Friday, January 19, 2007

The 10th at Pine Valley

A great photo by David Scaletti

I think you might want to take an unplayable” was the caddy’s response to the tee shot sailing in the front bunker. “What are you talking about, I know where it is” was the response of the player. “You’ll wish you didn’t.” was the deadpan response of the caddy as we headed to the green.

The tee shot is downhill slightly, across a valley, to a natural rise about 140 yards away. Crump excavated around the rise to surround the green with deep bunkering and placed the fill on the green site to create an elevated plateau. When you look from the tee, all you see is the plateau green surrounded by sandy waste in every direction. From the tee you immediately have a nasty mixture of open sand and scrub, around the green is all groomed and open for the potential of recovery, finally there is one solitary formal bunker set in the front right.

The green is about 5,000 square feet and a reasonable size, the contours flow quickly towards the front, with an exceptional beautiful low bowl at the front right of the green - right behind the bunker.

The setting is itself beautiful with a backdrop of dark pines, a nice open view to the left and 18 tee, the yellows, gold and orange hues of the native sand, the accents of all the native plants from dark green to bright red adding a little extra texture and colour to the setting, the emerald green of the putting surface looks immaculate in contrast to the surrounds, the only one element that stands out is the blackness of the front bunker.

The front bunker is called “The Devil’s Asshole” for a reason. It is about 6 feet deep, very small and the bottom is akin to a cone shape. While the occasional person does make it out, most bury themselves in with each thrash of the club. Once a player is in this abyss, the have essentially lost the hole, if they are playing for score, then they should hit three from the tee.

My partner got to the bunker and looked down at his ball and said, “Your kidding me.” The caddy smiled and said “Care to give it a go anyway sir?” Three swings later, we were laughing and talking about how one very nasty little bunker makes this one of the most memorable holes in all of golf – may I never go in it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

7th at Pebble Beach

From the tee

There is a great storey about one of the old time players, during an extremely windy round at The Crosby, playing his putter off the tee and down the cart path and into the front bunker. He promptly got the ball up and down for a par. The 7th at Pebble Beach is that short. On a windless day, you get to the top of the hill, look down and immediately think now this is an easy shot – except normally there’s plenty of wind coming off the ocean. The wind at Pebble either howls across the green meaning you have to start the ball over the ocean, or blows straight into the tee meaning that a slight pull or push can easily find the ocean. The player has to stand on the tee and make an allowance for the wind.

Before you dismiss the hole as weak without the wind, let’s look at the hole itself. The shot is all of 107 yards downhill to a tiny 2,800 square foot green that is completely surrounded by bunkers. For most players this isn’t even a full swing, and therein lays a major complication for them, the hole is about feel and judgment. Today’s player prefers a full swing to a known distance on a level elevation, so it becomes about mechanics. This hole is about judging the relative distance, the effect of the wind and ideally hitting a short knock down shot.

Even if I can’t buy into the hole being complicated, just take a look at what you see and where you are. The symmetry of the composition is magnificent particularly with the front bunkers and each feature is in perfect balance with the next one. Add to this one of the best view on the course with the ocean as a backdrop and you have one of the most beautiful holes in golf.

Playing famous courses is all about generating great memories, whether from the joy of the place, or hitting a memorable shot. The 7th at Pebble is a clear opportunity for any player to make a birdie on North America’s most famous course – the hole can single-handedly make someone’s round.

Next example:

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

5th at Baltray

Image is courtesy of Aiden Bradley, another ofhis fantastic images - what a green!

Baltray has one of the greatest short threes I have ever played. The key to the hole is the fact that you have to work the ball into the slope if you want to stick it on the green surface for a birdie putt. Anything else is thrown aside by the natural slope of the green and the surrounds of the land.

The tee shot is over a small valley to a green cut into the left side of a prominent knoll and gives no clues to what lies ahead. The golfer is further confused by the bunkers cut into the right hand side in front of the green almost suggesting to flirt with that side. The area in front of the green is kept short and plenty steep enough that the ball will find either the bunkers on the way by or the bottom of the bowl. It doesn’t matter which because the player is dead either way.

The green surface has not only a severe right to left fall, but is punctuated by a nice drop in the centre to speed up any ball that is thinking of stopping in the middle of the green. To leave it on the upper tier, you must hit a cut shot that stops dead. The problem is most don’t and once the ball begins retreating down the tier is it will have enough speed to cross the green and find the droop on the left, and this leads all the way off into a chipping area well below the green. You can get up and down from here, but don’t get aggressive because you may return to where you started from.

The tee shot is courtesy on a lousy photographer on a cloudy day (ha).

Did I mention you can’t miss long because the ball will roll off and away at the back and the recovery shot is downhill too? The worst spot is right of the green; Simpson in all his glory added a bunker above where there is no possible recovery from. The only miss possible is left which is where most balls hitting the green will eventually go once they begin running anyway. By the way it never matters where the pin is cut because the only goal off the tee is anywhere on the green. Once there, the next trick is to try and two putt, even from in close, because this little devil has an amazing amount of contour. Shear fun.

Next example:

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Stanley Thompson Redux - The Dilemma of Attribution

At GolfClubAtlas I began a thread on The Definative Thompson list as well as on here.;action=display;threadid=27513;start=70#lastPost

My comments come from the realization of what I set out to do.

First off, there is a lot of really interesting pieces that have been linked, reported, or added through comments that definitely shed some light on his work. I’m grateful I started this thread for the gems that continue to appear. There are also some fascinating comments also on my blog where I posed the same question.

As the information began to come in I began to realize that this will demand a lot more time and energy to organize all the information than I have. It’s not collecting it, but beginning the important process of cross-referencing what has been presented. There is also a whole series of clubs with tentative connections to Thompson that have no references in old articles and magazines that would still require either research. That research would likely entail visits to review information to find out if the connection is conclusive. I certainly don’t have that time and I’m not really sure anyone else does either.

The other realization that came was I was quickly being placed in a position to make decisions on whether a club should be included or not. As I said to one of the other contributors on the phone, I don’t think I’m qualified to do this. So how fair would it be for me to include or not include a club until there is definitive proof. Since I can’t make the time to research this, the process would be flawed.

My original rally came from the number of mistakes on the current list and the inclusion of high profile courses where he only built a green or two. I think that it was important to say he worked at these courses, but it was more important for future architects to know what an original Stanley Thompson hole or course is.

The last thing that came up was what is the line between Thompson and not. The Summit debate is proof that this line is fairly subjective. Does he have to route at least nine holes? What if he didn’t route the course but rebuilt every feature? What if he did a major renovation to only the greens? What if he worked with someone else on the project? Most importantly, what if he built the course for another architect who made either one or two visits……or none?

I don’t know where to go from here, but I do have an interesting suggestion. I have a great deal of inside knowledge on particular Stanley Thompson courses. It seems like it would be more productive to post a full list as a base and invite people to post their conclusions through facts that they will also be required to provide. Then each of us interested in this process could leave comments under our name and slowly try to unravel the mystery of what is a Thompson course and what is not.

Food for thought.

Augusta National’s 12th (Golden Bell)

From the tee at the 12th during The Masters

"I hit the same club as probably a lot of people," Duval said. "I just happened to catch a gust of wind that was not favorable for me, so it's my back luck."

The Masters is never won on the 12th hole at Augusta National, but is lost there every year. So what makes this little hole so special? When you see the hole from the tee, the hole appears benign and invites a player to play aggressive, yet the hole is as much about restraint as it is about accuracy. The pond may be the hazard we all are drawn to think about, but the green site is what makes the hole.

Looking at the green and how small and narrow it really is

First the green is set at a subtle diagonal to play, where the further right you aim right, the longer you need to carry the ball. The green also happens to be incredibly narrow, so that a player must hit absolutely the correct distance on the line they chose to find the putting surface. When you add in that the green is fairly flat, you now begin realize that the shot has no room for error despite appearing to have room.

What further complicates the hole is the back bank is covered in vines, where balls have actually been lost at The Masters, and the bunkers which players rarely get up and down from since the water beyond intimidates the recovery shot. With the exception of the central bunker, all play short unless your name is Fred Couples, ends up spinning back into the water. Shaving this bank was essential to developing the all or nothing nature of this shot during The Masters.

So when it comes right down to it the player can only hit a great shot to succeed, and this is where the swirling winds created by the backdrop of enormous pines make club selection and wind calculation hard. Add all this confusion and indecision to the shot, plus The Masters and this adds up to be the best single tournament hole in golf. No wonder this has become the most copied par three in the world, we fall in love with it all over again at every Masters wishing we could try the shot ourselves.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Short Par Three

The 2 or 20 hole at Engineers

The hole represents clear opportunity for all. There is no other hole in golf where the expert and duffer stand equally on the tee thinking of one perfect swing. It is the only hole in all of golf that offers all levels of player a realistic opportunity at making a birdie. Even the weakest player only has to make one good shot followed by the putt for a two. It is the hole where I watched my son make his first par and likely so did most other fathers too. It’s the first hole they can reach in regulation with their driver. No hole is looked more forward to or more appreciated more when an architect includes one in the course.

There are two types of this hole. The more common is the short iron, which I would consider a 8 iron or less in modern context. The other is the pitch hole, which can vary from a sand wedge and down. These are some of the greatest holes in golf, and are rarely if ever built because they are quickly labeled “mickey mouse” by the consumer; yet when in and around 100 yards, these are often extremely delicate little feel shots surrounded by disaster. This type often proves to be more difficult for a longer player since they almost universally feature strong back to front pitch. The longer and better player tries to hit a knock down or three quarter swing, but often the spin they generate makes it extremely difficult to control the ball on the green. The average guy who hits the shot with very little spin sits in just as good a position as the better player since he can play his regular full swing.

The tiny 95 yard hole as it exists today - as a spare hole

For the architect, this also represents a clear opportunity to too. They can really ramp up the difficulty because that would be in balance with the short distance required from the player. The player also stands on the level tee with the advantage of a perfect lie, so it is now reasonable to request a near perfect shot. The great ones have a little of the (borrowing from a famous hole at the Engineers Club by Herbert Strong) “2 or 20” built in them. If you make the shot, a great chance of birdie, but if you miss a hard time recovering for par. I always loved the line at Troon, where the hardest shot on the course was the second shot at the Postage Stamp if you missed the green.

Speaking of which the 8th at Troon is already profiled previously:

I expect to cover this all week, but there are lots of possible things that may interrupt my plan for the blog. If they do, then I will extend this series on the short three through to the end of next week.