I think it’s worth posting this 2nd part of Tom Doak’s feature on shotmaking from the standpoint of a course architect. If holes are not created with the intention of rewarding skillful manipulation of the ball’s flight then golfers are left with no reason to hit anything other than “stock” shots. In this section Doak walks us through some notable holes and shares his thoughts on why they stimulate imagination in highly skilled players. I just hope I have the chance to someday play these great holes!
The following is an excerpt from The Anatomy of a Golf Course which merits a full read, especially if you’re still stuck in snow!
Many links feature greens laid across the ground in a spot where they are flat or fall slightly away from the line of the shot, and on firm ground this shot is no easier to judge with a short iron approach than a wooden club, which is why the links have maintained their challenge in the face of modern improvements in equipment. Garden City Golf Club is one of few American courses featuring the fall-away green prominently.
A variation of the same principle is the green sharply tilted from side to side, exemplified by the short par-4 10th hole at Riviera, or the longer 5th hole at Merion. In both cases the slope of the green is so severe from right to left that an approach hooked into the green will almost certainly release and roll off the green on the left. The only approach is a fade finishing below the hole. But at Riviera the bulk of the fairway is to the right of the axis of the green and the green almost within reach from the tee, luring the golfer away from the best approach line. At Merion the fairway tilts sharply from right to left; the stance makes it difficult to play a fade except from the low side of the fairway, which is closely guarded by a narrow brook.
Another such hole is the dogleg 4th at Myopia near Boston, the site of four U.S. Opens at the turn of the century. In the old days, its 392 yards required a long approach for the best players, played in the same manner that the club member must approach the hole today: a low draw to the right-hand entrance of the green, judged to lose speed at just the right moment, then to turn sharply left down the slope of the green. But the same tilt of the green has given the hole a fine defense against today’s long hitter: It is so sharp that he must beware his standard high approach spinning back down off the front left of the green. He must try to place his tee shot near the corner of the dogleg and fade his second shot up against the slope of the green if it is to stop predictably.
The ingenious designer may occasionally create a long hole where judgement of approach is more important than length of tee shot. My own 3rd hole at High Pointe is the best I have so designed to date. The small green is perched on a knob well above a valley of fairway, with almost-level ground mowed at fairway height to the left of the putting surface, but with a fairly steep fall both in front of and behind the green. For the short hitter, the incline at the front of the green is little problem; his long iron or fairway wood approach will readily climb it, but since he is unlikely to consistently hit such a small target from so far away, he typically plays a fade at the left-hand edge of the green to give himself the easiest chip if the shot does not come off. The player who has hit a long drive does not have it much easier. If his short-iron approach is short it will likely not bounce up onto the green, and the crowned green is quite small to hit and hold without going over and down the hill in back. the hole gives the greatest champion a chance to show his full arsenal of shots, but for most players it is a question of a four or a five and the short hitter often has as much chance of saving his par as the stronger man.
Other times a hole will reward shotmaking skill not by giving the player the option between two different kinds of shots, but by forcing him to choose between trying to make a specific shot or laying up. On such a hole, an advantage should be gained by the golfer executing the requisite shot, but ideally the golfer who admits his weakness should be rewarded for his discretion. A good example is the 2nd hole at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach. Trees on the left off the tee and a quick dogleg allow a tee shot of only 220 yards, unless the golfer can produce a controlled draw off the tee, a tough assignment so early in the round. The player who brings off the shot is rewarded with a short-iron approach, but the hole is of a length that the golfer safely laying up to the corner can get home with a long second; the golfer who hooks into the trees surely cannot.
The tee shots at both the 10th and 13th holes at Augusta National employ the hilly contours of the site to give a distinct advantage to a hooked tee shot. At the 10th, a properly hooked ball catches a severe slope in the fairway and runs well down the hill tot he left, while a straight tee shot stays on the higher ground, leaving a much longer approach from a tougher angle. At the 13th, both the azaleas and Rae’s Creek encroach upon the ideal driving line along the left. Only a hooked tee ball can fly around the corner of the dogleg and find a relatively flat lie for the second shot. In both instances, the shot values of Augusta are more exacting than that of the 2nd hole at The Dunes, as befits a championship course. Both holes are of such a length that the player who does not produce a hook from the tee will have to strain to get home with his 2nd shot.
Finally, there are occasionally good holes where only one type of approach shot will get the ball within reasonable distance of a birdie putt. In fairness, I believe such holes should be used sparingly, for two reasons. This first reason is philosophical: It is the point of golf architecture not to dictate tot he golfer how a hole should be played, but to create a situation where the player’s ingenuity can be exercised. There is much more to admire when the idea for the shot is the player’s rather than the architect’s. For this reason, an architect hates to have to explain his holes to frustrated players unable to figure out the best method of attack. Sometimes even I cannot figure out the best way to attack one of my holes until I have played it several times. That’s when I know I have hit upon something really interesting.
The second reason is more practical. If playing conditions are severe, then there may be times when the one shot the holes was designed around will not work, and the hole is impossible to play. A hole with a long forced carry over water to a shallow green is a common design failure. What is the player to do when a gale is blowing from behind, or his drive has unluckily found a lie in a divot scrape? The same holds true for a forced carry from the tee when a gale is blowing into the player’s face, or for a sharply canted green designed to receive a run-up shot after ten straight days of rain (although in the latter case it is difficult to imagine a green so severe that the ball could not be pitched near the hole under soggy conditions).
The type of holes where a “tricky” approach is most often acceptable are the between-length holes: a very long par-3, a driveable par-4, a long par-4, or a short par-5. The strong player would otherwise have an almost insurmountable advantage over the short hitter. In such a situation, it is arguable that the stronger player should have to show unusual skill as well as strength if he is to take the hole easily.
One of the finest examples of such a hole is the short par-5 9th at Westward Ho! in southwestern England. It still plays as it was described in 1910:
The ninth green lies in a hollow on top of a small plateau at the range of two very full shots from the tee, and the superlative virtue of the hole consists in a little unobtrusive pot-bunker in the face of the hill. We can hardly hope to drive far enough to carry the bunker in our second, and if we could it would scarcely be possible to stay on the green. Therefore, we must drive well out to the right, and hope to reach the green with a subtle hook. The ground breaks in toward the hole from the right, and so a perfectly played shot, with just sufficient hook , will keep turning and turning towards the hole, till it totters with its last gasp down the last slope and lies close to the hole. Often, of course, it will be out of the question to get home in two, but the hole will still be interesting, and our approach shot anything but a simple one.
-Barnard Darwin, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, 1910.
The same type of shot can be designed into a long par-3 hole. The 4th at Riviera is just such a hole, although the bunker guarding the green is a hundred times as large. Even the famous Redan, in spite of the big green that allows scope for alternate methods of play, rewards the same type of approach shot.
Most every British links features at least one long hole with a very tricky approach, although we often find that the same hole called a short par-5 at the turn of the century is now considered a long par-4. (Ironically, the fact that these holes are now somewhat easier to reach in two makes them more controversial, simply because the par has changed on the scorecard.) The Road hole at St. Andrews is the most well-known example of such a hole, but tow others that come to mind are the 14th at Royal Dornoch, known as “Foxy”, and the 13th at Preswick, the “Sea Headrig” hole. The two holes have only one bunker between them, but in each case the green is set at an odd angle tot he fairway and requires a special degree of shotmaking to land the ball short of the green and get it to bounce up and stay on. The 14th at Royal Dornoch is a high plateau green too shallow to hit and hold with a long iron, while the 13th at Prestwick angles off to the right behind a low hummock of fairway which either stops an approach shot dead or sends it skittering over the green. By the same token, both greens make for supremely interesting short play, rewarding every yard the short hitter can muster with his first two shots. In both cases, too, it is noteworthy that the golfer who goes for the green with his second, and falls short to the right, leaves himself a much tougher pitch than the golfer who admitted he could not make it and played to the left for the best angle into the green for his third shot.
The 12th on the Old Course at St. Andrews also requires an unusual approach. It is a short two-shotter that features a shallow shelf of green only twelve paces deep, with lower levels both in front and behind. There is no room to land and stop the ball on the higher level; even the best shots bounce once before spinning back to the hole, and the first bounce would likely take the ball to the lower level in back of the green. the standard plan of attack is to drive as close to the green as one can, flirting with a handful of unseen fairway bunkers in the process. If this is safely accomplished, the ideal approach shot is a short running ball clambering up the tier in the green and coming to a stop.
Shotmaking can also be called into play in the short game. The same contours that create an interesting approach will also cause havoc for recovery shots, especially where they are mowed as fairway so the golfer does not necessarily have to pitch back to the green on the fly. The most original example is the famous “Dell Hole” at Lahinch in Ireland, a blind par-3 hole to a shallow green wedged between massive sandhills. The hole is often vilified as nothing more than a matter of luck, since there is only a marker stone on the hill in front of the green to indicate the location of the hole, and often both short and long shots sometimes bounce off the sandhills and come down onto the green. But the same hills provide scope for fascinating “carom-shot” recoveries for the smart player who has missed the green, as I discovered one day while observing play.
Holes like these are rare or nonexistent on modern courses, but the game would be much more interesting and fun if there were more. As Robert Hunter concluded in The Links,
“Great golfers would find the game stupid if no occasion arose to use the most difficult shots in their repertoire.”
Opening photo by David Scaletti