Proper Golf

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Broken Cape Hole

The Cape Hole, one of the most common holes in all of golf, was made famous by the trio of Charles Blair Macdonald, Seth Raynor, and Charles Banks. Deemed as one of the ideal holes, Macdonald brought it back from the UK and added it to his collection of template holes. Throughout the career of the 3, no matter which of their names was attached to the course, you can almost always find a version of the cape.

Basic Cape Hole: Either a 2 or 3 shot hole. Dogleg either left or right. Fairly harsh hazard along the inside corner of the dogleg. To gain advantage from the tee, player must carry the hazard. The more they chose to cut off, the better the angle into the green, and shorter distance to play from... A fairly simple design concept, the cape also offers opportunity for exciting play.

So, now we have a broken cape hole, with a simple fix: tree removal. This cape hole no longer allows the player to drive the ball over the pair of deep bunkers on the left because of tree growth and tee placement. If you cut back 5 or 6 of the trees before the cart path, the hole would not only play as it was intended to, but decrease lost balls, as players line of play has shifted about 7% to the left, thus speeding up play as well.

A picturesque cape par-5. Kingsbarns 12

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Consistency v Variety

Building golf great courses is all about finding a balance, in the right places, between consistency and variety.

In golf course design, variety rules. Nobody likes a golf course with fairway bunkers on both sides and greens guarded on the right and left as well. What makes a golf course good is variety. Players enjoy being able to hit all sorts of different shots. Long carries, bump and runs, front to back greens, drivable par 4's, and the Tiny Tim's of the world, the short par 3's all have their place at certain times on the golf course. As the old saying goes, variety is the spice of life, and its no different in golf course architecture.

Golf course construction, on the other hand, is the opposite. Consistency rules. For example, every bunker that is constructed (not naturally existing) should have exactly the same about of sand. It simply isn't fun for the player when one bunker has 2 inches of sand on one hole, and 6 on the next. Nor is it right, to have 8 inches on the bottom of the bunker and 2 inches on the face. The game is hard enough as it is, you have the at least give the golfer a chance to calculate his plan of attack. Another example would be something like drainage heads. One hole shouldn't have 8 inch metal grates and another 4 inch plastic when the same style drain is being used. Things like a uniform drainage head can save a lot of money and trouble over time for the golf course by allowing them to keep proper stock on spare parts, because everything inevitably breaks.

Photo: Bunkers under construction at the much anticipated Dormie Club, NC

Thursday, May 20, 2010

An Over-rated Golf Course: WCC

Westchester Country Club
West Course, 1922
Arch: Walter Travis
Rye, New York

Earlier this week I played Westchester Country Club for the first time. Going into it I didn't know much about the course itself, other than it was a Walter Travis (Garden City Mens and Hollywood), it hosted the Westchester Classic for years, it was ranked #100 on one of the 2 big lists, you can't pay Tiger enough money to play there, and they flip flop the 9's for the tourney. Also, I didn't have the camera.. turns out, I'm not that upset about it after.

First, the place was in awful condition. While sometimes, poor conditioning can be over looked due to weather/season/budget issues, WCC had more than enough $$, plenty of man-power and absolute ideal conditions for this time of year. I have been to 6 different golf courses over the last 5 weeks, and not one of them has been in this poor shape. The practice green was running somewhere around 11-12. You couldn't leave a downhill putt short if you tried, but the championship course was the worst I have seen. The caddy said it had been like this for a while, since they lost the greens last year.

After that, I just find it hard to believe that there are only 99 pre-modern golf courses better than this one. I can think of a bunch that aren't included on "the list" that I would rather play.

The entire club is set on very sever and rocky property. A less than ideal start. The routing is simply a product of the environment. Like in life, to much of one thing is never good, and having to add/subtract distance on every shot, adjusting for extreme lie's every shot is not a characteristic of the ideal golf course to me. Sometimes you have to give one to the golfer, the game is about enjoyment, and everyone likes to make a par.

Note how the routing doubles back around the outside
of the property for the back nine

The front 9 (tourney back9) I didn't consider to be very strong. #1 is a solid starting hole, but #3 the par-5 and #4 the short par-4 work poorly back to back. In both cases you are hitting to extremely elevated green sites to, and just don't offer excitement. The short par-3 #5 plays from an elevated point to another elevated point. Even though this hole offers lots of variety, which is usually something I love, if you are a bogey golfer and dont hit every green, you are freaking tired already. The next few holes travel some of the more uninteresting property before you get to the famous #9 (or 18) which is a much less climactic than the real 18. In fact the reason they switch the 9's is because it makes a better tv shot on 18, the other is to steep for spectators.

The strategy for the par-5 #9 revolves around the trees inside the dogleg

The golf course finally gets good at #13 with a dramatic tee shot over a ridge. On the closing stretch, you see water, play a better short hole and finally wind around the terrain, instead of over it, untill 18 that is. Only fitting #18 is uphill all the way, but a good fit to end the day.

Shotlines illustrating why Tiger Woods hates playing WCC. Its hard to picture anyone who calls themselves a traditionalist (not me) liking the use of the trees

Would I turn down another round here?.. no way. but there are definitely better options in the area.

The thing that sums it up best to me, is to compare it to Ridgewood, the other home of the pga tournament that used to be called the westchester classic. To me, its not even close. If you gave me 10 rounds, I would probably play 8 at Ridgewood, but is subject to change due to conditioning.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Loopin wth range finders

I am required by the golf club I caddy at (one of the finest in the nyc area) to use a range finder/lazer when I caddy. I can tell you the yardage to the pin, middle, front, back and bunkers, both with and without my range finder. I can also tell you that all the loopers at WF will have them as well, and 99% of the Metro section PGA pros will have them and be using during their tournament rounds. The reason my club requires them is pace of play, not saying it works or not, but most of our members would be pissed if I didn't have mine when they are hitting their approach on #1.

Very authentic in architecture, very current with technology

Picture: Billy The Cashmere Caddy

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Going Long

Par-3's: Absolutely. I fully support the use of an occasional back bunker on a par-3. Its a one shot hole, and when club selection is the main question on the tee it just makes sense sometimes.

For the most part on the rest of the course though, they are primarily unnecessary. Almost no one misses long on multiple shot holes. For whatever reason, it just doesn't happen enough to have bunkers behind green to warrant having them.

Now, of course there are exceptions. Downhill holes are a good place to work a back bunker into the design. Here you will get lots of topped and thinly hit balls rolling towards the green as well as people who don't club themselves properly and hit it long. They also allow the golfer a unique visual from the raised perspective on the back edge of bunker.

Protection from hazards, and using bunkers as safety measures are also other places where a back bunker might make sense. The ability to add enjoyment to one's round by landing in a bunker is always a good reason for another sand pit.

Picture: Bethpage Black #5, one of my favorite holes, but it could easily lose the back bunker. On a hole that is a zillion yards long to an elevated green, where almost nobody can reach in 2 shots. You cant even see it from the fairway because of the elevation, so what does it add? I say.. eliminate it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

If I could play 1 round of golf tomorrow

anywhere in the world, private or public, I would tee it up at Friars Head. Its been almost 2 years since I've been there, and I've played a lot of great golf courses since and there are a lot that I would do unspeakable acts to see, but to me, Friars Head represents the ultimate golfing experience.

#4 is one of my favorite holes of all time. I still dream about getting another chance on the 7th green. Then you get up to the top of the dune on #9 and and you know it just gets even better. #10 is pure fun, but 15-18 is simply the best. No other golf course I have ever played climaxes like this one.

In order, the top-5 courses I would want to play tomorrow:
1 - Friars Head
2 - Cypress Point. No explanation needed
3 - Royal Dornoch. Love Pinehurst #2, can't wait to see where it came from
4 - Shinnicock Hills. Got a taste at the 2004 US Open, it was not enough
5 - Pine Valley. The combination of architectural talent that went into designing this golf course cannot be over looked.. not that it ever is

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Concave v. Convex

Have you ever played a round of golf and felt like every bunker you were in played differently? The reason most likely isn't the sand itself, but the construction of the bunker and the shaping of the ground underneath the sand.

Like almost every aspect of golf courses, the important stuff is hidden from eye, under the surface. In this case, the playability of bunkers doesn't have as much to do with the look of the thing, but the consistency in construction at the bottom of the bunker and attention to detail. You can make a bunker appear in any way you wish with artistic shaping and wispy tall grass around the edges, but if you don't properly drain your bunker with a concave bottom, you will get inconsistent lies all day long.

Bunkers need a low floor to help drain water out of the depression. This can be achieved with either concave or convex slopes. While it is possible to create a concave surface with the sand, so the ball comes down off the sides of the bunker, the playing surface underneath can only be consistent if the dirt parallels the sand. If this is not achieved, and a convex slope is used, certain parts of the bunker will have a depth of sand much less than others. This will create problems with wear, as clubs will bottom out in certain spots, and cause different reactions on the sole of the club as well.

While this concept is nothing more than common sense, the extra attention to details like this is what in turn creates a more enjoyable experience for the golfer and a more sustainable product for the developer and maintenance purposes.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Living in the center cut

While out looping today 3 of the players in the group were commenting on our 4th driving it right up the gut all day. This got me thinking.. The ideal line of the best golf holes isn't straight down the pipe.

Every green and pin position dictate the ideal line of play. Contours and slope affect the ball once it is on the ground, but a keen golfer will be able to use the width of the fairway to angle his approach and best take advantage of the roll. Even more, a good golf hole can dictate the line of play, forcing golfers closer to hazards and various sides of the fairway in order to gain distance as well as the optimum angle for approach.

In the pictures we have two examples where the ideal line off the tee is nowhere near the center cut. In the first photo (Quaker Ridge #11) the ideal line is the right edge of the fairway. Not only is the ideal drive here rewarded with a clear shot to the green, around the tree on the left, but the green is much more receptive. A tee shot right in the middle of the fairway may leave the golfer with a partially obstructed path to the green, and there is the possibility of not being able to hold the green with a left-right ball flight.

The 2nd picture (Kiawah Ocean Course #18) the right side of the fairway is a far shorter route to the green. Just past the bunker the hole turns downhill with a sharp slope that rewards distance. This slope doesn't run perpendicular to the fairway though, it is angled, so that a drive closer to the bunker on the right has the greater chance of catching the slope, rewarding both distance and accuracy. Even if you cant hit it past the bunker, the second shot will play nearly 10 yards closer because of the angle, as the hole splits off to the right.

While you will rarely have a lousy day hitting it from the center cut, there are often ways to get more out of your accuracy by analyzing the hole, being creative and taking a little bit of a risk.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Top 10 Things to know about golf course construction

Through my first 10 days working golf course construction, here is my list of my top 10 things I have learned.

10: Make your homepage.

9: Its always better to be to shallow, rather than to go to deep. Natural compaction takes months.

8: Its amazing how much work gets done when the forman is looking.

7: Damage control. This probably applies more to renovations, but if you can avoid ripping up grass, pipes, wires, drains, or whatever, by taking the long way, or by doing a little extra work in the short run, you are probably better off. Damage control is part of the game, but that should be expected and incorporated into the fees.

6: Always bring your shovel. You never know when you are going to need it.... Also shovel = pala in spanish!

5: Be smooth. It is better to be slow and smooth, rather than fast and jerky, especially with the big machines. Its better to take your time and get it right, because it will always take a lot longer if you have to go back and fix it.

4: Always have extra. Whether we are talking about extra sod, mix, Toro trucks or even an extra sandwich or bottle of water in your lunch box, you better have extra. The equipment will break down and when it does you better not be sitting there helpless, because that means you are losing money. If you run out of sod or mix or pipe and you cant finish what you are working on and have to wait for the next truck you are losing money.

3: Safety. Probably an obvious one, but these are real construction sites with heavy machinery and people can and will get hurt. This includes never loading over the cab with an excavator. Always knowing the quickest way to shutdown your trencher in case it kicks back. Even using you legs to lift stuff instead of your back.

2: Drainage. You have heard it before, but there is a real reason for it. Everything needs to be sloped down, even the smallest things that you may never have considered, such as the height of rough sod you lay next to the sod for a tee. If the rough is just slightly higher than the bent on the tee on the low side, you are going to get pools forming on edge of tee.

1: Never get caught standing around not working or being lazy. When you aren't being productive the company is losing money. So if you finish working on small project, you better find something to do or someone to help no matter what it is.