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Archive for October, 2010

Guest commentary: How rare is a hole-in-one?

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News
Posted: 10/29/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

 The last two weeks on the Men’s PGA Tour have ended in dramatic fashion.

At the Open, Rocco Mediate followed Alex Pugh’s near hole-in-one on a par 4 with a wedge hole-out in route to Rocco’s win. This past week, Jonathan Byrd needed only one last swing to end a three-way playoff at Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital Open at the TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas.

The playoff rotation included the 17th and 18th holes at Summerlin. As if the hole-in-one wasn’t dramatic enough, Byrd had just made a fortunate par at the second extra playoff hole — the 18th. He and fellow playoff contestants, defending champion Martin Laird and Cameron Percy, quickly proceeded to the 17th. When they arrived, the sun was setting and it looked as though they would have to wait until Monday to continue the playoff. After a short discussion, the three decided to squeeze in one last hole with the provision that anyone of them could discontinue the playoff if they felt they couldn’t read their putts. Only thing is, Byrd didn’t need to read a putt!

As he held honors, Byrd stepped to the tee and promptly launched his 6 iron into the cup. With darkness settling in Byrd wasn’t sure where the ball went and as the crowd went wild he asked his caddie “did that go in?” Needless to say, Byrd was elated, but put on a professional show as he restrained himself, for his fellow competitors still had a shot, literally. Both faltered as they hit their drives into the lake and Byrd was the winner.

Professional tournaments have ended in dramatic fashion before — most memorably for me was Robert Gamez’ walk-off hole-out at Bay Hill in 1990. Other notables were Isao Aoki at the “83 Hawaiian Open and Craig Parry’s playoff win at Doral in 2004. Byrd’s win was the first men’s pro tour event to end in a hole-in-one.

Holes-in-one are dramatic regardless of the consequences. People have made holes-in-one in their first round, their last round, two in a round, two in a row, off car’s, off trees, off cart paths, off other players balls, off other players…. You name it, it’s been done or at least claimed to have been done. Back home in Iowa there was a short par 5 — maybe 450 yards that played very close along a city street. The street had curbs. It wasn’t unusual for a wild drive to hit the curb or a parked car and bound back into the fairway. I remember hearing about a hole-in-one there that seemed to perpetually bounced down the street before hitting the curb opposite the green and rolling into the cup.

The first hole-in-one I witnessed was when I was pretty young — maybe 6 or 7. I was walking around the course with my dad “caddying.” He was playing with a friend. His friend hit a shot on the short par 3 4th and it landed behind the hole and backed up into the cup. Of course there was wild celebration and I was really excited. I ran ahead and picked the ball out of the hole. I learned an important lesson that day about not interfering in someone’s enjoyment of such a rare event.

I’ve only had one ace. It too was memorable, as I was playing Manchester Country Club in Manchester, CT with the Club President, Superintendent and Golf Pro as part of a project interview.

My dad has had at least five holes-in-one — I’ve lost track. I sometimes wonder if they are as special if you make so many. I’ll have to ask him someday.

It always seems a shame to me that some par 3s are blind and a player can’t experience the thrill of seeing their shot go into the hole. Standard practice is to design one uphill and one downhill par 3 in an 18-hole course. It is very challenging if not impossible to design a significantly uphill par 3 that allows the player to see the base of the flagstick at the hole and still keep the slope of the green shallow enough for reasonable putting. This is because the line of sight angle cannot exceed the slope of the green angle.

Holes-in-one are special and rare. Actuaries for companies that insure hole-in-one contests at charity tournaments have calculated the chance of an average player getting an ace at about 12,500 to 1, and for a tour professional at 2,500 to 1. By the way, the odds of a player making a hole-in-one on back to back par 3 holes: 156,250,000 to 1, or about the same as hitting the lottery.

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:


Golf history in borderland alive and well

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News
Posted: 10/22/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

 I was fortunate to get to play in Kactus Kapers at Pichacho Hills this past week. Naomi Rupp, the event Chair graciously invited me. Kactus Kapers has a well-deserved reputation as one of the finest Member-Guest Tournaments for women for miles. It was my first time, but the hype I got from everyone I met that had played it left me with a heightened anticipation.

I wasn’t disappointed. It was a great time as everything went smoothly. There was plenty of golf and just the right amount of “visiting” and getting acquainted time. It’s easy to be appreciative of a concerted effort. I recently heard a football broadcaster say “it doesn’t take any talent to hustle.” The staff at Picacho — from the bag boys to the golf shop personnel to the wait staff and kitchen crew — was absolutely on top of their game. I didn’t see anyone from the maintenance crew, but that in itself is testament to their good work — and the course was beautiful. They all certainly hustled, but they all were skilled in their respective tasks as well. And I shouldn’t forget the volunteers. There must have easily been a total 15 or 20 male member volunteers out driving players to the range and spotting errant shots on several holes.

The theme this year was “A Ladies’ Classic”. The logo: a silhouette of a Victoria era golfer replete in long skirt and hat. Golf in the borderlands may not go quite so far back as the Victorian era, but recently I was surprised to learn that The Border Women’s Golf Association has been in existence for over 50 years. In fact, in 1957 a small group of dedicated players from the Las Cruces/El Paso areas gathered in Anthony, NM to establish the organization.

Those committed and insightful women were: Mrs. Winnie Ikard of Anthony, NM; Mrs. Wade Bates of Las Cruces, NM; Mrs. Frank Blum of Fort Bliss in El Paso; Mrs. F.L. Koons of El Paso Country Club; Mrs. Nathan Waldrop of Ascarate, El Paso; Mrs. Fred Baldwin of Ascarate, El Paso; and Mrs. Raymond Reed of Deming. None of the founding mothers are still with us.Winnie Ikard of Anthony was a prime mover in the organization. She is survived by daughters Mary Salopek of Las Cruces and Catherine Odette who recently moved to Arizona.Clubs were added, while sadly, others left. The Juarez CC was one example. Members loved to make the trip into Mexico as the Juarez group had a good gathering. Even today members discuss the fun in Juarez “back in the day.” In chronological order, the following Clubs joined:1958 — Alamagordo Country Club, Holloman AFB, and Coronado Country Club of El Paso1963 — NMSU (Las Cruces), Emerald Springs (Horizon, Texas); and Juarez Country Club (Juarez, Mexico)1964 — Dos Lagos CC (Anthony, NM), Silver City Golf Course (NM), and White Sands Missile Range Golf Course (NM)1979 — Picacho Hills Country Club (Las Cruces, NM), Alto Country Club (Los Altos, NM), and Vista Hills Country Club (El Paso, TX)The addition of Picacho Hills in 1979 apparently coincided with the first Kactus Kapers — must have been a busy year out there! The Border group has grown steadily and today includes 12 clubs: Alto Country Club, Anthony Country Club, Cree Meadows Country Club, Desert Lakes Golf Course, Las Cruces Country Club, NMSU Golf Course, Picacho Hills Country Club, Rio Mimbres Country Club, Sierra del Rio Country Club, Silver City Golf Course, Santa Teresa Country Club, and Vista Hills Country Club.Two of the most noteworthy members have been the Kretek twins from Deming. Gertrude and Geraldine are 80 years old and have been members for over 50 years. When Geraldine was a PE teacher in Anthony, Winnie Ikard’s daughter, Catherine, was her student. Gertrude and Geraldine were at each event I attended this year. Their participation is testament to their commitment to golf and the Border organization, but I sense that the friendship and sense of belonging that stems from the organization are just as important to them.The competitions are held monthly from March through October with a final celebratory play day and awards luncheon in November. The November meeting features the election of officers for the following year as well. Each monthly event features team and individual competitions in gross and net categories, but it mostly results in fun and goodwill. This year, the Association is featuring a new “traveling trophy” for the winning team.Special thanks to Jane Spruiell, Judy Baker and Mary Salopek for sharing historical information about the Border Women’s Golf Association.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:

Las Cruces needs a municipal golf course

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News




If you Google the benefits of golf, you’ll get over 26 million results. There are websites on health, social and even environmental benefits.

Unfortunately, you won’t find much about community benefits — how does golf improve your local society? I can’t understand why because I believe that avid golfers make good citizens. Other sports can boast about keeping kids off the streets, but few can suggest that they build good citizens.

I found this little gem in some of my company marketing materials: “Golf is a wonderful game that has the highest code of honor and civility. It is an activity that presents our youth with character-building situations.”

Sounds promotional, I know, but it also captures the essence of the golf’s societal values — honor, civility and character building.

Honor is a tricky concept in today’s society — it seems to be losing steam. Being honorable today is right up there with keeping your shoes polished. The “little white lies” that get perpetrated today would have gotten me some severe punishment back in the day. It seems that if you have a reason — any reason — then it’s a good reason to tell a lie. Why doesn’t it matter anymore?

Civility is another one of those qualities that seems to be on the wane. The Brits have always seemed to have the corner on civility — thanks in large part to the reign of Queen Victoria. Perhaps they as a society go a little too far for us Americans, but being civil to one another is an important building block for community. Treating others as you would have them treat you is the foundation of civility.

Apparently George Washington felt civility was lacking in his day as well because sometime before he turned 16 he transcribed a 110-point list of “Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation.” How does golf support civility? The rules of golf are associated with some very specific etiquette guidelines. Because golf is played primarily without a referee or other official present, and often with strangers, rules of decorum are important. While etiquette is not a part of the rules, a serious breach of etiquette can have you disqualified from a tournament. According to the USGA, “all players should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be. This is the spirit of the game of golf.”Etiquette in golf covers such topics as safety, consideration for other players, pace of play, priority on the course and care of the course. Experiencing etiquette on the golf course gives youngsters a taste of the importance of civility in contemporary society.Character building is more in vogue today. A simple Google search will give you pages and pages of workshops, articles, education resources and even games. One particular organization’s website has isolated “six pillars” of character. They stress trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship as key components to building character. In golf, the etiquette guidelines cover all these qualities and more:• Be trustworthy in your actions and in your scoring.• Respect your opponents and do nothing to influence their play.• Take responsibility when you violate the rules by calling a penalty on yourself.• Observance of the rules is the first order of fairness.• Care for your fellow competitors by being courteous and respectful.• Care for the course by repairing any damage you may do within the rules.• Be a good citizen in golf by observing the rules and cooperating as a foursome to promote the enjoyment of the game for yourself and others.The one thing you won’t find on the “Character Building” websites and guides is the ability to deal with adversity.Golf is a game that is full of failing. The object is to hole your shot and yet that can only be accomplished once per hole and so only 18 times out of the average person’s 100 strokes per round.You can plan, prepare and play the best shot of your life and it may not go in the hole. We, as a society, need people that aren’t afraid to fail, that know how to deal with their mistakes, learn from them and move on. And the best golfers are those that continue to challenge themselves — risking failure, but learning, developing and improving their skills.Each community should have a place where all youngsters can learn this game of a lifetime at a reasonable price. Las Cruces needs a municipal golf course — not for golf, not for the people, but for the community.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:

Commentary: The Ryder Cup — golf won again!

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News
Posted: 10/08/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

Hunter Mahan lost The Ryder Cup. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Only thing is, it’s wrong. If we’re going to be accurate, we can’t even say that Graeme McDowell WON The Cup. The reality is the European Team won The Ryder Cup.

It is THAT simple. The US didn’t lose it. Hunter Mahan was brought to tears in his post-match interview. Why? Because he felt he had let his teammates down. The Cup seemingly rested on his shoulders and he wasn’t able to perform. This attitude always troubles me. It’s as though we establish that the opponent has X capability and all we have to do is perform at Y in order to win. I hope we all know that it isn’t that simple.

I remember as a youngster playing golf with no thought of winning or losing — only the anticipation of the next shot. If I hit a bad shot, there was only the eagerness for a new challenge with the next one. That’s all there was — no good shot or bad shot — no scolding myself when I hit that dreaded pull hook or patting myself on the back for making a 10 footer. The game was pure. I sometimes think it would be better for us to play the game without scoring once in a while.

But we don’t know that Hunter Mahan had fears of losing. I didn’t see any indication that he succumbed to that fault. Some people have commented that such a dramatic loss could damage his young mind. I don’t think so.

Hunter Mahan may be young (27), but he’s been playing golf competitively at a high level for more than 10 years. And while the stage may never have been as big, I’ll bet he’s made more serious errors in losing. In this case he had trailed by three holes, closed to being one down and then McDowell birdied the 16th to put him dormie on the 17th. You have to give McDowell credit. He stalled Mahan’s momentum with a birdie and kept his composure. Let’s not forget that McDowell did win the U.S. Open this year.

Often we are blitzed with “media-bites” that hope to capture the essence of The Ryder Cup. The event involves a unique set of circumstances that triggers a lot of different emotions. We have professional golfers playing for pride instead of money. Nationalism versus individualism is the motivation and they are confronted or bolstered with wild screaming fans rather than the usually more reserved cheering or even polite applause. And yet, there is a sense of camaraderie and respect from the fans, but especially among the players.

The Ryder Cup is as much a happening as it is a competition. There have been occasions when that seemed threatened. About 10 years ago there was the Justin Leonard episode (on top of other situations) at The Country Club in Brookline. But then there were similar experiences for the Americans at the K Club and The Belfry. Thankfully, the spirit of nationalism remains high, but the fans seem to know when to be respectful or at least less confrontational.

Perhaps the most poignant remarks this year were by Jeff Overton. He was interviewed after winning his singles match with Ross Fisher. Overton was emotional, but not in the sense of having won or lost. He wasn’t eloquent in his language, but he was moving in his contemplations. Paraphrasing it wouldn’t do it justice, so here it is — Jeff Overton, word for word:

“This whole event has been awesome. I can’t describe the emotional feelings you get, especially with all of the crowd, the fans, that come out and support the event. It’s a dream come true to be a part of and win or lose, it’s all about the sport, and you know, the way that everything is — the way everything is handled and everything, you know, all the way down the line. It’s just really cool to see and to be a part of, it’s just a great game and this is one of the best sporting events probably in the world.”

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:

A special thank you to Samuel Ryder

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News
Posted: 10/01/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

 By the time you read this, The Ryder Cup will have begun this morning in Wales at the Celtic Manor Resort. I could easily fill half a dozen articles with history and happenings from the matches, most of which are chronicled on The Ryder Cup website. Probably the most engaging aspect of The Ryder Cup is the fact that it is all played for pride and not for money. The participants receive expenses, but there isn’t a dime paid to the winners. We owe this concept to several people that initiated and nursed it along with informal matches as opportunities presented themselves. But most of all, we owe a debt of gratitude to Samuel Ryder.

Mr. Ryder, an Englishman from St. Albans by way of Manchester, grew up devoted to music and cricket. He was the son of a Manchester corn merchant and was educated at the University in Manchester. Most of all he was an entrepreneur and after his father balked at his plans to sell penny seed packets he went into business for himself in St. Albans. Building his seed distribution empire brought him fortune and raised his social standing to the point that he became Mayor of St. Albans in 1908. However, his extreme hard work resulted in illness in his late 40’s. An “overworked” diagnosis came with a prescription of fresh air and exercise. Golf was recommended. After a couple of years of resisting, he relented, and at the age of 50 he threw the same energy into the game as he had into his business. He retained the services of a golf professional at a cost of £1000 per year and practiced on his home estate six days a week. Eventually, he became a member, then Captain, then Club Champion at Verulam Golf Club in St. Albans. By age 51, he held a handicap of 6.

As his passion for the game grew, he shared his wealth to promote competition for golf professionals and in fact sponsored the first tournament solely for professionals in 1923. In 1926, the R&A announced for the first time there would be regional qualifiers for the Open. The American contingent had to journey to Great Britain early to play in the qualifier and then had some idle time so another informal match between the Brits and Americans ensued. This followed the first match, again informal, in 1921 at Gleneagles. The Americans lost in that one 9-3 and so they must have had revenge in their hearts as they agreed to play at the Wentworth Club in England. Ryder witnessed the 1926 exhibition and especially relished seeing his personal teacher, Abe Mitchell, defeat the reigning Open champ Jim Barnes 8 and 7 in singles. Mitchell then paired with George Duncan in foursomes to defeat the US twosome of Barnes and Walter Hagen. Although the Americans were even more soundly trounced 13-1, the camaraderie and spirit of competition left both teams eager to reconnect. When the match was over, Ryder had tea with his teacher and Duncan. They were joined by Hagen and teammate Emmett French. One thing led to another and before the crumpets were gone, Duncan had suggested that Ryder provide a suitable trophy and encourage formalization of matches on a regular basis.He did more than that. The fine trophy cup was adorned at the top with the likeness of Abe Mitchell at the insistence of Ryder, and he paid the final £500 out of his own pocket to finance the expenses for the first event.The following year the first Ryder Cup was held at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts. Worcester is a fine Donald Ross course located just west of Boston. Walter Hagen, a charter member of the PGA, was the first U.S. captain. Notable U.S. team members were Gene Sarazen and Johnny Farrell. The British team was to be captained by Ryder’s teacher, Abe Mitchell, but he had an appendicitis attack and had to remain home in England. Even so, the matches were played and the U.S. came out on top 9-2.Samuel Ryder’s health improved because of golf, but not enough. After getting to see only two of his beloved events on his home soil, he died of a massive heart attack while celebrating the holidays with his family on Jan. 2, 1936. He had shared his love of golf with his youngest daughter Joan. She picked up the cause and carried on for her father. Her last Ryder Cup was at The Belfry in 1985. She called it “the most exciting ever.” She died later that year at the age of 81.The Belfry was significant as more than just the “most exciting ever.” While there was always good spirited competition, the U.S. dominated the Cup for many years, holding the trophy from 1959 through 1983, with only a tie in ’69 at Royal Birkdale interrupting the American control. What’s more, the Brits had only won the event three times going into the 70’s. During the “77 matches at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Jack Nicklaus approached the British PGA President with the thought that all of Europe be included in the selection of their team. Nicklaus said it was “vital to widen the selection procedures if The Ryder Cup is to continue to enjoy its past prestige.”In 1979 the “new” European team included a fiery Spaniard, Seve’ Ballesteros. The exhibition realized a wonderful resurgence in popularity. Was it Ballesteros’ flamboyant persona and incredible talent or the fact that the matches were just more competitive? Since 1979, the Europeans gained or retained The Ryder Cup in eight of the 15 competitions. You can’t help but think that Samuel and Joan would have been even more thrilled.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:

Guest commentary: The hazards of sand bunkers, Part II

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News
Posted: 09/24/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT


In my last article I explained some of the basics of selecting the right sand for bunkers. It was good information to know, but I’m sure you’ll agree it’s not the most interesting reading. Bunkers are probably the single most prolific designed feature on the golf course. They are wonderfully versatile. As hazards —as they are most often employed — they can be used as strategic elements. But that’s just the beginning.

Bunkers are sometimes used to catch errant shots to protect an adjacent location or keep balls from leaving the playing corridor. The fairway bunkers to the left of the 10th at Sonoma Ranch Golf Course fit this bill. A shot that is hooking to the left can easily hit the ground in that area and bound further left into the hazard or out of bounds.

Directional bunkers are located to provide an aiming reference. Often they are used where the terrain makes it difficult to determine what the intended line of the tee shot should be. Donald Ross was perhaps the best I know at this. The terrain of the sand hills in North Carolina made for some semi-blind tee shots and Ross gave the player a “hint” by placing a bunker, usually near the fairway horizon line, which could be easily carried. His directional bunkers usually protruded into the fairway so that the aiming point was the edge nearest the center of the fairway. The right fairway bunker on the 18th at Sonoma is the best example of a directional bunker in this area. Today, directional bunkers are not used as often because architects have larger, more efficient earth-moving equipment at their disposal as well as more plentiful budgets.

In my opinion, the aesthetic bunker is perhaps overdone. Architects feel a lot of pressure to deliver the dramatic image which often translates into the aesthetic bunker. Today visuals are king-curb appeal, the ubiquitous “signature” hole, marketing materials to sell the playing experience and more often, marketing materials to sell the surrounding real estate drive the design.

Bunkers are of nearly any shape and size, subject only to the architect’s imagination. An exception is that very large and especially very long bunkers can impede players’ movements as they avoid walking through a bunker and subsequently rake their tracks. Very large bunkers can also be a greater playing hazard for the average to novice because they often hit errant shots further off line. This in turn means that their bunker shots will be much longer and we all know that the toughest shot in golf is the 40-to-70 yard bunker shot. The edges of the bunker are ordinarily vertical — for perhaps a height of one-to-two inches, but certainly not more than three inches. The reason for this is to contain sand, but also to prevent players from putting out of the bunker. Anything higher than a few inches makes the edges susceptible to degradation and is too penal.

The grading around the bunker — usually called shaping — is critical to making the bunker fit aesthetically. Bunkers that are freeform — that is the edges curve in and out several times — have areas called capes and bays. Imagine the ocean shoreline. Where the land juts out into the water it is called a cape. Conversely, where the bunker is wider, it mimics a seaside bay. So, typically, the capes are fingers of rough that will have mounds or other rises in grade, while the bays are surrounded by turfed ground that generally has a lower elevation or at least a more moderate slope. If you have read my articles previously, you know that the architect strives to direct surface runoff around the bunker. The effect is a “mini-continental divide” around it, basically along the tops of the mounds and swells (or subtle ridges) that create the bunker shape. And so, the old adage of “form follows function” in design applies perfectly well. The landforms created to control water flows also serve to fashion an aesthetic context for the bunker itself. The effect that I look for is for the landforms to appear as though they are “coddling” the bunker — protecting it, containing it, you might even say indulging its form.

There is also a safety or accessibility aspect. A good bunker will allow access for players without requiring them to scramble up and down a steep slope.

Finally, bunkers must be maintained. Bunker raking is a daily or near daily procedure and the vast majority of bunkers should be constructed so that mechanized bunker rakes can enter the bunker, rake most of the sand surface and then exit in another location. Careless operation of the bunker rake — either in its entrance or exit (when sand may get jarred off into the adjoining grass) can cause damage to the bunker edge or surrounding rough turf.

Bunkers receive a large portion of the maintenance budget at the golf course. We as players demand it and the competition for players can often come down bunker quality. As players we need to do our part: always rake the bunker carefully when you finish your shot; never exit the bunker toward the green surface unless the slope is slight and inviting; be careful at the bunker edges not to step into an unstable area which could damage the edge and worse yet send you to nasty spill.

And remember — the bunker shot is the one shot in golf that favors you novices!

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: