Saturday, December 02, 2006

Royal Portrush #5 – Drivable?

(photo courtesy of Aidan Bradley)

At 370 yards this would not be called a drivable par four in anyone’s books, but sometimes holes don’t play their yardage. The day I played there with Robert Thompson, my father and Steve Waxman we had a “real” four club wind at our backs on the 5th hole. I hit a driver, which was definitely pulled, and made the miracle carry over the valley. It bounded through the low whins and onto the front of the green. I admitted to pulling the tee shot right away, but I did hit it hard.

Now the interesting thing about this hole is it is hard downhill, with only a slight rise in front of the green. It is a cape style hole that can be shortened with a very heroic line. So under the right conditions this became a drive and pitch hole. This is one of the joys of golf in the United Kingdom, but also the crimp in my running series on short par fours. I played Baltray’s 14th into the wind and I can assure you it was more than a drive and wedge. I played the 5th at Portrush with a driver and a putter.

The 6th at pacific Dunes and the 16th at Bandon Dunes are great examples of drivable par fours where winter winds and summer winds make all the difference to our perception of what they really are. Both are driveable, or nearly drivable in no wind and that will be the definition I will stick with the list that I offer, which does not offer holes like the 5th at Portrush. Did I mention I drove that green?

The Best Short Par Fours that I can think of

Great Drivable Par Fours

#10 at Riviera 315
#9 Cypress Point 292
#12 at St. Andrew’s (Old) 316
#3 Sunningdale (Old) 298
#10 at Merion 312
#5 at Friar’s Head 330
#7 at Scarboro 290
#6 at Pacific Dunes 315
#8 at Cruden Bay 295
#14 at Gleneagles (Kings) 260
#3 Walton Heath (Old) 285
#17 Crystal Downs 311
#2 National 271

Great Drive and Pitch Holes
#8 at Pine Valley 327
#5 at Crystal Downs 355
#4 at Pebble Beach 327
#5 at Royal Dornock 359
#3 Pinehurst 335
#8 Merion 360
#4 Spyglass Hill 365
#5 Hamilton 321
#13 North Berick 347
#5 at Royal Portrush 392
#14 National GL 356

This ends my series on the short par fours

Friday, December 01, 2006

County Louth 14th

The two beautiful pictures are courtesy of Aidan Bradley his web site is: The gloomy one is mine.

One hole that really caught my eye on my trip around Ireland was the short but demanding 14th at County Louth (or Baltray as some refer it) called “The Cup”. The hole is a mere 332 yards from back tee. While “possibly” reachable with a strong wind out of the north, most players come up short and find there is no recovery, after finishing the hole they realize that it is really a two shot hole.

The tee shot is from a high dune with the hole completely visible from the tee. While you have a clear option to lay the ball back for a full shot in, the dune that juts out at the corner of the dogleg invites a player to cut the dune leaving a short pitch shot into the green. The player certainly faces some inviting options, particularly when down wind. Most players can’t resist such an obvious carry angle, even though the reward other than distance from the hole is so questionable.

The real test of the player comes at the green where Tom Simpson found a natural plateau. This plateau falls away in all directions meaning any marginal shot will fall into, at best chipping hollow, and a worst into wild fescue rough. The green can be very comparable to the green sites found at Royal Dornock where Donald Ross found some of his inspiration. Where Simpson was so brilliant was his choice to leave the natural terrain around the green and grass only part of it. Leaving the unconventional front mound short of the green is the key. It completely throws off the depth perception making the green seem much closer and since it is covered in fescue, it also has a psychological impact on the player too.

Finally the green is one of the finest in the game. It has a series of roll-offs around the outside leading a marginal ball away, but also a clever roll in the middle that makes the player have to be precise in order to have a makeable birdie putt. The green site has all the presence of the 8th at Pine Valley, but without a single bunker. Tom Simpson at his finest.

The 5th at Royal Portrush and my list of favorite short fours:

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pine Valley’s 8th

The drive and pitch hole is the second variety of the short par four. This is defined as a hole that is not realistically drivable but where a player can get their tee shot inside of a full shot to the green. These holes can be further broken down into two distinct categories. The one where taking the tough line rewards the player with either an easy pitch or even a possible bump and run approach. This has become a common modern approach. The other can be summed up as a tee shot with no real account for accuracy, followed by a devilishly tricky approach shot. The approach shot dictates the position and placement of the tee shot by its very nature.

The 8th hole at Pine Valley Golf Club is the best illustration of the latter type of drive and pitch hole. The tee shot is blind but fairly simple compared to many at Pine Valley. As long as your somewhere in the fairway, you always have a chance at hitting the green. But because of the size and shape of the green, position off the tee is more essential than it initially appears.

The tee shot

The fairway slopes gently down towards the green side bunkers and about 100 yards begins to slope hard right away from the green which is tucked in the left corner of the clearing. What becomes very clear when you are over the ball is that you are left with an awkward downhill and side hill stance for your approach. If you’ve played the tee shot inside 100 yards you have also complicated this with having to hit a feel shot into a very tiny green surrounded by trouble.

The green is where this hole becomes frightening, breathtaking, confounding, maddening, and architecturally brilliant. The green is 2,900 sq.ft. in size with a fair amount of contour in the green. The green is surrounded on all sides with deep bunkers. The recovery from any of these is very tough since there are bunkers awaiting anything but a perfect bunker shot. The green is also angled to line up with the farthest left edge of the fairway, which only a true shot maker could find; therefore depending on how right you go, you must hit a cut shot or be absolutely perfect on your approach to hold the green surface. When you throw in the visual intimidation of the bunkers, you have one of the most unnerving shots in all of golf. And even if you find the green, Maxwell’s contours are very difficult too.

The approach shot

This is an outstanding example of design balance; a short pitch to a small green. This is every bit the equal of the 13th at Pine valley; an enormous carry to a massive green and feeding fairway approach.

[authors note: I’m 1 over on both the famous 455 yard 13th and the infamous 235 yard 5th but 9 over on the 8th through the 3 rounds I’ve played there]

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The 4th at Highland Golf Links

click on photos to enlarge

The last of the driveable par fours: The 4th at Highlands once again illustrates the value of a great green site.

Yesterday I spoke of Tillinghast’s use of a small narrow target reinforced by the brilliant placement of flanking bunkers used to defend and define the green at Scarboro. Today’s hole is more about routing and the use of a natural feature to the greatest effect. The green at Highlands shows us the value and merit of using a hog’s back ridge as a landing and a hill top green site to make a sub 300 yard hole incredibly fun and difficult all at the same time.

When you stand on Thompson’s tee the green sits on top of a knoll looking back at you from between two prominent rolls. One is the fairway and lay-up area on the left, where you will be left likely with the ball below your feet if you choose to play short. The right side is now treed (too bad) but was once an open hill full of limestone sink holes (like giant pot bunkers). The next section of landing area is blind, small and would leave a half shot approach. The rise up towards the green is fully visible and full of intermittent bunkers. There is also a small natural pond long and left that is blind from the tee (and the holes only really weak point).

From the original tee

The genius of the hole is the enticement. Thompson was smart enough to leave fairway around and between all the bunkers so that as long as you missed them (and you were accurate) the ball would continue onto the green. It provides a green light when a bank of rough would have caused you to concider the more prudent lay up option. Such a simple thing makes such a big difference and such a subtle and clever defense too. While you see fairway, the approach is actually a hog’s back and balls leaking slightly left and right find positions that a player doesn’t want to be in. Short left of the green is a difficult recovery from a deep bunker. Right can leak easily all the way into the long native rough.

The green is the final touch. Being a hill top green presents huge problems if you miss. Short is not awful since the turf is never short enough to really run the ball away. [That does make me wonder how much more fun this would be with better and tighter turf!] Left is in a deep bunker, but that’s not actually a bad place to be. It’s long and right where the ball is well below the green and likely lost in deep native rough. So thinking of that, you realize a lay-up short and left leaves a narrower angle of the green, with a deep bunker short and a lost ball long. All of a sudden this short little hole has serious pucker power when you have to hit the shots.

The drive and pitch variety starting with the 8th at Pine Valley:

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

10th at Riviera Revisited

Original hole - no bunker

Original blog entry found in the 18 holes in 18 days section:

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 hole a few years back

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?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?

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, "but 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.

Fazio's irresponsible make over

The Hole Revisited:

I always knew the front bunker was not originally there at opening and was added shortly afterwards, what surprised me recently was the bunker on the left of the hole was not there either. I was stunned. I felt this bunker was the key to making the tee shot so dangerous, since this was the side you would want to favor by playing a cut at the green. Hitting it left is fine, but right of the green is a disaster. This bunker keeps the player honest off the tee and makes playing the driver more risky. The other thing this bunker does is further frame the green daring the player to give it a go. I thought this bunker was a key element to the greatness of the hole. It shows the value of making small modifications after opening day to perfect a hole!

Geoff said,
“Thomas and Bell added the far left bunker and greenside bunkers about a year after the course was built. They also tinkered with a few others on the course at the same time. Obviously, this turned out to be a brilliant move, though I would love to have played the shot to the bunkerless green, and often wonder why that hole isn't replicated more often (we tried an offshoot with 12 at Rustic Canyon, with a more exposed and crowned green than the original 10 at Riviera, which was gently crowned.”

Which brings up the point, why isn’t this hole replicated or borrowed from more often?

The 7th at Scarboro

This is probably my favorite short four in Canada. The fascinating part of Tillinghast's hole is that you stand on the tee and almost always think “I can hit that green from here.” It looks close, the bunkers frame the route into the green, and the green appears wide open in front just beckoning you to “give it a go.” It looks too easy to be a great hole, and therein lays its greatest secret, it lulls you into trouble.

There are series of subtleties in play that all add up to make this a very cunning and difficult hole to play well. The first is the hole is a slight dogleg left but appears straight from the tee. There is an ever so subtle angle with the green angling to the left, making the right side the best side to approach from. That was the location of the creek (that was relocated by flooding and creek repair) and is now defined by the out of bounds.

The second factor is the land. The fairway is part of a valley bottom and is full of lot of subtle rolls and pitches that provide for numerous uneven stances. The fairway also has a large roll in the centre (and the hole is so short) that it seems to leave almost all shots inside the 100 yard mark leaving a half or three quarter swing often from an uneven lie.

the great green site

The green is magic. The fact that the green is all of 3,000 sq.ft begins to make this a small target, but the fact that the green is all of 8 paces wide makes for an extremely difficult green to hit. The dimensions are remarkably similar to the postage stamp; size may make it tough, but width is the key since the green is fully flanked on both sides by two deep bunkers. The recovery shot from either bunker is extremely intimidating since it’s so easy to go back and forth.

The back of the green may be the widest point, but even that is a bad choice since the green pitches hard from back to front. No putts are made from above the hole or beside the hole for that matter either. That leaves the front of the green as the ideal spot to play to. Here’s the biggest obstacle of all. The green is 8 feet above the valley bottom with an aggressive false front leading down onto the fairway slope which runs anything short all the way back down the slope for one tough pitch shot.

Width and trouble on the side id the key

This hole is very short and players hit driver most of the time. They knock it in the rough on either side and try to hit into this narrow green from bad angles and wonder why they can’t make par. The green is a perfect template on how to defend par with a green site alone. This is a green site I will use in both my renovation work and my new projects.

My intent is to do a series of short four to illustrate some different ideas. Tomorrow is another reachable hole before I go on to the drive and pitch variety.

The greatest designed hole in golf:

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Joy of the Short Par Four

The 14th at Baltray, made by a great green site

This week I will cover the short par four, the most enjoyable and interesting hole in golf. For the average player, this represents the opportunity to make a par; and for the better player a chance to make a birdie (or better). When the hole is well thought out it should offer the greatest opportunity and a huge risk all in the same package.

The joy of the short four is the options a player has at the tee. They should always have the opportunity to play a conventional safe positional lay-up; but the great ones will also offer a risky aggressive line allowing the player to attack the hole. My favorites are usually the drivable holes where the possibility of reaching the hole begins to cloud the judgment of the player and introduce more risk taking into the game.

The 7th at the Island Club, unconventional greatness

The ideal short par four tempts us to “give it a go” even though there is such obvious and prudent option available. They are like a siren calling us to the rocks. What I love about these holes is the average player will almost always plan the best two shot strategy and try to make the standard par with two “good” shots. The strong player gets drawn in by his own ego (our inherent weakness) to thinking they can pull off the “perfect” shot. The 10th at Riviera is proof that even the Tour players pay lip service to the advantage of a good lay-up; almost all pros have a go at the green at least one day at the LA Open despite that being such a poor tactic.

The key to making a great short four is to have enough elements of risk to punish the aggressive play and make recovery a challenge. While the hole must reward a player who plays an exceptional shot with a clear advantage over any other line, the miss should be fraught with potential disaster. On a drivable four reward is reaching the green surface itself, on the remaining short fours the reward should be the ideal position to attack the pin. What is also important is the player must face a much more difficult approach from any other spot but the aggressive line to make that risk a worthwhile option. Anything less removes the balance of taking the risk and receiving the reward for doing so.

After players clearly understand the difficulty, they should still be enticed enough to take the risk. Starting tomorrow, I will offer a series of examples of exceptional ways to encourage aggressive play and still defend par.