Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

Archive for September, 2009

More than the Sum of its Parts

 I’ve been designing golf courses for a long time and my best projects are easy for me to identify.  Other projects may have been done with a better budget or a better piece of land, but the best projects are the ones where I’m still friends with the contractor and owner.  I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had a number of repeat renovation clients – in more than one case we’ve taken over seven years to complete the work I had master planned.  The clubs that decide to do everything in one or two seasons are nice jobs, too.  Don’t get me wrong – there’s a certain instant gratification that’s right up there with having a fully sodded new course!

I make a point to try and get back to many of my projects each year.  Experiencing the maturation process and actually playing my holes is invaluable.  It gives me the confidence to project how my work will perform down the road, which is especially critical with greens.  

Back to my favorite projects.  It’s a real trick to remain friends with everyone involved in a big project when its all done.  I don’t care how carefully you plan or how easy going everyone is; there are going to be unforeseen problems.  If you can deal with them as a team there’ll be a team picture at the end.  Projects like this don’t work well when even just one of the three main parties (Owner, Architect, Contractor) thinks the project is all about him or her.  Everyone must understand what each of the three main parties has to win or lose depending on the success of the project.  Often times, the Architect acts as an arbitrator between the Owner and Contractor and sometimes Architects make the mistake of making both unhappy in the process.  A good Architect is a good problem solver and he/she needs to be a good team builder as well.  Keeping everyone happy is as important as getting the exact grade that you want on that green.  You might disagree, thinking that once the green is completed it’s going to be like that for a long time.  While this is true, a discontented contractor will be a less careful builder and you may end up with a lot of problems that he ordinarily would have resolved for himself.    By the same token, an Owner that has to squabble over minor details and nickel and dime change orders may just blow a gasket when you come across rock where a critical cut is needed.  Above all else, dollars will be the root of discontent for the Contractor and Owner.  It’s easy to understand that the Owner is “paying the bills”.  It’s sometimes not so easy to realize that the Contractor is paying bills as well.  He’s in the project to make a profit.  As the Architect, you have to be cognizant of the financial realities.


Rules of Golf Unlimited

If you play by the rules or at least think you play by the rules, read on.  If you don’t and don’t care – well, I kinda wish I could join you.  You see, the rules of golf are WAY TOO COMPLICATED!  I’ve been playing the game for over….well, a very long time… and there are still occasional situations when I’m not certain what the ruling would be. 

The Rules of Golf are archaic, confusing, and sometimes obscure.  The USGA and the R & A started jointly making and publishing the rules in 1952.  I’m not completely sure about this, but I don’t think there has been a substantial  reassessment of the rules since.   Think how much the game has changed!  When I began to learn the game, my father taught me one principle that was far more important than any one rule – honor.  Golf is a game of honor.  Over the years and after hundreds and probably thousands of “Decisions on the Rules of Golf” the concept of honor being foremost has been diminished.  With each decision on each obscure little situation the integrity of the Rules as a whole is eroded. 

Today, if you’re playing in sanctioned tournament and have an odd situation it’s likely that someone in your group is going to claim to know the ruling and they’ll be certain they are right.  Now if you are uncertain about what to do, that can be welcomed since it eliminates conflict within the group and keeps play moving.  Of course there’s always the off chance that someone some distance away will observe what has happened and take a different view and even make a complaint at the scorer’s table.  Then there’s also the chance that the ruling you agreed upon within the group was wrong and you could be disqualified.  Honor in golf is as much about trusting your fellow competitors as it is about being honest and forthright in your own game.  Too often, players interfere or question when there is no good reason to suspect that the player has done something that is not within the rules.  Last year, I was playing in my golf  league which is match play.  The weather was dry and there was no reason to assume that my ball might have picked up mud or other debris on it.  My ball was on the collar and my opponents ball lay just beyond me in the rough on a line with the hole.  She asked me to mark my ball and remove it.  I did so and as I stood and watched her play her shot, I thoughtlessly tossed the ball back and forth between my hands.  After she played, another player in my group claimed that I could be penalized for what I just did.  I thought she was kidding.  I knew that I could not clean my ball, but I also knew that my ball had nothing on it and that my actions were not in any way affecting the surface of the ball.  But she insisted that after marking your ball when it is off the green you must hold it between your thumb and forefinger out in front of you so that your opponent can see that you aren’t doing anything to clean it.  Again, at first I thought she was joking, but then I began to second guess myself.  It was only after questioning the Pro after we finished and then following up to confirm with a USGA rules offical a couple of weeks later that I was relieved to know that I was right and there is no prescribed way that the ball must be handled.

Now this example is particularly poignant to my case.  There is no honor in accusing a fellow competitor of a rules violation without being absolutely certain yourself.  Golf has promoted the idea that each player has a responsibility to the field in a stroke play tournament to assure the Rules are followed.   For too many people this means that they should act if they are suspicious.   Too often, people make accusations based upon an obscure rule they violated or were accused of violating (as was the case in my example).  I sometimes think that there are people out there that relish the chance to show their “superior” Rules knowledge by “catching someone”.  Perhaps its more of a masque for their own poor knowledge and lack of judgement.

This is but one aspect of my issues with the Rules and the way they are applied.  However, I do believe as my father told me long ago that honor is at the root of this game and we need to rein in the Rules and restore the power of the game to its players.

I would guess there are relatively few people playing the game today that know the rules well enough to complete a round without at least one violation.  Furthermore, I estimate that less than 1% of all golfers are equipped to make rulings to the satisfaction of the USGA.  The first statement is an indictment of the rambling, confusing nature of the Rules, while the second is an indictment of the USGA and its thirst for power and the almighty dollar.  Personally, I don’t have a problem with the USGA.  They have not held me back in any way, in fact, personally and professionally they have been completely fair.  However, the longer I observe the game and its growth (and recent stagnation) the more I feel that the USGA’s policies are at the root. 

For much of the 20th century golf was a sport for the wealthy and known to be very expensive and exclusive.  About the time the USGA and R&A began cooperating on the rules, things began to change and by the time Arnold Palmer was voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame the game was accessible financially to nearly everyone.  When I was growing up “real” golfers played more than once a week – my father played nearly every day for over 40 years.  Today that’s a pipe dream, unless you can afford a club membership or season pass.  There’s a lot more than too many rules wrong with this game, but you’ve gotta start somewhere. 

I for one want to see simpler rules that speed play.

A Pet Peeve

As an architect of golf, I’m a target – its true – for gripes, complaints and just plain old swearing fits.  Fortunately, I also get my share of accolades.  If you don’t think you need to have a thick skin to do this gig, you’ve only got one oar in the water.  Honestly, I want to hear peoples unfettered opinions.  If you can’t take input on your work, you won’t be around for long and you certainly can’t push the envelope and come up with much of anything that’s original. 


How many times have you seen someone in a foursome hit a “Star Trek Shot” from the tee.  Then when one of the other players misses the fairway to the same side, he throws up his arms and exclaims, “well of course you hit it that direction, the tee ‘aims you that way’.”  This is about the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.  Learning how to aim your shot is a basic skill taught in your first golf lesson.  When you hit from the fairway do you depend on the mowing pattern to line you up? 


Now, that being said, there are two basic configurations that most architects are using these days:  symmetrical and asymmetrical.  Most often symetrical is a rectangular shape.  It may have rounded or “squared-off” corners, but essentially it is rectangular (which happens to include squares – for those of you…well you get the idea).  Symmetrical tees are often designed to align with the middle of the fairway.   Occasionally they are aligned to  aim shots away from an object – say a nasty neighbor that built his house 75 years after the course was built.  Asymmetrical tees are free form and they are not aligned with anything in particular although they most often are designed to fit into the landscape.  This usually will mean that the tee requires less earthwork and has a more “natural” appearance.  Often the tee “pad” is bench-cut (into the uphill side with the fill going to the downhill side) so that the tee’s axis is aligned parallel to the natural slope.   They also tend to be less expensive to maintain because you don’t need to be as meticulous with the edges and corners.  This was a concept that developed early in the last big golf course building boom.  It was considered contemporary and “new”.  More recently, we have gone back to the more rectangular shapes.  Because they sit on the landscape without regard for the natural landforms they have a more dramatic appearance, but they are also more expensive to build and maintain.

So, there you have TEES 101 and my particular pet peeve.  I’m sure someone out there doesn’t agree with me. so let’s hear it.

Comment on the name/header

Ok, so I didn’t design “the road hole”, but I did design the hole in my header.  It’s the 7th at the Dunes Course at New Seabury Country Club on Cape Cod.  They once had a course there called the Green Course, but the Dunes is completely new (2001).  I also made some fairly extensive adjustments to their Ocean Course. 

Anyway, the name  “Road Hole Shorts” refers to the famous (or if you’ve played it the infamous) 17th at St. Andrews. which is known as the Road Hole, for those of you that don’t know.   BTW, I did play it … and ahem…I parred it on my way to a 79.  But that’s another post.  The name Road Hole Shorts is one I’ve been using for over 10 years with my business.  I published a periodic newsletter under that name.  So, I hope you enjoy my posts.  I enjoy putting “pen to paper”.  Let’s see what happens!

Welcome to my Blog

Hi!  My name is Mary Armstrong.  I am a golf architect and own Armstrong Golf Architects, LLC.  I have been in business since January 1, 1990 and have designed more than 100 projects in the U.S., Vietnam, Samoa and The Bahamas.  I will be writing about golf design and golf in general in my posts.  I encourage you to also go to my website and check-out my FAQ’s.   My website is

Last evening, I happened to tune into the Samsung World Championships at Torrey Pines.  I was floored by the lack of fans at the tournament.  Leaders were finishing and there were far fewer than a hundred fans visible from the cameras.  The LPGA really needs to do something!  When are they going to hire a Commissioner?  They’ve taken a good part of the season to do that and meanwhile interest isn’t exactly growing.  I’m concerned.  The LPGA, while I disagree with some of their policies, has the best female players in the world.  From what I understand, the European Tour will have more events than the U.S. next year and that has caused some players that normally would have “graduated” to the LPGA to reconsider.    I hope that something is done soon, because if nothing else having the best players in the world is a strong marketing tool for better and more events here in the U.S.  It’s only a matter of time before the girls start going elsewhere!

That’s it for now – look forward to hearing YOUR  thoughts.