Road Hole Shorts

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Archive for July, 2010

Upon taking the course, color is everything

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 07/23/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

It has been said that a golf course is a collection of eighteen masterpieces.

It’s true — the golf aesthetic is a source of beauty, tranquility, drama and emotions that many people associate with art. The elements of design are definitely imbedded in art. Space, line, color, shape, texture and form translate into a three-dimensional art form. But one of the unique aspects of golf is in the ability of the player to become a part of the composition; to put him or herself inside the art and compete within it. Perhaps this is the reason that just about anyone that tries it is hooked.

So about now you’re probably asking yourself, “how is color everything?” After all, a golf course is 95 percent green, right? Yes, let’s hope so. But, the different shades of green are key. Light and dark, bright and dull. these variations in the color green, along with the splash of bunker sand and hopefully the deep blue of a lake define lines and shapes, and enhance or diminish forms.

Whether a course has warm season grasses in the fairways and roughs (primarily Bermuda) as does the New Mexico State Golf Course and Las Cruces Country Club or cool season grasses (primarily bluegrass, ryegrass, fescues and bentgrass) is a consideration as well. For several reasons, bermudagrass has been relatively consistent in its coloring — mostly a medium hue. Some of the newer, finer bermudas are a little darker, but often, the more coarse texture of the older common bermuda causes it to look darker than it is. So, the possibilities of color on courses with warm season grasses are somewhat diminished.

Cool-season grasses on the other hand have had a wide range of hues associated with the greater number of grass species that provide a suitable playing surface. Therefore, cool season grasses provide a much more flexible palette with which to “paint” golfing masterpieces. If you have recently been watching golf on television, you may have seen some very good examples of this at Aromonink Golf Club (ATT Championship on the Men’s tour) and at Oakmont Country Club (US Women’s Open).

Golf technology is most often associated with the equipment used to play the sport. However, the technology involved in selecting and engineering turf grass seed has had a large impact on the creation of the “postcard” views that most of the public sees on weekly golf telecasts. Unfortunately, the technology and methods used for judging qualities of new species is decidedly oriented away from a good array of hues. Therefore, our palette is gradually shrinking.

While I’ll admit to thinking more about how a hole plays when I’m designing, I am absolutely gaga over the visual impact of a light (some might say bright) green bentgrass fairway and tees against the dark green of a “blue-rye” rough. The contrast is simply sublime. The resulting fairway/rough line can direct the eye, frame the view, create drama or sooth the soul.

But for all technology has done for the game, it’s failed us in our quest for ever more beautiful, maintainable and environmentally friendly turf. Every year there are countless turf trials where new cultivars of all the different species are judged. Susceptibility to disease, turf density, drought resistance and other factors are judged along with color. Genetic color is judged on the basis of 1 (the lowest rating) being light green and 9 being dark green. This rating system is across the board — for all species.So seed researchers and growers select cultivars for growing and distribution based upon this rating system. Of course it’s only one of several factors in the rating of varieties, but there’s no telling what we might have in the way of varieties that were dragged down by nothing more than a lighter color. I’ve been lobbying for more light colored Kentucky Bluegrass and Ryegrass varieties for nearly 15 years. I guess it could be a lifelong quest.

Some of you might be a little more on the practical side and could be wondering why you should care. There’s much more at stake than aesthetics. A golf course that has easily identifiable fairway and rough edges makes it easier for players to visually “mark” where a stray shot was last seen. In turn this can speed play. Also, a golf course that clearly defines positive space (fairways and greens) and negative space (rough, bunkers, desert areas and lakes) makes it easier for a player to focus on the positive spaces. If you doubt this, imagine a situation where you were hitting a drive off a very elevated tee and you can’t see anything but a cloudless blue sky. It would be pretty hard to find an aiming point, don’t you think? The next time you’re at the course, take a moment to reflect on the beautiful masterpiece you might have if the fairways were all a nice bright green and the roughs a deep dark green with splashes of white sand strategically positioned along the way.

A golf architect for over twenty years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, LLC, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.

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Who Names Golf Holes?

By Mary Armstrong

Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News July 16, 2010

The naming of golf holes periodically arises as the trendy thing to do. All this probably originates with tourists invading the old courses in Great Britain. At St. Andrews’ Old Course, site of the current British Open, holes and even features such as bunkers, mounds and hollows bear monikers such as “Hell,” “Deacon Sime,” “The Principal’s Nose” and “Miss Granger’s Bosoms.” These and probably at least a hundred more descriptive names are attached to the features of The Old Course.

What’s in a name? When warranted, identifying particular parts of a golf course with a name romanticizes that object — giving it a meaning and significance beyond that of a simple landform. Being an architect, I can understand a designer’s enthusiasm for communicating the essence of a particular hole by naming it, but 95 percent of the time no one cares. Each of Augusta National’s holes are named after a particular tree or shrub, but even the PGA Tour Players can’t name a single one. And yet some marketing experts will tell you that naming holes on a new course somehow attaches a permanence or historic quality. Chances are good that if your course has named holes you can’t name more than a few. According to Robert Kroger in his book “The Golf Courses of Old Tom Morris,” Deacon Sime was so named because a local man of the cloth requested “his ashes be sprinkled in that bunker when he died. His reasoning being that, since he spent so much time in it during his lifetime, he might as well spend eternity there.” The bunker is named on a map dated 1879 and signed by Old Tom Morris.

What is the dynamic involved in the naming of anything? According to one source, “Lacking the authority of someone to impose a name on a feature, it arises from common reference,”  In my experience these are the only names that mean anything. Therefore, in the case of the Deacon Sime Bunker, the vast majority of players must have been calling it by that name when Old Tom Morris noted it on his plan.

Hence, the naming of holes and features is driven as much by events as by the hole or feature’s distinctiveness. My old home course in New Hampshire had a few unique holes. One in particular had a White Oak tree that had been saved during construction in the early 90s at the corner of the dogleg. As is often the case, trees that are “saved” don’t do well and it has progressively gotten weaker and weaker. Gradually, as a result of its suffering, the tree’s essential branching pattern has been revealed. The tree has become known as Bullwinkle thanks to its moose-like antler branching pattern. If you stand next to the tee and listen to the members, nearly every foursome will make some remark about Bullwinkle — that one went right through Bullwinkle, or Bullwinkle knocked that one down. Bullwinkle would be a great name for this hole, but only if the tree ultimately survives to a long life.

On the same hole, a member that was an inimitable character became upset with his game and threw his clubs into the pond in front of the tees. Soon after he realized there was something in his bag that he couldn’t part with. The memorable part of this tale wasn’t that he entered the pond to retrieve his keys or wallet. What was unforgettable was that he became stuck in the quicksand like silt and began waving his aquatic weed covered arms around in a comically frantic motion. The event was memorialized when he was presented “The Swamp Thing” trophy at the end of that season.

Of course, imbibing can sometimes have an influence on events and therefore on naming. Probably my favorite story about a hole name comes from Carnoustie. The 446 yard 10th plays across Barry Burn and into the prevailing breeze. So how was the name “South America” derived? It seems as though there once was an ancient son of Carnoustie that planned to spread the word of the game to the new world. It seems as though there was a huge party at the Club to send the lad off on his journey. The following morning, the poor boy was found face down — still on Scottish soil — at least in close proximity to the 10th hole. Therefore, the hole is known as “South America.”

Finally, again at my old home course was the case of the naming of the 19th hole — or perhaps … it’s the parking lot that warrants naming. A good friend — again imbibing perhaps a little too liberally — closed down the grill room, changed his shoes at his car’s trunk and proceeded to drive over his golf bag and clubs as he backed out of his favorite parking space. Hmmm…maybe “Frank’s Folly” — whadda ya think?

A golf architect for over twenty years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, LLC, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.

British Open — the Granddaddy of them all

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 07/02/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

The British Open is coming up next week. The Open, as the Brit’s and most everyone other than Americans call it, returns to the Old Course at St. Andrews for the twenty-eighth time, going back to 1873. The first Open was contested at Prestwick in 1860 where past and future green keeper of St. Andrews, Old Tom Morris had developed “one of the shrewdest tests of golf anywhere.” Old Tom is credited with starting and promoting the original Open Championship – then known as the “Challenge Belt”. WWF fans don’t get too excited, now. Anyway, Scotsman Willie Park won that first Open.

Old Tom Morris rejoined the Royal and Ancient (St. Andrews) in 1864 with the specific objective of making the St. Andrews the best in Scotland. Most people think that the Old Course (known only as St. Andrews then since there was only one course) has hardly been touched, but over the next 40 years (1864 – 1904) the course was changed dramatically at the hand of Morris. When Old Tom arrived, the layout essentially played out and back on one fairway to small greens with two holes (outward and inward nines). The playing corridor was so narrow that many of the original bunkers had to be carried as the gorse and whin that lined the fairways left no option for playing around them. Allan Robertson, who preceded Morris, was credited with instituting two holes in each of the still rather small greens as well as with building the Road Bunker that fronts the treacherous 17th green. Gradually Morris reclaimed land to the east (toward the North Sea) and expanded the fairways and greens to allow enough room for players to pass when meeting on the inward and outward nines without a disruption in play. Whether by design or accident this expansion led to the “Strategic” design philosophy and the demise of the “Penal” style.

These changes to the course must have taken incredible intestinal fortitude as Old Tom was under continual criticism by the old guard members as they observed the course played 10 strokes easier in 1890 than it did in 1860. Still, Old Tom’s adjustments have stood the test of time and his green keeping skills were the basis for many a course’s maintenance practices over the years. If you have played the Old Course, I suggest you get a copy of “The Golf Courses of Old Tom Morris” by Robert Kroeger, which is the basis for much of my writing above.

I was fortunate enough to have made a pilgrimage to Scotland to play the links courses in 1999. At that time the bunkers on the Old Course were being completely rebuilt in anticipation of the 2000 Open and I was fortunate to see various stages of the construction. While the Old Course wasn’t my favorite, it certainly was interesting and a privilege to play such an historic layout. There are many stories about that trip I would like to share with my readers, but there isn’t the space for all that was fun and interesting.

The controversial Ryder Cup win at The Country Club the month before my visit seemed to have an effect on the ordinarily warm Scottish hospitality. In 1998 I had met a member of the St. Andrews Links Management Trust, and a former President of the Scottish PGA at Pinehurst. They encouraged my friends and I to come and experience Scottish golf as they would “set us up” at the local facilities. Despite having had correspondence with them (prior to the Ryder Cup) when we arrived we were left to fend for ourselves. There was never an explanation, but at that time, Justin Leonard’s prancing “all over the green” before his opponent could putt was still fresh in the Brit’s minds.

Fortunately, I was in one of my “diary” states of mind and I have some terrific notes on my experiences. I thought I’d share a few from the Old Course: the caddy was essential for the first seven tee shots and he immediately picked up that my normal shot was slight draw. “Aim over the edge of the gorse and with you draw that will be good” – Stuart would say in his Scottish brogue. Stuart was well educated and originally from Glasgow. He had retired as a civil engineer from a construction company and was currently attending one of the St. Andrews colleges to get a Masters in Theology. His schooling was apparent in his speech and unlike the other caddies, I had no problem understanding him. He filled me in on some history: Cheap bunker, Hill bunker, Hell bunker, the Principals Nose, etc. and even suggested my family was probably from the south of Scotland or the north of England and that they regularly raided both sides of the border! I said, “so we were bandits!” His reply – “it serves no purpose to label at this point, besides it was all a matter of survival back then and most people probably did that sort of thing”. (I note now that his observation has sent me off to some very interesting investigations of my marauder ancestry). He seemed not really a part of the caddy clique and the others were much more difficult to understand and seemed bored with their loops. Stuart however was very attentive, legitimately excited about my many good shots, and appropriately subdued about my few bad ones.

As we approached the crossover holes (7 and 11 cross each other) I found my emotions high with anticipation. After a good drive on 7, I had to wait for the tee shots from 11 because I had nearly reached the line between the 11th tee and the 11th side of the double green.Negotiating the crossover was a very interesting and social experience. As an Architect, a crossover hole is a definite no-no, but with the caddies’ direction it was absolutely no problem. In fact, if you can imagine 16 people involved with a round of golf all within 100 yards of each other, you might get just a hint of the camaraderie and fun that ensued. The caddies, probably fired up from the betting on their loops, were a large part of the amusement as they bantered back and forth in their local accents.

If you ever get to visit or can even just examine a detailed map of the Old Course, you’ll see that every bunker and even some other features have names. When I was preparing for my trip, I was particularly interested in the area named the Elysian Fields.  They lie on the 14th, called Long, and as it happened, it was my worst hole. I pushed my drive out of bounds across the old right of way onto the Eden Course. My second drive was a low driving ball that pierced the wind and split the fairway. One of the caddy’s remarked “same gal” (a comment I’ve since adopted). I knew that against the wind, the 14th would prove to be a great challenge and would involve the most strategy. As I walked down the Elysian Fields, which is a plateau for the first half of 14th, I was stricken by the desolation of the links land. From the Elysian Fields the course seemed so flat except for the protruding dunes. Occasionally you can just make out the ocean at the horizon line. I found myself feeling alone. Perhaps the origin of caddies was as much for mental comfort rather than physical relief. It’s easy to see the advantage of a knowledgeable caddy: to guide and comfort, bolster and prod onward. As I walked on, “Golf in the Kingdom”, the mystical book by Michael Murphy came to mind. In the book the character Agatha had an interesting observation about golf and it’s catalyst for relationships: “Men (people) lovin’ men (people), that’s what golf is”.

According to Webster’s, “Elysian Field” is a place of ideal happiness. As I continued to stroll to my second drive, corny as it sounds, the Beatles tune of Strawberry Fields began to run through my mind with the words Elysian Fields substituted.

As my caddie located my first ball I returned to the present. I knew Hell bunker was going to be a consideration. Stuart indicated three possible routes. The first, left of Hell, toward the 4th flag, was preferred followed by a very short lay up directly ahead at the end of Elysian fields. Stuart prefaced the last route with “Can you carry a shot 200 yards into the wind?” I said, “yes,” and he replied, “if you can, you could carry Hell and have an easy pitch from there.” Needless to say, I over swung and half topped the shot with the ball rolling to the left toward Hell. Instead of going into the cavernous bunker it rolled up between Hell and the Pot bunker to the right. Stuart remarked, “You must be living a clean life”. My next shot found the small pot bunker near the left front of the green, the result of a decided uphill lie. From the bunker, I blasted to a three footer, which I missed giving me an eight. Thank God I missed Hell.

It was a trip of a lifetime – only I’m eager to go back. I hope I’m entitled to two trips of a lifetime and this time it will have to include Royal Dornoch, Cruden Bay, Turnberry and Ballybunion.

Parting shots: Get those City Golf Tournament entries completed. Women’s event begins on the 17th and men on the 24th.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.