Intersection of Design and Instruction

Posted by KELLY BLAKE MORAN on Sunday, April 24, 2016 Under: GOLF COURSE DESIGN

Width is a critical element in the design of a new golf course and equally in the renovation of existing courses.  More fairway can mean more maintenance if this concept were to be universally applied throughout the course.  The Old Course at St. Andrews is an excellent example how to make a balance between between width and maintenance costs. It is surprising how narrow is The Old Course in many fairway areas, but almost without exception the fairways are wide leading into the greens. 

This allows the magnificent land features in front of the greens to become an important element in the ground game and this width extends to bunkers off to the sides where the terrain will carry the ball to them if the shot played is careless.  

An important strategic element to consider for fairways on existing courses is the fairway mow lines.  Over time  fairways become narrow and assume a simple shape for a variety of reasons such as as making mowing more time efficient, accommodating encroaching trees, and attempting to match the irrigation patterns with regard for the head layout.  These efficiencies and adjustments can take out of play fairway bunkers and green side bunkers by leaving a large swath of high rough grass between the fairway and the bunker.  Expanding fairways closer to the bunkers brings the bunkers into play in three ways.  First, the ball rolling on the ground is more likely to enter the bunker if the fairway is cut close to the bunker.  Second if more fairway is near the bunker a player may choose to play close to the bunker in order to gain a better angle from which to play the next shot.  Third, if more fairway is around the bunker, including beyond the bunker, a player may be encouraged to play over the bunker to the fairway beyond it again in order to gain a better angle on the next shot, or to shorten the distance required to play the next shot. 

Interestingly, the design concept regarding fairway width and strategy has strong links with instruction books where design and instruction intersect to make for intriguing and fun golf. Percy Boomer, the well-known English golf teacher from the early 20th century, describes his frustration with a pupil and driving the ball; he came to the conclusion that concentrating on trying to achieve a specific task is counter to good golf. He wanted the pupil to feel the swing, to focus on the feeling of a good swing and achieving that rather than concentrating on the specific task that needed to be accomplished. He believed if you put an average golfer on a tee with a 50 yard wide fairway they will slap it down the middle no problem. Narrow the fairway to 15 yards and suddenly they become so focused on trying to keep the tee shot straight they will almost always play into the rough. Having wide fairways without any threatening features can make the golfer feel comfortable which will result in good swings, however, that easy tee shot to the fairway may result in a difficult approach shot to the green if the golfer doesn’t pay attention to the angles into the greens. “I drove the ball great, but just couldn’t score!” I wonder why!! I drove the ball great every time I played The Old Course in large part because many tee shots were blind so I was more focused on the feel, but I was not always in a good position to play the next shot.

Tommy Armour, the great Scottish player and teacher, wrote in his classic book,How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time, “Play the shot you’ve got the greatest chance of playing well, and Play the shot that makes the next shot easy.” This exhortation has always been very important to me. As a designer, this precept from Armour is most meaningful when applied to the idea of providing wide fairway approach areas to greens. Combine this precept with Bob Rotella’s observation that the average player does not hit many greens (nothing earth shattering there) and in my view there is a whole other game within a game happening from 100 yards and in to the green that must be incorporated into the design process.

Clothe these approach areas in fairway, wide from side to side, and now you have a play area loaded with strategic options requiring your next shot be placed in the best position for your pitch into the green. If you are not paying attention to this area and just see a nice wide approach and mindlessly hit your shot you now face a very difficult angle from which to pitch into the pin. This also brings to mind another Armour exhortation, “Action before thought is the ruination of most of your shots.” 

It would be a shame if the recovery shot to the approach area in front of the green required no thought. A wide approach with a lone bunker, and interesting contour within the approach and into the green should demand thought before action about exactly where to place the recovery shot in relation to the pin. The approach areas are not just for the average player who can not reach the green in regulation; it also affects good players particularly when they don’t hit a good drive and must play a recovery shot.

Dave Pelz puts a lot of emphasis on what happens from 100 yards in with special emphasis on distance control with your wedges. As long as you place your shot at the proper angle from which to approach the pin the challenge is not what is on either side of your target rather it is the distance to your target, the club you choose and the swing you make to reach that distance. He wants you to play to within the “golden 8”, that distance between 2’and 10’ from the cup that can determine whether you make the putt or not. In general, the design of the putting surface as it relates to all of the angles out front in the approach area can make for some very intriguing challenges if there is a significant amount of fairway out front and from side to side.

A wide fairway approach to the green paired with an interesting green design requires the golfer to think before hitting which makes the game more fun to play. It also brings back the chess game approach to golf that was so well articulated in the instruction books produced by some great players and teachers.


Tags: golf instruction  golf design  golf management