Friday, October 20, 2006

Bunker Week – Part 3 – Depth

Walter Travis meant for a hazard to mean something

I thought I would explain the value of a hazard and talk about depth before we take on the concept of fairness. I thought I would begin with my favorite quote regarding the value of a bunker and what it is supposed to accomplish. Walter Travis stated, “The primary idea of a hazard [bunker] is to punish, to the extent of one stroke, a poorly placed shot, and to make the recovery exceedingly difficult, and even by the virtue of the following shot being extraordinarily good. If this end is not attained, the existing hazard fails to fulfill its function.”

I regularly deal with greens committees where players believe you should be able to get out of a bunker easily and advance the ball as far as you want to. If they had there way all bunkers would be flat. Yesterday I provided you with Max Behr’s quote to do with the line of charm. “The line of charm is the provocative path that shaves off distance and provides an ideal an ideal line” The line of charm only works when the bunkers offer enough of a deterrent to make the player not follow the line of instinct. If the bunker is shallow a player will play exceeding close and have no fear of having to extricate themselves. They will also swing the club freely since they have no fear of punishment for missing the shot. If the bunker is very deep, and the possibility exists of losing more than one shot, the player will play further away to lessen the risk. The line of charm may still be very tight to the bunkers, but the player will tend to play further away. They will also swing a little less freely if they have fear of going into the bunker. The importance of depth works on more than one level.

Often because of human nature we find ourselves in a situation where we want to risk the carry. If the bunker is shallow, there is little to be gained but an improved position on the fairway; but if the bunker is fearsome enough, then we gain the undeniable thrill of carrying a ball over such a dangerous bunker. The thrill we feel is very much related to the depth of the hazard we just carried. There is also nothing so deflating as attempting a carry over a deep bunker and realizing the ball came up short, particularly if you know you had the ability to make the carry. Part of this is the realization that we must now make a tough recovery.

Thompson's 12 feet deep bunkers on the 12th insist you play right off the tee.

The recovery is what defines the punishment or value of the hazard. If we can get to the green or have a great chance of getting up and down the bunker has limited value. The need to play backwards or “just get it” out has a place, but is not completely desirable either. The best bunkers suggest we can make the shot, but only the best recovery that we can play, one that may erase the lost stroke. Pete Dye expressed this idea of hazards and the recovery shot, “Hazards are essential to the game of golf. I cannot imagine playing without experiencing that marvelous feeling of hitting a recovery shot from a hazard, or the anticipation of my opponent trying to recover from a deep pot bunker only to have the ball catch the upper lip and roll back towards his feet. This is what makes the game exciting and keeps the players coming back for more.”

Next up the “f-word”:

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bunker Week – Part 2 – Why we need bunkers

The bunker on the left defines the strategy of the tee shot

While bunkers are inconvenient and frustrating to the player, they are essential to the core spirit of the game. They are used, in combination with other hazards, to define the risk and set the requirements of the hole. They are the architect’s most common tool to force players to make decisions and to think.

Willian Flynn describes the role of the architect best when he said,“The principle consideration of an architect is to hold the interest of a player from the first tee to the last green” I can not find a better quote to explain our role. Please notice how at no point he mentioned the words difficulty or challenge! The way we create interest is by careful placement of bunkering and other hazards to creates decisions. Decisions lead to strategy and options, and as Bobby Weed always like to say over and over again, “Options equal interest.”

Max Behr one of the greatest writers on golf of all time had a beautiful explanation what golf architects are trying to accomplish with bunker placement. “The direct line to the hole is called the line of instinct, and to make a great hole you must break up that line in order to create a line of charm. The line of charm is the provocative path that shaves off distance and provides an ideal an ideal line into the green, usually by skirting bunkers and other hazards. The golfer wants the most direct line he can find to the hole, while the architect uses bunkers and other hazards to create risk and reward options that suggest the ideal line for the player, or the line of charm.”

Imagine a hole that has no bunkers, or more importantly any other deterrent to playing directly at the hole. The hole is simply a test of a prescribed length requiring a set of shots to reach the putting surface. Now if there is even one bunker added to the front left of the green, the ideal tee shot is down the right to open up the angle in. Now there is a rudimentary strategy. Add a bunker placed in the right rough and you have a situation where you need to skirt that bunker for the ideal line, and the strategy is stronger. That is the first basic of strategic bunker placement.

The most rudimentary of strateges, flirt the bunker to achieve the ideal line

If that were it, and it is for some architects, then we would all understand how to break down great architecture…but it’s not. Consider Alister Mackenzie’s quote of, “No hole is a good hole unless it has one or more hazards in the direct line of the hole” Why not in the middle of play like the Principles Nose at St. Andrew’s. This may be another of the finest bunkers in the history of the game. The bunker is exactly where you want to play to. Play safely to the left but receive a much tougher angle; play right, risking the out of bounds, and get rewarded with the ideal approach line. That is a superior fairway bunker placement and outstanding strategy. This also must open your eyes to realize that the options and reasons for placement are becoming limitless.

Next up Depth:

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bunker Week – Part 1 – Bunkers in Nature

Notice the height of the lip!

For the architecture enthusiast, this series will make a good run for at least a week. I’ve decided to concentrate my efforts strictly on bunkers.

I have no illusion that somehow someway I can provide a tutorial that will explain to you the placement and depth of every bunker, but I will certainly do my best to help you gain some insight. After all some of the best bunkers simply "occurred" without ever being created and this in itself is a great place to begin.

A lot of the revered bunkers at the great links came to be by circumstance. Often they were small hollows created by sheep or blow-outs created by wind. Some were depressions that were almost natural bunkers right from the start while others were scars that are still there but just kept a lot more formally than they once were. Many of the greatest bunkers were natural.

I’ve been reading extensively about the Old Course once again and the quest for the origin of the Road Hole Bunker caught my attention. I had always assumed that the bunker was added by Allan Robertson when he made alterations to the 17th green. Well it seems that the bunker was in place already by his 17th birthday since it is shown on an early map of the course. It was originally thought that he added the bunker when he did his work to expand the 17th green, but now we know differently. The origin [as I understand it] is the people of the town apparently used to dig in many of the bunkers to get shells and this location was a particularly good spot close to the town. The bunkers depth came from the people’s quest for shells; which eventually was stopped when the golf course became to busy and popular to allow this activity to continue.

Notice the difference in bunker lips!

Even the Road Hole Bunker itself has evolved from its origins throughout the years. Think of the constant build up of sand on the lip and the regular replacement of the revetted bunker face that takes place now and you will understand how much this bunker changes on a regular basis. I have pictures from 1989 where the lip wasn’t near as high, the bunker was slightly smaller and the bottom was not near as deep. They have restored the bunker fairly frequently and usually now use old photos as direction. Each recent change has been well documented in golf magazines for each of the British Opens. The bunker is now so deep, with a lip so high, that recovery is nearly impossible for all but the most skilled. I often wonder how much of the bunkers greatness has to do with evolution.

Now think of what I have said so far, the bunker which I think is the best in the world was not placed by an architect, and the depth was determined by circumstance. Even evolution seems to have made the bunker even more of a factor than it initial was. The initial lesson is to go find the natural bunkers that nature has already provided right on the property.

Modern architects generally bulldoze everything and then build the bunkers into the locations that make the most sense by distance and intended strategy. This myopic view does not deal with mixed abilities or the constant changes in technology. Bunker placement needs to sometimes be more natural and happenstance to make the game interesting for everyone. It’s too bad so many architects don’t seem to see that the land often makes many of the best decisions for you by providing natural hollows and scars to be used in the routing of the course. The reason that Coore and Crenshaw are so respected by their peers is there ability to use the existing site. Just look at Sand Hills many of the holes are designed around a series of very impressive natural blowouts. Bill Coore explains why they routed many tee shots diagonally over the blow outs at Sand Hills when he states, “There is nothing more thrilling or appealing than skirting over an impressive or fearsome hazard.” Coore and Crenshaw found and used the natural hazards of the property at Sand Hills, as opposed to making them, and that is what makes that course more memorable than almost any other course in the world.

Find the natural bunkers first, then start adding new ones.

Next Why We Need Bunkers: