Tuesday, November 22, 2011


The 17th hole at Sagebrush, with 18 in the background.
Golf holes are played tee to green, but many of the best holes on this planet were designed in reverse. In other words, the design of the putting greens and their surrounds dictate playing strategies and, in turn, the placement of fairway hazards.

Take the 17th hole at Sagebrush for example. A high tee at this hole presents golfers with full view of the green at the end of an ultra-wide fairway featuring bunkers left and right. From this high tee, golfers can clearly identify the location of the flagstick. Sagebrush's penultimate hole features a rather large green built upon what is basically inherent topography. Very little earthwork was required to create this green, but a few significant tweaks were made during the shaping process to create enhanced strategy off the tee.

A sand bunker guards the green at front right, where there's a shelf of putting surface that falls off sharply behind. A pronounced knob, which existed prior to golf course construction and is now mown at fairway height, similarly protects the left side of the green. When holes are cut on the extreme right and left portions of the 17th green at Sagebrush, the smart play off the tee is to drive down the opposite margin of the fairway. Down the middle is safe, as usual, but not ideal. Because of the contour, slope and orientation of the putting surface and surrounding hazards, approaching a right pin from the right side of the fairway is comparatively awkward; and vice versa. And, because the right and left margins of this fairway are often the ideal place to be off the tee at this hole, sand hazards were installed along the fairway margins.

This type of green design is, simply, golf course architecture 101; not brain surgery. Again, the design of the green site - putting surface and surrounds - dictates playing strategies, which, in turn, dictate the placement of fairway hazards.

I've been working on a number of plans to improve existing courses, with aim to enhance playing interest. But at a few such courses we're not rebuilding existing greens. More often than not, unfortunately, the design of many of these existing greens don't make much strategic sense relative to the placement of fairway hazards. In other words, no matter where the hole is cut on these surfaces, approaching these greens from anywhere in the fairway at the holes in question is a relatively similar proposition. Fairway bunkers and other hazards can be placed anywhere in such cases; in a purely penal sense. But, if we're trying to think about golf architecture in a more intelligent fashion, and improve these courses in a comparatively sophisticated, strategic manner, a very, very important question begs: If the design of the green surface doesn't dictate playing strategies, where should the fairway hazards be located?

And, of course, what can be done to the green surrounds - without alteration of the putting surface - to enhance playing strategies and make sense of fairway hazard placement?

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