Monday, November 7, 2011

Invisible hazards.

The 12th hole at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
I was playing golf in Georgia earlier this year and saw one of the silliest design features: Two obnoxious-looking mounds that screen view of a small pond along the right side of the fairway, some 230 yards off the middle tee, at a par-four hole. Imagine, an invisible water hazard in the exact location where a majority of golfers are going to miss their tee shots. It was at the 2nd hole too; prime time for a right-hander's slice.

Invisible water hazards are really goofy. But what about bunkers that can't be seen from the tees? We've worked hard over the years - particularly on new golf course projects - to make bunkers visible; dishing out areas in front of these hazards and even making large cuts many yards back toward the tees to ensure good visibility of bunkers. Not only so golfers are aware of their presence but also to enhance the visual appeal of the course in question. With renovation projects we're some times handcuffed in this regard. Limiting areas of disturbance simply limits cutting well in front of certain bunkers to improve visibility.

I've struggled with this recently on renovation projects. My instinct wants to make said cut; which, again, in many instances is simply not doable. Then my mind goes to St. Andrews, Scotland; the Old Course to be exact, which is the highest standard in golf course architecture, and where so many bunkers are invisible from the tees. Not only because you're often hitting over contour and vegetation, so many bunkers at the Old Course are literally holes in the ground. You can hit what you think is a perfect tee shot at St. Andrews-Old then find your ball in a nearly unplayable lie in a bunker that you didn't even know was there. (Unless, of course, you've played the course more than once; a blind hazard, remember, is only blind once.) This, for whatever reasons, has almost become an unacceptable situation in North American golf; when, in fact, it's long been a part of the adventure on the classic links throughout the British Isles.

A friend of mine laughs at an answer I some times give when people ask me what I do for a living. I say that I put stuff (contour, bunkers, etc.) in the way of golfers. Now, does all of that stuff, including bunkers, need to be visible from the tees at every hole? As long as it's not a pond, I guess I can defer - yet again - to the Old Course at St. Andrews.

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