Road Hole Shorts

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Archive for August, 2010

PGA Tournament Committee 1 –Players 0

by Mary Armstrong

Published by the Las Cruces Sun-News 8/20/10

I hope you missed “Bunkergate” this past Sunday.  No one should have to endure the torture that the PGA put us through, least of all poor Dustin Johnson.  Dustin, he of shooting 82 and hitting it all over the place on the final day of the U.S. Open, showed his “metal”, playing a strong, albeit not particularly steady, final round.  Unfortunately, his bright, smooth” metal” became unrecognizably hammered by the PGA establishment.

Dustin only needed to par the final hole to win the coveted Wanamaker Trophy and PGA Championship.  When he seemingly bogeyed the hole, he fell into a tie with two other players.  He tapped in for an apparent five only to be intercepted on his way to the scorer’s table by the PGA Official assigned to his group.  The official informed him that he may have suffered a two stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker.  The rest is history as they say and perhaps you’ve seen many different perspectives on the situation this week. 

I won’t dispute that the ruling was proper and warranted under the rules of golf and the PGA tournament committee’s management.  However, that doesn’t mean that I think it was appropriately handled or even conceived.  First of all, Pete Dye’s (the course architect) ego has overridden any weak sense of design he ever had at this course.  A simple indication of design quality is how memorable each hole is.  Whistling Straits exhibits slight variations on only a few basic hole layouts.  This makes it very difficult to create memorable holes.  The site is spectacular, but Dye failed miserably in designing a worthy golf course.  The fact that there is a discussion about how many bunkers are on the course is indicative of Dye’s need to feed his ego.  His design theme on this site was apparently to have more bunkers than anyone will ever want to design into another course.  A Guinness significance does not constitute good design.  Any first year design student knows that.  In closing a recent article, Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal wrote that when he asked the “magic question” of Course Superintendent Michael Lee he replied, “’An accurate answer is that there are over 1,000,’ he said. ‘The most accurate answer is, we don’t know.’”  By actual count of Golf Magazine writer Ron Whitten, the number is 967, but he acknowledged that he didn’t count overgrown or “abandoned” bunkers.  Dye himself was interviewed after the incident Sunday and he wanted us to believe that there are at least 1201 bunkers. 

More important than the suitability of the course for a major championship was the PGA’s poorly conceived crowd control plan or at best a poor implementation.  To permit the crowd to overrun a highly bunkered area in the driving zone on the finishing hole is pure ineptness.  Adding insult to injury is David Price’s contention that he couldn’t get through the fans in time to advise Johnson.  Given Nick Watney’s distant position in the standings, Price, the PGA walking official assigned to the pairing, should have been right on Johnson’s tail from the time Dustin picked up his tee.

Dustin and his caddie, Bobby Brown, were not without guilt as well.  Brown, Johnson’s caddie over most of his three plus years on tour took his share of the blame head on as did his boss.  “Dustin is a stand-up guy, and he showed his character”, Brown was quoted in Dustin’s hometown newspaper.  The only thing he didn’t say was “again”.  After the horrible finishing round at the U.S. Open, some speculated that it would “scar” Dustin for a long time.  Instead, he performed beautifully in the PGA.  We all respect him and his caddie for accepting “their medicine”, but I have to say that the game is headed toward disaster when the participants continually have to accept the blame.  The game of golf requires superior athletic skill, the mental toughness of a drill sergeant and increasingly, the interpretation skills of a constitutional lawyer.  There is no doubt that you must know the rules.  A recent copy of the “Rules of Golf” takes over 180 pages; but that’s just the beginning.  The book “Decisions on the Rules of Golf” has over 500 pages.  The rules need simplifying.  Perhaps that wouldn’t have helped Dustin – we can only speculate, but the future of the game depends at least in part on rules that are simple, comprehensible and backed by logic and consistency.

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.  You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: https://roadholeshorts17.wordpress.com/.

Golf rules can be troublesome

By Mary Armstrong For the Sun-News

Published 8/27/10

In the past week, the golf world has been abuzz with “Bunkergate” — the fiasco at the PGA Championship. Hundreds of thousands of words have been published and probably tens of millions have been written online about it. And yet the “Rules Establishment” would have you believe that “the game isn’t supposed to be fair.” When a position of authority says or at least implies “you don’t really understand,” you have to be suspicious, and you should be insulted. To tell us that the rules aren’t there to make the game fair is frankly a slap in the face. At best it’s a lousy excuse for bad work. There isn’t another sport (or game) in this world that applies a rule and then says the game isn’t supposed to be fair. The nearest thing I can come up with was the “tuck” rule in the 2002 AFC Divisional Playoff game pitting the Oakland Raiders against the New England Patriots. It was a very controversial ruling and many questioned its validity. Nonetheless, the NFL never tried to say, nor did they need to say, “oh too bad, that’s tough, the game isn’t supposed to be fair.” There are plenty of rules that I find troublesome. The problem here isn’t so much that players need to know the rules. We all deal with rules everyday — there are rules or laws for just about anything you might do. Most of the time we don’t have to think about what the rule is because it is common sense — it’s what would come to mind for the average person in a given situation. This past week, Juli Inkster was disqualified for using a weighted “donut” on one of her clubs to get loose after a 30-minute wait on the 10th tee in the Safeway Classic. Inkster turned 50 this year. I’m sure she has been playing on the LPGA tour in excess of 25 years. The question isn’t so much whether she broke the rule, it’s more about how can you possibly know all the rules.

My father taught me that the game is dependent upon honor. Much of the time, a player is alone with his/her actions and you have to be at peace with what you do. What my father didn’t tell me is that when you have officials involved honor takes a back seat to explaining your actions. This past year, Michelle Wie was penalized for grounding her club in a hazard (a pond in this case) after she had just struck a shot from that hazard. Without getting too in depth into the particulars, Wie told the rules official that after she hit the shot, she lost her balance and put the club down to help stabilize herself. After seeing the video it seemed to me that she hit the shot and then put her club down as most of us would do, to help her step out of the pond. She knew that she didn’t do anything that gave her an advantage or violated the spirit of the rules. In my opinion she tried to explain her actions within the context of the rule that she supposedly violated and didn’t think to just say what she was thinking and doing. The rules official did not agree with her and assessed the penalty.It seems to me that the only person that knows why they did something is the player. In my view, the official overstepped his bounds by deciding he knew better than she, what was going on with her body and mind. Have we forgotten that a person’s honor is more important than any kind of penalty or disqualification that can be assessed? If Michelle Wie manufactured a reason to avoid a deserved penalty she would be vilified in ink and more importantly by her peers; and that would be far more incentive to do the right thing than having “Daddy Rules” hanging over her. And again, what advantage did she gain by putting her club down after she played her shot? The game’s not supposed to be fair — hmmpf!Rules officials have made themselves indispensable in this game. It reminds me of too many other sports that have taken the game away from the players with overbearing officiating and rule making. The honor of the game — which historically has been a foundation of the sport — has been lost. Today, observing the rules is far more about being prepared to argue your case with an official. The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers got along with 13 handwritten rules on a page and a half from 1744 to 1775. For well over 30 years competitions were conducted and Championships determined without the need to add even one single word.I have been playing this game for 50 years now. I have never been more uncertain of the rules than I am now. Oh sure, when I was 8 years old I didn’t know the rules, but I KNEW I didn’t know the rules. Today, if you think you know the rules you are more likely to be penalized or even disqualified than if you KNOW you don’t know the rules. Rules officials like to lean on the “when uncertain of the course of action under the rules, play a second ball clause – Rule 3-3.” I don’t know about you, but I’m considering hitting a “second ball” on every shot.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. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: https://roadholeshorts17.wordpress.com/.

“Golf in the Kingdom’ — is it about golf or is it about life?

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 08/13/2010 10:28:19 AM MDT

This book involves a chance meeting with an obscure Scottish Golf Professional — Shivas Irons; a mind-bending round of golf with him and his pupil; a philosophizing banquet of sorts with the golf pro’s closest friends; a nighttime adventure that some might call a snipe hunt; followed by a mystifying excursion onto the course to magically play one hole. All this occurs in one short 24 hour period. The book is the author’s memory of those events, but more importantly it represents his quest to rediscover it all. Golf in the Kingdom (GITK) isn’t a suspense novel. It’s not a page turner in the common sense of the phrase, but it is if you enjoy leafing back to this passage or that and realizing something new with each iterative reading.

The book is filled with wonderful, quotable phrases such as the title for last week’s column: “The Gemme is meant for walkin'”. Many of those quotables occur during the philosophizing banquet. Agatha, wife of one Shivas’ best friends, is begged by all those attending to expound on what she perceives to be the essence of the game. Until this point, she seemingly stands to the side as an observer of what golf means to her husband and his close friends. When finally she concedes to speak, she sweetly states her own perspective for the small group.

“Oh, golf is for smellin’ heather and cut grass and walkin’ fast across the countryside and feelin’ the wind and watchin’ the sun go down and seein’ yer friends hit good shots and hittin’ some yerself. It’s love and It’s feelin’ the splendor o’ this good world.” But this isn’t her only feeling about the game and what it’s all about.

“‘It’s the only reason ye play at all,’ She said. “It’s a way ye’ve found to get together and yet maintain your proper distance. I know you men. Yer not like women or Italians huggin’ and embracin’ each other. Ye need tae feel yer separate love. Just look — ye winna’ come home on time if yer with the boys, I’ve learned that o’er the years. The love ye feel for your friends is too strong for that. All those gentlemanly rools, why they’re the proper rools of affection — and all the waitin’ and oohin’ and ahin’ o’er yer shots, all the talk o’ this one’s drive and that one’s putt and the other one’s gorgeous swing — what is it all but love? Men lovin’ men, that’s what golf is.'”

This, of course, may explain why golf is historically such a man’s game and the book doesn’t really examine the game’s attraction for women except in a metaphysical and mystical sense. And perhaps that is where men and women’s interests intersect. Peter, another guest at the banquet asks, “Why is the game such an X-ray of the soul.”

During the “Snipe Hunt” as I termed it above, Shivas Irons takes Michael to the “lair” of his mentor or perhaps more aptly put, shaman. The place where Seamus MacDuff “lives” is at the base of a ravine where Lucifer’s Rug — a gnarly patch of gorse — guards the approach to the fictional Burningbush Link’s infamous 13th hole. There, Shivas introduces Michael to the metaphysics of the game — feeling his “inner body” and letting true gravity take over. As Shivas gives Michael this impromptu lesson, Michael observes: “I was aware that part of my mind had suspended judgment, that many questions were simmering still. But it felt marvelous to swing that way, so absorbed in the pleasure and feel of it. And it was a relief not to worry about the results. I could have gone on for hours.”

Interestingly, I had a very similar experience this past week. Coaching I’ve been getting from Joann Cox and reading this book have helped me to improve my mental game. I’ve been reading and re-reading passages from the book and it happens that it has coincided with one of my best scoring streaks. Last Thursday in my Ladies Golf Association weekly event at New Mexico State University, I shot 36-29 – 65 — a personal best and I am told course record from the forward markers. I tell you this not to boast, but to suggest that the crossing of these events were not by chance. I’ve been working toward a calm mind and detachment from results, but on that day I did sense my inner body. An image sometimes triggers this state of mind for me. The image is Da Vinci’s man — which according to GITK can be ascertained to have originated from an appreciation of the symmetry and proportions of the human body based upon Pythagorean Theory.

I’m sure this may sound a little outlandish and wild to some of you. Perhaps you have heard athletes talk about being “in the zone” and not being aware of what is transpiring around them. I believe this is precisely what Shivas is conveying to Michael. How you get to that “state” is the million-dollar question. Shivas takes a metaphysical and perhaps mystical approach. The real gift of GITK though is in its broader implications for a more vivid, well-experienced life – within and outside of golf.One quote from Shivas was particularly catchy and curious to me. I don’t think I truly understand it yet, but it’s on my mind:”Shiva without Shakti is Shava.”

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Mary 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. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: https://roadholeshorts17.wordpress.com/.

Golf in the Kingdom and my Personal Best Round

 

New Mexico State University Golf Course
HOLE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 OUT 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 IN TOTAL
69.2/122

 Masters

349 170 350 476 348 133 373 483 324 3,006 370 160 473 357 365 489 413 154 404 3,185 6,191
Handicap 17 15 7 3 5 11 13 1 9   10 16 8 14 12 2 6 18 4    
Par 4 3 4 5 4 3 4 5 4 36 4 3 5 4 4 5 5 3 5 38 74
Score 4 3 4 5 4 3 3 6 4 36 3 4 3 4 3 4 2 2 4 29 65
+/-                                          
Net Score 4 3 4 5 4 3 3 5 4 35 3 4 3 4 3 3 2 2 4 28 63
Fairway     28.6%     71.4% 50%
Putts 2 2 2 2 2 2 1 2 2 1.9 1 2 1 2 1 2 0 1 2 1.3 1.6
GIR 88.9% 88.9% 88.9%

*the yardages and pars indicated above are from the white tees – I played from the forward tees that day.

This is my scorecard from the round I played last Thursday at NMSU.  As I have posted previously, I shot 65, my personal best and I am told a course record for the forward tees.  It happens that I have been getting coaching from my LPGA friend Joann Cox on my putting, but perhaps just as importantly on my state of mind.  I have also subscribed to “Spirit of Golf”.  While “Spirit of golf” seems not to conflict with it, it’s hard to discount the influence of GITK as I have only started reading it about the time my recent hot streak  began.  GITK’s Pythagorean connection, which in turn connects to my own feelings about Da Vinci’s man (an improvement for Vitruvian’s man) somehow has triggered a better approach to the game.

I was playing in our weekly Ladies Golf Association event.  We started on the 18th hole that day.  Until the 7th hole, my play was steady as I hit each green in regulation and two putted.  The only tester came when I misjudged my initial put (away from the mountains) and had to make a 7 footer coming back.  On the 7th, I nearly drove the green, as I often do, made a very confident and wonderful chip to a tap in birdie.  But, on the 8th, I bunkered my second on the par 5 next to the green.  The bunker shot was simple enough and perhaps I relaxed rather than played confidently as I didn’t accelerate through the shot and left it in the bunker.  My second bunker was much better, but I over-borrowed on my 8 footer and took a 6.  The 9th was again a steady hole and i finished the 9 even par.  Then on the 10th, due to my superior driving on the day, I decided to cut the dogleg and go for the green.  I rarely do this as out-of-bounds is on the left and that is where my “mistake” shot will often end up.  On that day, I hit a beautiful slight draw that landed just short of the green and ended up about 20 feet left of the front hole location.  Two putts again for an easy birdie.  I perhaps was over-confident as I addressed my shot on the downhill par 3 11th.  My vision of contact is specific and indelibly etched in my mind.  Sometimes when I desire that feeling too strongly, I exaggerate it.  That was what happened on the 11th and I nearly cold shanked the shot.  It ended up to the right of the cart path.  My pitch was too strong – as I had been feeling that I was not accelerating through these shots and thus leaving them short – and I ended up with a bogey.  The 12th, being my eagle hole as I call it, was a matter of destiny.  As always, I was on or near the fairway and I played a simple 9 iron to 10 feet.  The putt however was a twisting downhiller, but I confidently holed it.  On the 13th, I positioned my tee shot in the middle of the fairway with a 4 iron and proceeded to hit my 60 degree wedge a little fat, but just on about 12 feet below the hole.  I left my putt just short, but made an easy par.  The 14th is another hole I am confident of reaching with my drive.  This time, I bunkered my tee shot in the front bunker, just short of the green.  My explosion shot rolled to within 2 feet and I tapped in for another birdie.    With my driving being so beautiful, I confidently cut the dogleg on 15 and then rifled (a little thin) an 8 iron about 10 feet over the green in the extended collar.  My putt wasn’t the best and I was left with a downhill 6 footer, which I holed for another birdie.  The 16th was the highlight of my round.  This is a dogleg left hole of about 400 yards that is played as a par 5 for the ladies.  The tee is elevated and I often have problems keeping my tee shot in the fairway as it tilts slightly to the right and I often find myself in the rough, sometimes behind a tree and always needing to carry the right greenside  bunker to reach the green in two.  Today, I felt confident that I could carry the tree(s) at the corner and reach a flatter area of the fairway.  My drive was aimed directly at the corner tree and with the slight draw,  it settled in the middle of the fairway just under 100 yards from the center of the green.  The  pin was positioned just behind the false front and my 85 yard 60 degree wedge flew directly at the hole.  We were playing to the south and so the glare of the sun sometimes makes it difficult to see where the ball lands.  On this auspicious occasion, that was what happened.  I thought I saw the ball land.  I could tell that I nipped it nicely and that it would have plenty of back spin.  I instinctively called for the shot to stay, thinking it might back completely off the green.  When we reached the green, my ball was nowhere to be seen.  It was not down in front of the green where I feared in might be, but it was nowhere on the very large green to be seen.  Liz, one of my playing partners spied it in the hole and we all shouted and laughed at my good fortune.  While this was a double eagle according to our ladies scorecard, I normally will play the 16th and 18th (in my own mind) as par 4’s instead of 5’s as indicated on the scorecard.  Nonetheless, it was a 2, no matter how your score it.

After the 8th hole, even though I was using my Skycaddie (thus the scorecard above) to score my round, I somehow got past needing to use my score as a focus.  It was somehow pushed back away from my conciousness and I felt a certain calmness within myself.  I had played the back nine very well many times – I think my low score being 31 or 32 – perhaps the fact that I knew I would score well was a factor, but I’m thinking that the experiences I was re-examining in reading GITK may have been at work.  Over the last several rounds, I have been attempting to put myself in a very calm state of mind, going so far at one time to write “relax” on my golf ball (ala Stuart Applebee).  Being calm and relaxed and feeling my inner center as I pictured Da Vinci man seemed to put me into a scoring state of mind although scoring was the furthest thing from my conciousness.  Just before this round, I had been reading the part of the book where Shivas takes Michael to the base of the Lucifer’s Rug to find Seamus.  In one scene, Shivas is letting Michael hit shots with Seamus’ baffin’ spoon at a target.  He tells Michael to ” ‘feel yer inner body’ . My questions and puzzlement quieted…”  This is how I felt.  “I was aware that part of my mind had suspended judgement, that many questions were simmering still.  But it felt marvelous to swing that way, so absorbed in the pleasure and the feel of it.  And it was a relief not to worry about the results.”

I was in my inner place.  While I could absorb and relish my good shots, my not so good shots were merely there and I played on with no attachment to the results.

The 17th, a 118 yard uphill par 3 to a blind green, was my final hole that day.  The green had been struggling and was not in it’s best condition.  The green’s crew was busily trying to aerify, topdress and seed the surface between groups.  As we approached the tee, I imagined that the surface was probably rougher than its poor condition would normally present.  However, I was able to hit another “A” wedge crisply, with only a slight pull.  When we reached the surface, it was very rough, as it had been aerified using a slicing machine in two opposite directions.  My ball was exactly hole high 6 feet left.  As I approached the putt, I realized that the ball would normally break about a half a cup toward the front of the green.  My feeling was that I needed to just commit to that plan and there was nothing I could do beyond that.  With steady nerves stemming from a clear and quiet mind I stroked the putt into the cup for another birdie.   At the time, I really didn’t know my score for the round.  It was only after checking the Skycaddie and re-checking that I realized I had shot my best score ever – 65.

Now if I could only come to this feeling in my non-golf existence!

The Gemme is Meant for the Walkin’

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 08/06/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

“The Gemme (Game) is Meant for the Walkin'” is a direct quote from the classic novel “Golf in the Kingdom” by Michael Murphy. While my column this week is about walking to play golf, you’ll have to wait for my ruminations about that book until next week.

Today I want to comment on an article written in the New York Times this past Sunday. The article, by Bill Pennington, explains some recent “research” by the Director of the Health and Sport Science Center at Rose Medical Center in Denver. Neil Wolkodoff had wondered how conditioning influenced golf performance. Coincidentally, this past Sunday evening, Michael Breed of Golf Channels “Golf Fix” spoke briefly about the recent surge in extraordinary scores like Stuart Applebee’s 59 at Greenbrier. Breed indicated that he felt it was at least due in part to professional golfers being better athletes. As such they were more committed to conditioning. This was an interesting intersection of ideas for me.

I’ve been hinting here and there since I started this column that I was an advocate of walking the golf course for several reasons. Mr Wolkodoff’s research gives us some quantitative evidence for Shivas Iron’s dictum that “The gemme (game) is meant for the walkin’.”

It’s not surprising to me that golfers scored lower while playing with a caddie or pushing their clubs on a cart than they did with a motorized cart. What was somewhat unexpected was the difference in calories burned when walking (721 calories burned for 

nine holes) and carrying a bag was not all that different from walking with a push cart (718). Even riding a motorized cart burned 411 calories on average. This data also compares favorably with the University of Pittsburgh’s Study that put caloric expenditure at about 1000 calories for walking and carrying a bag for nine holes.

According to Wolkodoff, “one of the surprise realizations was that just swinging a golf club about 100 times uses up a significant amount of energy.”As for what affected a players performance, Wolkodoff was able to establish that when a player exceeded his or her anaerobic threshold (out of breath) their play became ineffective. “If you’re out of shape, exceeding your threshold could happen a few times every round, even while riding in a cart, because tee boxes and green complexes are often elevated.”So perhaps this information begs the question, “is golf a sport rather than a game?””There are a lot of ways to define a sport,” Wolkodoff said. “But we know that the golf swing uses almost every muscle group in the body. We know it uses a pretty significant amount of energy — not as much as running a 10K, but more than people think. And one significant measure of a sport is whether physical training improves your ability to perform, and I think that’s been proven in golf.”But then there’s always those party poopers. Greg Nathan, senior vice president for the National Golf Foundation felt that Wolkdoff’s study indicated some “positives to golf being helpful to people’s health and wellness. But there can be an opposite effect. The renting of golf cars is important to the health and welfare of the golf industry.”To that I say “poppycock”! Are carts an “in the black” feature for golf courses? I think an in-depth analysis might surprise you. The bottom line is closer than you might think. The revenue stream is easy — you walk in and plunk down your $10 or $15 or it’s built into the green fee.The costs are a little more elusive. Between the costs of the cart, maintenance of the cart, refueling or charging of the batteries, constructing a five mile long (or greater) eight foot wide and 3-4 inch thick concrete ribbon for carts to use and most importantly damage to the course, I just…well, you get the picture. Cart paths are a big pain in the butt. They are ugly, block drainage, cause erosion, wet spots, dry spots (along the edges), wear at exits and entrances and they affect the play of the course. And then there is the direct cost to you the player. How many golf balls have you had scuffed by a slightly off line shot hitting the cart path? What’s that worth?So, getting back to walking the course, Wolkodoff’s data may not be statistically valid, but it gives us some quantitative evidence for something we’ve already felt was correct intuitively. If nothing else, I hope it encourages further research. The golf industry may resist, but walking the course is better for you the player, better for your performance and much better for the physical conditioning of the course. If you’ve never played a course that has no cart paths,let me tell you, its right up there with having a caddie in my book. So, Lads and Lassies improve yer gemme, yerselves and yer favourite goff links – walkin’ is how it’s meant to be!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.

Our Historic Courses – Designed or Evolved

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News
Published 7/30/10

The Fathers of Golf Course Architecture (apparently there were few or no Mothers) were men like Donald Ross, Tom Bendelow, A.W. Tillinghast, Alister Mackenzie, Willie Park, Jr., H.S. Colt, and Charles Blair MacDonald. They produced many memorable layouts such as Pebble Beach, Cog Hill, Arominink, East Lake, Augusta National, and the Old White Course at Greenbrier.

We often hear television commentators hyping the original designers with comments like “Ross’ domed greens (Arominink) are just incredible” or something like “Jack Neville placed an unbelievably challenging (Pebble) golf course on this little piece of heaven.” Usually I cringe at these remarks. The game is so different from even 50 years ago. Do these “talking heads” actually believe that Donald Ross or Jack Neville knew that these courses were going to play as they do today?

For instance, let’s look at Arominink. It was designed by Donald Ross, one of my favorite architects. Arominink’s first incorporated Board of Governors in 1900 had six women and only four men! After the Board previously needed to move the Club twice, Ross was hired to design and construct a new course on a 300-acre piece of land in Drexel Hill, Penn. The new course opened to raves in 1928.

So would Ross recognize Arominink today? Maybe. Would he be satisfied with its current configuration? That’s very hard to say. Arominink arrived on the scene of the PGA Tour circuit this year thanks to a multi-million dollar “restoration”.

So let’s look at how Arominink has changed since 1928. I have no pictures or descriptions of how the course looked before the “restoration” other than what the Club provides at its Web site. However, I have seen hundreds of Ross’ original plans for greens. Never have I seen him design a green with a “squared-off” front as was seen on at least one green on TV at Arominink. When Ross designed this course in the late 20’s, putts looked like chip shots, as greens rolled at an estimated 4-6 on our current mode of measurement of green speed — the stimpmeter. This compared to the near 12 “stimp” readings at Arominink for the recent AT&T. So, you have to ask yourself, did Donald Ross intend that these greens play the way they did? The change in green speeds alone means that the green slopes will create larger breaks and a greater difference in the strike required to putt uphill versus downhill. Ross had no idea that those greens would ever roll so quickly. I’m sure he would be thrilled at their smoothness and speed, but I seriously doubt he would create those same greens for today’s game.The course currently has 101 bunkers. Ross wasn’t a particularly prolific bunker man in the realm of say, Charles Blair MacDonald. I doubt if the original course had more than 70 bunkers. Arominink’s own Web site indicates that “the course is still basically the same as laid out by Ross. Most of the relatively minor (sic) changes involved modernizing the bunkering (of which there are now 101). More significant has been the growth of the trees, which has completely altered the appearance of the course.”Ross barely tolerated trees. He didn’t acknowledge them as even a desirable hazard. In his book, “Golf Has Never Failed Me” he states, “As beautiful as trees are, and as fond as you and I are of them, we still must not lose sight of the fact that there is limited place for them in golf.” This is where Arominink and perhaps every other Ross design has been changed the most. Ross demanded a minimum of 60 yards and often as much as 90 yards for a fairway corridor. Today — and at the current Arominink Course — we rarely see more than a 120-foot corridor. Ross’ fairway bunkers were sometimes upwards of a hundred feet away from the hole centerline, but eminently in-play on a given day depending upon the flagstick position on the green. The biggest detriment to Ross’ original design philosophy was the advent of fairway irrigation. Irrigation head spacing led to a narrowing of the maintained corridor to fit the typical irrigation coverage. In the early years of irrigation that translated into a fairway corridor of about half what Ross intended. I have done consultations where I have found old bunkers or supporting landforms of old bunkers 30 yards into the woods on some of Ross’ courses. After the fairway was narrowed for irrigation, many Green Committees took it upon themselves to “fill in” the gap between the historical tree line and the new fairway edge with planted trees.Donald Ross’ green complexes (the green itself and its surrounding bunkers and contouring) were challenging and thoughtful, but he demanded wide fairway corridors to allow (perhaps even require) players to select their approach to those problematical greens. If you saw the AT&T Championship, you heard the commentators say time and again that it was critical that the players know which side of the fairway would give them the best approach to the current pin location on each green. In nearly every case, Ross originally designed these holes with even wider fairways to reward not just a well struck shot, but also a well thought-out shot. Donald Ross was a wonderful architect, but I think even he would scoff at the idea that he knew his courses would play today as they do.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. 

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