Call me greedy, but I love choice. I don’t think I’m alone, however. When it comes to golf courses, those that capture my imagination most are those that regularly require me to make decisions and provide a variety of choices as I navigate my way around. Holes that allow you to play on completely divergent lines to playing partners based on your relative strengths and perceived assessments of how you will make your best score are so much more interesting than narrow holes where the emphasis is solely on hitting the ball straight. Note that there is still an emphasis on execution of the shot on well-designed holes with choice – it’s just you have to think about what line you want to hit it on before executing the shot. The freedom and fun these holes provide, as well as the mental stimulation and joy felt after making a choice and then executing it successfully, make them far more memorable and entertaining to play. – Todd Hyland
Certainly when we’re designing golf courses, thoughts of divergent routes, varying strategies on a hole and providing golfers with fun shot options are at the forefront of our minds. So too are the shot options available to players of various skill levels – beginners, children, ladies and professionals. It’s important to stimulate everyone with golfing interest in the layout as often as possible; however, these challenges and interesting features need not always occur on the same hole for the various player categories.
At some courses the only hint of flexibility designed into them is a series of tee sites at various distances located straight down the line of play. Flexible design solutions can be so much more. Golf course architects can implement flexibility and varying choices into their design at a number of different levels:
- Contouring and protection of greens;
- Location of fairway hazards and landing zones;
- Lateral placement of tees – “courses within the course”; and
- Complete alternate course routings within a site.
Green complexes can be contoured and protected in such a way that the strategy from the tee or shot shape required varies from day to day depending on the hole location. This places the thinking golfer at an advantage and also serves to relieve potential boredom some club members might feel in standing on the tee every weekend and trying to hit their tee shot into exactly the same position, particularly if the course is rarely affected by wind, and regardless of the
The short two-shot 2nd at Barnbougle Lost Farm in Tasmania is an example of a hole where the hole location of the day might (should) tempt players to take on different lines from the tee. The hole is only 300 metres long and has an extremely wide green (almost 50 metres) and a very wide fairway (70-plus metres) with one fairway drive bunker set slightly left of centre and another shorter drive bunker to the right. The defining strategic element at the green is a spur that carries its way through the green and out into its approaches at a slight angle, from 1 o’clock to 7 o’clock. This spur divides a smaller section, approximately 15 metres wide, of green on the left from the remainder of the green. When the hole is located in this section it is much better attacked from the narrow side of the fairway to the left of the central fairway bunker. The golfer has to flirt with the bunker and the long rough left or take a club that leaves them short of the bunker and just try to hit it as close to the left edge as they dare. From the right of this bunker or the right-hand side of the fairway generally, the spur will either stop balls on their approach to the green or kick them through the green unless hit perfectly.
For big hitters, carrying the central fairway bunker doesn’t help overly either, as it leaves a tricky-length pitch where it’s hard to hit it high and soft enough to fly the spur and stop it; or conversely it’s a long chip-and-run shot – unless wind conditions or strength allow you to get very close to the green. If the hole is located in the centre of the green the same spur means that a tee shot into the narrow left part of the fairway is not preferred, as the spur can easily repel the ball into the left section of the green, or kick it forward away from the hole.
When the hole is located in the centre or the right-hand side of the green it is best attacked from just to the right of the central bunker. The beautiful piece of contouring through the green and in its approaches is wonderfully conceived and executed. The result, when combined with the fairway bunker location, creates a very enjoyable, flexible, variable hole that offers players many choices over what was relatively flat land.
Fairway hazards and landing zones
Questions can be put to golfers of all abilities through careful placement of fairway hazards and in the articulation of the landing zones. This might be in the form of an angled line of hazards, possibly in the corner of a dogleg or a centrally located hazard creating more divergent lines of play. Dr Alister MacKenzie’s winning design plan for the ideal two-shot hole (submitted for the competition run in Country Life magazine in 1914) identified various divergent routes of play that might be selected depending on a golfer’s assessment of their own abilities and according to the varying conditions of the wind on the day. MacKenzie’s plan showed five possible routes to the green from the ‘ordinary’ tee – but his plan also shows a medal tee 30 yards further back, which would give rise to a different set of decisions for golfers.
Other examples of what might be termed alternate route holes are the 8th and 15th holes at Barnbougle Dunes, and the 7th at Barnbougle Lost Farm. They are all flexible and provide choices which might vary for an individual golfer from day to day depending on the conditions. They and others like them provide for fascinating, fun golf. Is it only because they require a relatively large amount of land that there aren’t more like them in existence?
Lateral placement of tees
Significant flexibility can be built into a course by careful placement of lateral tees. It’s possible to significantly vary the challenges of a hole by doing so to the point where you can create what basically amounts to an entirely different hole played down (predominantly) the same playing corridor (yielding a course within a course).
In Geoff Shackelford’s book The Captain, he talked about George Thomas Jnr’s concept of “courses within the course” which Thomas implemented in his 1927-28 redesign of the North Course at The Los Angeles Country Club: “The basic concept of Thomas’s ‘courses within the course’ provided unprecedented variety and diversity for the club golfer who played the same course week in and week out,” Shackelford said.
In Thomas’s description of his design he discussed that in some instances a hole would play as a one-shotter and again as a two-shotter from a widely divergent tee. There were also holes that would switch between playing as a par-4 and a par-5 depending on the tee of the day or the tee chosen. Some may argue that the articulation of a green for dual purposes may sacrifice the quality of the green complex than if it were built for only one particular angle of attack or play from one tee but I don’t believe this is necessarily the case. Careful articulation of the greens, thought about separately and then as a whole, should yield an excellent result and Thomas explained how he made the shorter approach shot play to a section of the green that was higher and smaller. He also gave consideration to dividing a green by a long, narrow central bunker, and that the long approach could play up the length of the green allowing a running approach compared to the other shot which might come in with the breadth of the green with the hazards located front and back for play from the short tee.
Thomas mentioned that having the tees in the same line of play is not the solution to creating alternate hole options and spoke of the need to have considerable room to accomplish the diversity.
Ideas of creating ‘fair’ approaches and green settings for the relative shots into a green need not be taken to the extreme. After all, instances that defy convention and the norm within golf courses give holes individuality and uniqueness, and there are many instances of much-loved holes that defy convention and fairness.
The idea of ‘courses within the course’ seems to have even more applicability nowadays, with the availability of appropriate land being scarce and with the price of land being so costly. The application of this concept also surely has some merit in implementation into existing club/course environments where memberships are dwindling and many golfers are favouring having no home club. There are a range of reasons thought to be creating this. At some clubs one reason must be a sense of boredom from playing a one-dimensional course layout with limited flexibility in its daily set-up.
MacKenzie’s plan showed five possible routes to the green from the ‘ordinary’ tee – but his plan also shows a medal tee 30 yards further back, which would give rise to a different set of decisions for golfers.
Adjacent is a copy of a preliminary concept plan we prepared for a client in China, where the stage one parcel of land was small and only nine holes was desired. Our design solution allowed for nine holes to be played twice, from very different tees, providing quite a different examination each time the loop was played. Refinement during the design development process would have extracted further strategy, choice, variety and interest from the course layout. This plan however gives an indication of the sort of different strategy and examination you could achieve through careful planning of a flexible course.
Recently we also prepared a range of concepts for an existing 18-hole golf course located on a small piece of land (approximately 40 hectares) that had safety issues on all surrounding boundaries. Our concepts for consideration included:
- A radical redesign of a somewhat shorter 18-hole course that would require significant tree removal (no vegetation of any significance mind you).
- A moderate revision to address the most serious safety issues and the flow-on effects to other holes that these necessary changes had.
- A flexible 12-hole option, with two returning loops of six holes – one loop played for a second time from divergent tees, playing at different distances (and par sometimes) to largish greens (possibly with two hole locations) that provided a very different examination second time around.
We had an industry expert conduct some financial modelling of the options. The study looked at expected construction costs, historic rounds data, future possible rounds data, target markets, maintenance budgets and various other variables. There would be some savings in maintaining 12 holes, or if the same budget was applied, extra width and variety is afforded which would allow greater choice and interest in the golf course. Ultimately the 12-hole concept stacked up very well and was the client’s preferred option given their intentions and overall vision for the redevelopment.
Even though I’m an advocate of retaining 18-hole courses wherever possible, there must be situations – whether they are private or public golf facilities – where such truly flexible design solutions might be a better option. If an 18-hole course simply can’t be achieved without cost-prohibitive (and possibly approval-prohibited) fencing, and if reducing the number of holes on the site actually improves the quality of golf, reduces ongoing maintenance budgets and still satisfies demand… then surely it’s worth investigating in some detail. It might just be the best design solution for the site.
Alternate course routings within a site
An extension of the ‘courses within the course’ concept is to combine two very different routings for the one site into one golf field. The different routings could play in utterly different directions, possibly on alternate days. The idea’s not a new one – reference the ability to play the Reverse Old Course at St Andrews. This type of design is best applied to flattish sites. Possibly the most appropriate implementation of this design concept is in resort destination settings, where the client is focussed on providing an environment within which people stay and play and spend longer periods of time. Many resort projects we have worked on in China involve a minimum of 27 holes and quite often more because the thought is 18 holes just won’t retain guests for long enough. Consider then, the attached sketch concept: under this scenario, the different courses might be played on alternate days, so that guests staying overnight get to play a completely different course the next day. If a client backed such a concept, the architect would need to spend enough time in the design of the courses to satisfy them that both are of a very high quality. The end goal being that guests are so excited by the golf that they are desperate to stay on to allow them to play each layout at least one more time. This would make for a terrific destination – and a very happy developer.
Flexible designs solutions can and should be so much more than simply locating multiple tee sites along the line of play. Careful design can add significant interest to the play of a course and offer a multitude of varying choices which will provide enhanced stimulation, joy and memorability for golfers of all abilities. Indeed, as outlined, a site might actually yield two courses for the price of one – well, almost the price of one! Assuming an appropriate site is chosen, the flexibility and variability in the design solution is only limited by the architect’s imagination.
Todd Hyland is a senior designer with Cashmore Golf Design.