to be very clever was how he escalated the level of difficulty the closer you got. Have a go at the green and you could find yourself in either the 20’ deep front left bunker or miss right and risk deep trouble in the dune grass that pinches the landing area the closer you are to the green. Either way you must make one great shot.

The long narrow green is a key architectural feature; it is angled sharply left to reinforce his strategy perfectly. Additionally the green falls steeply from left to right and has a big impact on where you want to approach a pin from. If a player is willing to risk hitting the driver into the narrow throat in front of the green, he is rewarded with a very straightforward pitch into bowl shaped green. If the player chooses a lay-up from the tee he will face the daunting short iron over the fronting chasm to a very wide but very shallow green. Shots long and short are both in deep trouble. Now if the pin is in the front right, you have to have a go because the pitch into the front right pin is incredibly difficult considering how small the target it is and that it has no backstop to help you.

What can we learn from this par four? Mackenzie uses temptation as the key element of the hole; he invites an aggressive play through a clear and obvious reward. The way he placed the green on a diagonal reinforced the strategy of the hole. It is the perfect drivable par four, fraught with danger, full of options and stunningly beautiful.

Next Hole:

Thursday, June 08, 2006

18 Holes – Day 5 – 13th at Royal County Down

The 13th from up on the left dune, looking over the diagonal dune and bunkers at the green.

Royal County Down is the most remarkable golf course I have ever played. All the blindness and partial blindness somehow doesn’t interfere with the joy of playing the course. There are many great holes there, but the one that has the most interesting lessons is the par four 13th.

The tee shot is quite open compared to most holes and it is easy to assume a ball anywhere in the fairway is the correct play. But a key diagonal dune that begins in the right rough and extends all the way to the green is the key to the hole. A player hitting safely onto the right side of the fairway has a completely blind approach over the dune, which is covered in long grass, bunkers and even a little gorse. The play is actually to the far left side of the fairway where the green becomes “mostly” visible. From that point the hole can be attacked without crossing the main part of the dune or it’s bunkers, but getting to that position you must be careful to avoid the gorse in the hillside just left of the fairway.

My favorite part of the hole is the partially blind approach. Your eye says stay left - where the sole deep bunker awaits - yet the easy route is to use the hidden kicker slope short and right of the green to feed the ball in. Why don’t people hit it there, because most can’t get by the fact that they have to hit it blindly over the dune and trust their stroke to be accurate? It’s a mindset that mainly North American golfers struggle with since we’ve used to seeing everything well.

So what is to be learnt? Rewarding accuracy with visibility is an old technique that is largely ignored in the modern era of earthmoving and fairness. It is an excellent way to reward positional play. Blindness makes players uncomfortable and is a terrific way to get inside the player’s mind. Deception and intimidation still make a player uncomfortable and must be used to add challenge and interest to the game.

Next Hole:

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

18 Holes – Day 4 – 4th at National Golf Links of America

A view from the tee, with everything in front of you.

Charles Blair Macdonald studied the classic holes of Great Britain and found the 15th at North Berwick to be one of the most superior holes he had ever come across. He mentions in his writings that there are only four or five great holes in golf and that the Redan was one of the finest concepts of them all.

At the National Golf Links of America, Macdonald set out to find a natural site for his Redan. He had stated that every hole had room for improvement and the Redan was no exception. He was not fond of the blindness of the original and found a natural site for the green that was clearly visible from the tee. The joy of MacDonald’s version of the hole is that all the strategy and difficulty are clearly visible from the tee; what’s even more enjoyable is the opportunity for the player to watch the result from the tee.

The red line is the direct line, the yellow is the bounce in approach

MacDonald continued his improvements with the bunkering. While he copied most of the green’s shape, angle and contour understanding that was the key to the strategy, increased the depth of the “Redan” bunker and the back bunker, making the hole all the more perilous from the tee. While the hole was more visible and inviting, the penalty for missing the shot was much more severe. MacDonald’s version of the feels more of “an all or nothing shot” than the original does, which adds to the fun and the pressure of pulling off a great shot. The hole was so good that North Berwick’s famous head professional, Ben Sayers, called the Redan at the National superior to the original.

So what have I learned from this hole? How effective a defense it is to place a green on a diagonal line from play and defend it with a front bunker. This is the basis of the strategic school of design. But the biggest lesson is the green which places a player in a defensive mode. Rather than playing into a green pitched towards play that receives and favors the high shot, the fall away green requires more creativity and a running approach is the safer play. It favors the flight of the middle handicap more than the high aggressive flight of the great player because they won’t want to chance bouncing in the approach. Finally there is nothing better than providing an option. The player must make the decision to either play directly over the hazard with a precise shot or draw and approach around the fronting hazard using the land to feed the ball onto the green. This requires creative thinking rather than just swinging the correct club.

Next Hole:

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

18 Holes – Day 3 – 13th at Pine Valley

The fantastic approach to the 13th green, where everything feeds left

On a course full of great holes, this is the one that stands out above all. I have always been amused that A.W. Tillinghast claims to have designed this hole. I would bet that like everything at Pine Valley, it should still be attributed to Crump. I think Crumps’s strength was the ability to solicit all ideas from all his friends including Tillinghast, his brilliance was to use the best ideas and combine them all into one vision – his vision.

I had previously talked about the drive as being noteworthy. The drive is to the top of a high ridge that falls off in pretty much each direction. While a crown, the fairway is still wide enough to receive the tee shot, although great care should be taken from rolling off the left side where the player is stymied from going at the green. It is certainly one of the hardest drives on the course because of the crown shape to the land.

The beauty of the hole lies in the second shot. The long downhill approach is to a very large green that runs diagonally away to the right. Miss the green left or long and you are in deep trouble. The player is given two options; make the full carry over the wild exposed sandy waste to the large green, or to play a draw short and right and let the natural contours bring the ball down onto the green. The two choices work well, the green is large enough to receive a long iron, and the slopes are steep enough to feed the ball onto the surface. There are few holes that have such clear options that both work so well. The 13th remains one of the greatest models for a long par four that I know.

What I learnt from this hole was the routing aspect of the green site. Crump placed the green on a natural knoll on the end of a ridgeline. He used the formidable valley in front to create a wasteland of sand to force a carry and then took the natural side hill leading t the green and turned it into fairway so that the fairway banks around the waste area; because of this, the fairway can be used to feed the ball around the waste area and onto the green. Crump has allowed the player to play boldly over, or delicately around, depending on their confidence at the time. No matter which shot you play, it is as thrilling a shot as there is in golf.

Next Hole:

Monday, June 05, 2006

18 Holes – Day 2 – 14th at Royal Dornoch

The photo says more than I can try to

One of my favorite holes with one of the best hole names I know, “Foxy” remains a lesson in the value of selecting an using natural green sites to your advantage. The 14th at Royal Dornoch is placed on a modest plateau, which in itself is not an unusual choice for any green site. What makes it really fun is that the approach is with a long iron to the shallow green that will only accept the most exceptional shot. Anything coming up short is cast away by the slopes of the plateau. The fascinating aspect of the hole is that every approach is possible while none are really favored. Throw in the wind and you have one of the more ominous approaches in golf – and yet there isn’t a single hazard in your way!

The joy of the hole is not only on the approach but in the recovery shot, since it can be as difficult as the approach. It’s a great test of your creative abilities because there is still no standard shot for getting up and down, and the best alternative usually involves finding a creative route along the ground. If you are left, you get an opportunity to try any of the options you feel most comfortable with. If you played short rather than risk the direct approach to the green, the green sets up well from in front, but you still must contend with the shallow green. But if you went after the green and missed long or right, the pitch shot is close to impossible and you now have your hands full.

I did not begin with the tee shot initially because I’m still not sure what play is most prudent. The right flirts with the dunes and seems inviting, and yet the left seems to provide slightly more depth in the green to hit into, but I’m still not sure of the merits of either. I do know my father played left safely left and was successful by running a wood along the fairway and up the slope. This is most likely the best approach to the green. I played down the right for what I thought was an advantage, but my aggressive approach was easily cast aside by the crowned nature of the green. The recovery was tough and a shot was lost to par.

So what did I learn from this. Never underestimate the value of using a plateau to place a premium on the approach. That short grass is often a better defense than a bunker and is likely the most misunderstood and least used of the natural challenges available to an architect. It doesn’t hurt the average players but confounds the good player from the approach through to the recovery. Finally that if a green lacks the depth to receive the shot, then the approach is becomes very demanding - but if short or lay-up options exist that is a reasonable alternative (to going directly at the green) – the hole is very difficult but quite fair.

Next Hole:

Sunday, June 04, 2006

18 holes/18 days - Day 1 - 10th at Riviera

I'm going to talk about the 18 holes that most influenced my thinking. I will touch on each hole and what I think makes them great and what I learnt from each one. I will stick to 18 holes from 18 courses by 18 architects.

Day 1 - 10th at Riviera

the smart line in red, the usual line in yellow

My favorite “designed” hole is undoubtedly the short par four 10th at Riviera. I love most short par fours since everybody has a chance on a short par four. For the average player, here lies the opportunity to make a par; and for the better player, a chance to make birdie.

The 10th hole at Riviera may be the most deceiving hole in all of golf, after all a 311 yard par four should be a push-over right? The hole is easily reachable from the tee which naturally entices a bold player to play for the green. One of the joys of the Nissan is watching how many players try to hit the green, and make five. Even though they know missing right is certain peril and most strokes are lost from missing right, they continue to look directly at the green. The true genius of the design lies in the green itself, it slopes sharply away unless you come in from well left. This is a very special hole, after all how many holes do you know where the longest way to the hole is the most efficient to make a score?

the green falls away to the right

But is doesn’t stop with just the green. When you see the hole, you are surprised to find out it is built over a huge flat wide-open expanse. Thomas and Bell have added a series of bunkers that further add to the feeling of width. The other thing the bunkers do is perfectly frame the line directly to the green. The funny part is the left edge of the fairway, where the smart lay-up is played, looks like the worst option from the tee. How many holes do you know where the smart play is the least obvious and the riskiest play is the most understandable?

notice how the bunkers tell you to go at the green, and look at all the width

The player is left on the tee just brimming with confidence that they can knock it on, and the architect has gone well out of his way to encourage this. You may get lucky with your silly choice and make a birdie or a par through an excellent tee shot (as I did). But as my host, a regular member said, you won’t pull that off two days in a row. Once you make six from the right, you take the route to the left all but a few times a year – if you want to score.The hole has many options, needs a great deal of learning to play it well, and allows all level of players a good chance at a score. This is a perfect hole at only 311 yards. So please explain to me why we need 7500 yard courses?

So what did I learn from the 10th? I learnt that the tilt of the green can dictate position on the fairway. That deception still works in this day and age of yardage. That enticement done well, will usually win out of rationale thought because we just can help ourselves “from having a go” That 300 yards is still enough despite technology.

Next Hole: