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Lest we forget, golf has long been a shotmaker’s game. The era of perfect putting surfaces, solid core distance balls, and 46 inch shafts / 460cc clubheads is still in its infancy. The greater annals of golfing history are filled with men and women who distinguished themselves through the quality of their striking, breadth of imagination, and mental fortitude to physically create what once existed only in the mind’s eye. The ability to work the ball – left, right, high, low, off sidehills and downslopes, tight lies and hardpan, different grass types and in varying weather conditions – was of paramount importance to championship caliber golf. Classic courses of the persimmon age demanded it. Shotmaking Corner will serve, I hope, to preserve a few bits and pieces of the once great body of knowledge of the great shotmakers should the next generation express a desire to direct the game back towards a more traditional form.

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Shotmaking: The Lost Art by Tom Doak

Normally I use this feature to collect the various specialty shots perfected by the master shotmakers of the game. As it turns out the most poignant shotmaking insight I’ve recently come across is not from an elite shotmaker, but from an accomplished modern architect. I started reading Tom Doak’s The Anatomy of a Golf Course with the goal of improving my course management. I was not expecting to find such an eloquent summation of the shotmaker’s status in the modern game of golf. The interesting thing is that this book was written in 1992. Even then, Doak predicted the general obsolescence of the great shotmakers before the dawn of the ProV era.

There are a couple distinct parts to this shot feature. The first covers the history and nature of shotmakers in the game with discussion of turf and environmental factors. The second part (that I’ll present later) gets into the details of some great holes that offer shotmaking options to expert level players. Enjoy!

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An alternative concept of architecture is to reward the player not just for hitting long and straight, or for correctly planning his attack, but for his ability to control he flight of the ball through swing technique. This was an important component of golf in the early days, because golf links in Britain were not designed for the playing of specific shots. The holes were cut in “sporting” locations by the players, and it was up to them to get the ball close to the hole with whatever sort of stroke served the purpose. The inventive player who could play the widest variety of tricky approaches was the champion of the early days.

The science of golf may have come a long way in the last 100 years, but in many respects, these “improvements” have taken away from the art of shotmaking. Golf courses have become relatively standardized in their demands and hazards, and the science of golf course maintenance has advanced to the point that the golfer seldom encounters a bad lie in the fairway or bunker, or a bad bounce on his approach. Clubs and balls have been scientifically designed to help correct the average golfer’s hooks and slices, making it more difficult for the skilled golfer to deliberately play these same shots. the modern champion has perfected his swing full-throttle on the practice range, knows the yardages and the true distance value of each of his clubs, and repeats the same swing with machine like precision with every club in the bag.

The few real shotmakers found in golf today, such as Trevino, Ballasteros, and Chi Chi Rodriguez, are probably the last of a dying breed, because there isn’t much need for shotmaking on modern courses.

While all other factors are working to eliminate the art of shotmaking from the game, I believe it should be the highest aspiration of the golf architect to design holes giving the greatest scope for the shotmaker’s skills. His credo should be as John Low professed in 1903:

Every fresh hole we play should teach us some new possibility of using our strokes and suggest to us a further step in the progress of our golfing knowledge. -John Low, Concerning Golf, 1903

Modern golf architecture has fallen woefully short of Low’s ideal. But there are golf holes still in existence that reward the shotmaker’s special talents, and I would like to concentrate on these for the remainder of this chapter.

I must emphasize that while holes can be designed to reward shotmaking skill, playing conditions-the wind and the firmness of the ground-can accomplish the same thing. In regions where the wind does blow, its intensity adds an urgency to nearly every shot, for it affects either the distance value of the shot or its flight pattern, and it forces the golfer to allow for this effect. The expert player, on the other hand, devises a way to use the wind to his advantage: He may hit a high ball downwind, work the ball with the wind to gain extra distance, or work the ball into a side wind so it will stop quickly.

One paradoxical effect of the wind on British links is that it can make short shots more difficult than longer ones. The standard play on the Postage Stamp 8th hole at Royal Troon would be a high nine-iron shot, but when the wind is howling, its effect on the high flying shot is impossible to judge. the gofer is compelled to produce a low, punched three-quarter shot on such a hole, a difficult prospect when the green is small and well-guarded.

Another shot called for on the links is the approach that bounces short of the green and rolls forward to the hole, a necessity if the ground is hard and there is not much forward tilt of the green to help stop the ball. When soggy conditions prevail, the
the standard aerial approach stops so quickly that a good player is never tempted to play a trickier shot to get close to the hole. When the ground is firm, the golfer much be able to control not only how far his shot is going to fly, but what it is going to do once it lands. That’s the shotmaker’s realm.

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to be continued…

One Response to “Shotmaking Corner: The Lost Art by Tom Doak”

  1. Avatar of Jeff Stern Jeff Stern says:

    Tom, Much has been lost in the translation of course architecture post WWII. It’s more than just the advancements in horticulture, landscaping tools and the implements of playing the game. Architects began narrowing their respective creative focus on re-shaping the surface to emulate a small segment of design philosophy represented by the ‘new’ giants of golf architecture.
    An example or two may serve (add others as you see fit): rounded deep bottomed sand bunkers of Donald Ross modeled after his Pinehurst #2 masterpiece, although the body of his work is abundant with a multitude of styles that accompany his use of green complexes of greater variety than inverted turtle shells. Robert T. Jones work far exceeds the rectangular runways so often imitated along with +10,000 sq. ft. greens with multiple tier levels that stretched out layouts well beyond 7400 yards of excruciation examination from ‘ordinary’ blue tees.
    Although Mike Strantz left us far too few examples of his fertile imagination, many of his courses are not for the drive, pitch and putt mentality. He left us far too soon to expand the horizons of architecture originality that those utilizing equipment of a variety of eras can appreciate (and have fun) playing.
    My humble opinion, the Forged radical

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