Friday, December 29, 2006

I won’t ever Build….A Double Green or Island Green

Island Greens

The 17th at the TPC at Sawgrass is one of the greatest holes ever developed in golf. It is also one of the worst concepts ever to be copied by architects. Admittedly this idea actually goes back to Herbert Strong at Ponte Vedra Golf Club and Pete’s version was not the first – but it is the ultimate version of the idea. As a one off, the 17th is an exceptional hole and ideal for the tournament format it serves. It teaches us a lot about nerves, psychology and finally shows us a way into the players head; and not just for that hole, but the entire round. Think about how much the impact would be reduced if the hole were the 3rd or 4th.

Now let’s look at the island green as a concept. The concept has no recovery unless the island is expanded beyond the green perimeter – although even that is semantics to me. Every shot is either hit or miss the island – not long on options is it? Think about this, the approach shot is a forced carry. The approach shot has no safe play or alternative route to reach the green surface by skirting around trouble. A player could easily find themselves in a position where they can not finish the hole and potentially the round! All the great holes that I have shown you over this year have at least the opportunity to recover – this is one of the few exceptions in architecture (architorture?). My personal belief is that recovery is a key component of the game. There is a fine line between extremely difficult and unfair – and this crosses “my” line.

I played in an event this spring that involved an island green on a private course in North Carolina. Most of us picked up after a couple balls in the water. How is that fun on a daily basis for the average player? As much as I enjoyed the 17th at TPC, the thought of playing it daily is dreadful. It works well as a resort experience, given the circumstance of the annual TPC Championship.

Double Greens

Yes they work at St. Andrew’s to create one of the greatest experiences in golf.

OK, now name a second course where it doesn’t feel forced as a concept? I can offer you lots of examples of double greens, but each one seems even more contrived than the last – doesn’t it.

The concept is fraught with problems and compromises that leads to mediocrity. The concept opens up all sorts of liability issues that should be avoided at all costs, so the only way to overcome this is to make adjustments for safety. One method is a huge green, but the expense of this is too much with the modern conditioning and water requirements. The second method is to bring the holes in on opposite lines or create enough distance to separate the approach shots but over clubbing and skulling will bring safety back to the forefront. The last is to keep the green joined but “seperate” the green into two distinct areas through grading and using bunkers in between, but these look incredibly unnatural and forced. No matter what anyone has tried to date the results are less than what two greens could have accomplished.

The double greens at Grand Cypress, I've seen this concept at least 20 times!

So why does St. Andrew’s work? There are very few settings that have enough scale to allow that large a feature to blend in; it’s the vistas and space at St. Andrew’s that make them fit. The greens are so massive that the risk of being hit is minimized, and many greens encourage a ground approach by there very nature and conditioning. The main reason it works well there is history – we all accept it as the way it has always been – but we can’t borrow that sense of history when we copy the concept; it must stand on its own merits and that’s why the concept almost always fails.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I won’t ever build.....A Split Fairways

The 9th at Kinloch an expensive concept that doesn't work

This is a short week so I’ll concentrate on two ideas that I won’t use and why.
The first is a split fairway.

From Riviera’s famous 8th, through to the 7th at Valhalla (used for the PGA), there are many examples to choose from. While modern golf has tried to present this concept numerous times as a source of option, I can’t think of any example where I see the need in having a “full” second option. The problem is that all these holes have a smarter route and good players play the percentages.

The 8th at Riviera, why would you ever go left off the tee?

When we look at the 8th hole at Riviera, the left fairway has a tough tee shot that must be shaped to find the fairway which is full of great undulation. When the Fazio team "returned" the right fairway, the tee shot required no shaping of the shot and further encouraged the player with a flatter landing. There is no reason for the PGA players to play to the left any more. Riviera has also lost one of the best tee shots on the course as a result!

The 7th at Valhala, when you can get home going right, why would you go left ever?

The 7th at Valhalla is the ultimate strategic dog. The left side alternative was to an island in a lake where anything but the perfect shot was a disaster. Nicklaus got rid of the lake and replaced it with an island of fairway surrounded by sand (as the image shows), because nobody during the PGA tried the island route. Why doesn’t it work? There is no reward for making the shot. Right allows the player to play around the trouble, with the only real loss being length. Players are less likely to be able to get home in two, but with all the length some have this is still possible! There is far too much risk going left for so little reward, and in this case the smart play is truly the only play. Everyone went around during the PGA – even Tiger.

Even Walter Travis drew plans where the fairway alternated like stepping stones with rough in between. The idea is that players play conservative or aggressively to each island in order to gain an advantage on the hole. There are two problems with this concept. Wind ruins this concept by making carries unreasonable or too easy. More importantly it penalizes the average player far more than a strong player since they may be forced to lay-up to avoid rough on “any” shot. Even a few modern courses are based upon this concept, and all they do is increase the number of forced carries that a player has to deal with, since most like Kinlock have a creek in between.

The argument for the concept I expect to get:
I know people will point to the 15th at Pine Barrens and say that hole definitely works. What they miss is this is not a split fairway. This is a short route and a safe route, which is not quite the same as a "full" alternative fairway. Fazio offered a direct and risky line "to the green" and a safe play for everyone else. This concept works because the risk and the reward are a "fair choice"; and a play at the small approach fairway is actually a play for the green.
Another example you might suggest is the use of a diagonal line of bunkers that split the fairway. The 2nd landing at the 13th at Osprey Valley Heathlands is a great example. There players can avoid the carry by playing low and to the right, or gamble to make the carry for an an easier approach to the green. This is not a split fairway either, but an overlap in the fairway extensions reinforcing the risk and reward strategy of carrying the bunkers. And yes there is a difference.

I have player numerous courses with split fairways and not one of them was near as interesting or "playable" as a hole with a central hazard. That hole takes on the elite player and adds playability to the average player; isn’t that a much better option?