Road Hole Shorts

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Archive for January, 2011

Guest commentary: Golf is meant to be played with a caddie

By Mary Armstrong / For the Sun-News

Posted: 01/20/2011 10:37:58 PM MST


My first experience playing with a professional caddie was at Pinehurst in the late ’90s, at Pinehurst No. 2. I remember looking forward to it: me asking the caddie for the distance; discussing the wind direction and speed; receiving one last psychological boost and then hitting the shot with a stronger commitment than can be mustered by oneself.

The reality was a little different and more fun then I even imagined. My foursome met the caddies picked by the caddie master the next morning. My caddie’s name was William.

We shook hands, introduced ourselves, talked about where we were from, enjoyed a witty crack or two and went to the first tee. William handed me the driver. The first at Pinehurst is a moderate length par 4 with a slight dogleg left. William gave me a target – something like hit it at the right edge of that fairway bunker. I struck a beautiful drive, drawing perfectly onto the line he had specified.

“Well, we know you can follow direction,” he quipped. When we arrived at my ball, I asked him for the yardage. William said, “It’s an 8 iron.” I was stunned. I needed to feel some commitment to the shot and I had a process to get there. “But, I need to know the yardage,” I said. William gave me a bit of a frustrated look – one I came to know – and said, “you don’t need to know that and we could be here all day discussing it. Just believe in me – it’s an 8 iron.”

I came to realize that complete trust in William kept me from being distracted by doubts related to all the factors I usually considered. I hit a nice little draw … which landed in the middle of the green! “How did you know that?” I asked. “You only saw one shot – how could you tell how far I hit an 8 iron?”

William was a man of few words, “I’ve seen it all.”

William was never wrong and his green-reading skills were incredible. He knew No. 2 so well that most of time he didn’t even need to look at the putting line from behind the ball or the cup. He’d stand to the side, holding the flagstick or cleaning a club and say, “two cups to the right,” before I could even ask for his help. I didn’t break 80 that day, but without his help, I probably wouldn’t have broken 90. He must have saved me at least five strokes.

We had such a great time with our caddies – William wasn’t as much a character as the others, but he was by far the best caddie of the bunch. As we finished the 18th, our group got together and decided we would ask to see if they could caddie the next day at Mid-Pines.

They agreed and at the appointed time they were there, with half-wet and half-dry towels in hand and ready to roll. Now, Mid-Pines is a Ross course as well, and at that time it was still very much as Ross had left it when he died in 1948. It has a more rolling landscape than No. 2, and probably a little tighter because it’s on a smaller tract. It actually is my favorite Donald Ross course.

We milled around the first tee area and I noticed that there was some money exchanging hands between the caddies. I later found out that they often placed bets on play for the day. I didn’t want to know any more than that – I don’t think I would have liked knowing my caddie had bet against me. I could just picture us coming down to the last hole and seeing a playing partner pick up a 4-footer only to have the caddie say, “You have to putt that out, ’cause I’ve got 20 bucks on it.” Somehow it worked out though and I never had a question about William’s commitment to me.

On the fifth hole – a picturesque par 5 – I had a 50-foot putt for eagle across a hogback. My first effort wasn’t so good and I was left with about an 8-footer for birdie. William told me the putt was straight in. “Just keep a good speed.” I struck the putt and ended up short and right. William gave me that disgusted look and said, “Been watchin’ you for over 20 holes now and do you realize that you move your head forward on every putt?” From that time on – as long as I didn’t move my head – my putts were perfectly distanced – I even made a few. I shot 79 that day and we asked William and his friends to come back to Pine Needles the following morning.

There were lots of great memories from that trip, but by far my most indelibly etched memory is of my second shot on the 18th at Pine Needles. My drive had found the right rough and I was faced with a downhill approach to a green that rises up for the first two thirds of the surface and then falls off to a 15-foot collection area behind. William said, “Hit the 8.” I took the club and was visualizing a nice draw – the scene was so vivid and the green seemed so close. My mind told me to just “feather it down there.” The ball landed 10 yards short, giving me a treacherous chip to the pin just past the point where the slope started going to the back of the green. I sheepishly looked at William and he pointedly stated, “When I tell you to hit it, I mean HIT IT!” He must have had some cash riding on me. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to get up and down, but the joy of playing those three days with someone that is intimate with your game and so knowledgeable of the course was a real treat.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for more than 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. 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 pro game is the high life

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News
Posted: 01/14/2011 12:00:00 AM MST

Out of a typical tournament field of 144 players, ordinarily less than half will score under par.

If you are watching on TV you won’t see those other 70 players unless of course their name is Tiger Woods. Most telecasts you probably don’t see more than 10 players hit meaningful shots. I sometimes think that we get an elevated notion of how good these guys are because we only get to see the players that are doing really well. We don’t get to see the skulled bunker shots, four putts and fat approaches.

Certainly these guys and women on the LPGA are the best in the world, but how much of their ability is attributable to the superfluities of the tour? Everything is done for these guys, especially if they have been successful. Oh the travel, the being away from home half the year…give me a break. These guys don’t know what it’s like to make their own travel arrangements. What are agents for?

Then there’s the “coddling factor.” These guys are so spoiled. They have perfect conditions: no divots, only a few flawlessly repaired ball marks, bunkers that are consistent and impeccably smooth, roughs that are trampled down, hole placements that are always fair, and few in-play out of bounds. Add that there are at least three and sometimes hundreds of sets eyes watching every shot, all the time they want to warm up and practice, a coach, a caddy that gives you exact yardage and pulls you back off the ledge when you three putt from 8 feet, and an equipment rep to make sure you have everything you need and…well you get the picture.

When was the last time you saw a tour pro hit from a divot where only half the ball was visible…or lost a ball? Usually when they say “he’s in a divot” it’s a sand-filled divot. Galleries are almost always depicted by the talking heads as being in the way, but when they aren’t trampling down the rough they’re blocking errant shots from real trouble or pointing out where Joe Blow Pro hit his duck hook. Heck once in a while they kick the ball back into play what I wouldn’t give for some fans to help me out on one of those wild pull hooks I hit once occasionally.

Nonetheless, they are still the best and I’m not trying to take that away from anyone. I’m only saying that there are a bunch of people that could do the same if they could find a way to devote themselves to golf and play the same conditions. There’s probably at least a few locals that can tee it up without any warm up or fine tuning on the practice green and shoot a smooth even-par.

Some of you might be thinking that the pros have to deal with a lot of pressure. Well, yeah, I suppose I have to hand you that one although I remember Lee Trevino saying once that you don’t know pressure until you’re playing for $10 when you don’t have a dime in your pocket.

Perhaps if you gave one of our local scratch players the same “privileges” he or she might do just as well. I had the joy of playing with Ryan Rios before he took an assistant professional job back east. We went right from the car to the first tee and he shot one-under from the blacks at Sonoma. That kid can hit it if he didn’t waste his time trying to help hackers quit hacking he might make the tour but that’s the irony of professional golf. If you want to be a really good golfer don’t become a pro sell insurance.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. 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: Golf and games people play to stay engaged

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News
Posted: 01/06/2011 05:00:43 PM MST

 Most people think the game is captivating enough without introducing gambling or alternative formats.

However, some of us seem to hunger for that little extra challenge that playing a game within a game offers. It’s also another way to create interest when your round isn’t allowing you to pursue your personal best score. There have been plenty of times when I’ve enjoyed myself despite a so-so round owing to a friendly wager or two on the links.

Golf originated as a match play contest with the winner being the player that won the most holes. Along the way, different formats evolved — often for the purpose of bragging rights, but usually for the cha-ching. The Brits are known to gamble on most anything and perhaps they are the reason for the plethora of gambling games adapted to golf.

Probably my favorite gambling game is “Wolf”. Wolf is most commonly played in a foursome with handicaps, but I have played it heads-up and as a threesome. In the foursome/handicap format, each player rotates as the wolf. Essentially, the wolf dictates the game for a given hole. Because of this, and since there are two extra holes (18 divided by 4 leaves a remainder of 2) the person with the fewest points gets the wolf designation on the last two holes. The players decide on an order — shortest to tallest, oldest to youngest, alphabetical — whatever, it doesn’t matter, but this determines the order of play and who gets assigned as the wolf for what holes. I suppose you could even enter into bidding for position if there were particular holes that you wanted to be the wolf on. The bids could be put into the winnings. Chi Chi Rodriquez describes the game in his book “Chi Chi’s Golf Games you Gotta Play” and I couldn’t hope to do it better than he, so here’s what he says about starting the play:

“The player teeing off first on a hole is the wolf (my, what sharp teeth you have). As the wolf watches (my, what big eyes you have) the other players in the group tee off, he has the option to pick one of them as a partner on the hole (remember to keep track of who is stroking), the rub being that the wolf must choose the player immediately after his tee ball. No waiting to see how all the players fare off the box before choosing. If the wolf chooses to partner with the second player, he must announce his intentions before the third player tees off. If the wolf passes on number two, he can tab player three but only before the last player hits. The same goes for the third player. If the wolf decides none of the shots are to his liking, he may go the hole alone and play against the other three.

To win a hole, the wolf and his partner, or the wolf alone, must combine to make a better ball score lower than the opposing team. A tie is a wash. A higher score and the bet is won by the hunting team. A wolf playing alone receives double the bet if he wins and pays double to each of the other three players if he loses.

A brave variation of the game is to play Lone Wolf in which the first golfer on the tee announces he will play the hole solo immediately after his drive and without seeing any of the other tee shots. In Lone Wolf, the winnings are tripled, but so are losses, and again it’s triple to all other players in the group. For those truly wild animals who would keep Marlin Perkins safely above in his helicopter while Jim Fowler runs through the burning forest floor, the Lone Wolf may declare his intentions to go it alone before ever putting his tee in the ground. In this case, all bets are quadrupled. Happy hunting.”

Playing “Wolf” as a threesome is pretty daring and the bets should probably be altered. It doesn’t really matter if you are friends with your playing partners because by the time your match is over you likely will have made enemies of them anyway! I say this because in its simplest form, the wolf will select a partner — thereby putting the remaining player on his/her own. You see what I mean about making enemies.

So whether you are playing a simple Nassau; skins; bingo, bango, bongo or any of the other scores of gambling games – play responsibly and most of all have fun!

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:

Trees and turf — creating a balance

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News


If your course has trees or your members think they need to plant trees it’s important to create a master plan. The plan should create a planting scheme that prescribes the selection of species and their locations. Although the golf course isn’t an arboretum, it is an unusually large canvas for a designer and professional design advice from a landscape architect is the best bet. The plan should also set down the criteria for tree removals and replacements and for periodic management practices.

More specifically, the plans objectives should include:

• The replacement, moving or removal of existing natural or planted materials that do not permit the effective management of the turf required for the game of golf.

• Consideration for the effect, both positive and negative, plantings will have on wildlife and ultimately for the use of the property for golf.

• Opening vistas of interesting landscape features, on or off the site, without affecting the quality of golf.

• Avoidance for locating plants that will change the character of a hole unless such an effect is desirable and any negative effects of such planting (over the life of the plant) are fully understood.

• Consideration of trees that can provide a filter shade for players in areas where they will likely pause to wait for play to proceed ahead of them such as near par 3 tees.

• Use of plant material that are hardy and offer characteristics that will not present maintenance problems. Keep plants that threaten player’s comfort to a minimum (e.g. thorns or massive flowering which could attract bees during summer months).

• Formulate a plan for the eventual replacement of existing trees when their life cycle is complete.

• Use longer grasses or other native vegetation as a feature or in “out of play” areas if it will not be too lush to slow play and if in concert with the course setting.

• And otherwise utilize a composition of plants that will enhance the course setting and contribute to the overall enjoyment of the game.

• A commitment to sticking to the plan over the long term.

While I’m not an advocate of trees on the golf course, my landscape architecture background entices my interest in such a unique opportunity. When I am presented with a project that requires this skill it is something I enjoy. It is said that trees are our largest living individual organisms. It is unusual to have a property and budget large enough to permit the use of trees as a strong design element. The theory is largely the same as if the scale of the landscape dictated the use of understory trees or shrubs, but there are some differences.

Generally speaking, when dealing with the planting of golf courses, the scale, or vastness, of the setting largely dictates the use of “massing techniques” or the clustering of identical species or species with similar key characteristics such as form. And, in order to create a composition of certain elements rather than a mottled conglomeration of many, the use of several and sometimes many of a particular species of plant is required. Each plant’s ultimate height, spread, form, texture, color, etc. still influence the placement of the plants and therefore their massing.The inclusion of open, unplanted areas as a feature is critical to the success of the planting scheme in order to capitalize on the interplay of positive and negative space and to reveal other natural features. The specification of only masses or groups of single species entirely separate from each other would yield a static composition. Including drifts of a particular species to connect the various masses or drifting the masses themselves into each other allows the design to “move,” creating a more pleasing arrangement. “Drifting” plant material simply involves gradually spacing the plants out from a mass. Including an occasional single specimen as an accent or focus can yield a more interesting composition.

Each specialized area of play on the golf course has particular requirements that impacts the suitability of a given plant for that specific area. There are five major areas that have characteristics requiring different qualities in planting. Greens, tees, fairways/near roughs and far roughs have different maintenance and play circumstances dictating the critical plant requirements. Some have very restrictive requirements such as areas around greens and tee, while the remaining areas are somewhat less restrictive.Few trees have all of the characteristics required for areas around greens and tees, but certain of them can be mitigated by attentive design. For instance placement of dense shading trees on the northern side of greens, especially where that would be substantially out of play, will eliminate the concern for shading the green surface.

All other things being equal, a course with trees will never have the quality of turf that a treeless course has. However, a well-planned landscape that is consistent with the requirements of good golf practice can add to the beauty and tranquility of the setting.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:

Trees and turf – think oil and water

By Mary Armstrong

Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News December 24, 2010

In this column I’ve probably covered nearly every essential part of the golf course – greens, tees, fairways, roughs and bunkers.  And while we have covered trees here and there – the Arominink Golf Club article for one – we haven’t given them the depth they deserve.

Historically, courses have begun with few or no trees.  Since golf originated on the treeless links lands of Scotland, trees became a feature only because of the spread to more inland locations.  I imagine they were a nuisance, but it’s likely the expense was too large to remove all but those that were absolutely in play.  If you’ve ever looked at pictures of new courses from the early part of the 20th century, you might have noticed that the land was nearly always mostly barren of trees.  Whether this was a reason for selecting the site or because the architect had them all removed is hard to say.  However, from experience I know that if you have a treed site and aren’t using mapping – as few of the “turn of the twentieth century” architects did – then it is very difficult and time consuming to layout 18 or even 9 holes. 

Trees have been added to most layouts – even to those that had many trees saved in the construction process.  The nation went through a tree planting “kick” in the late 50’s and early 60’s and golf course management people have been regretting it for the last 20 years or so. 

Why?  Well, it’s pretty simple.  Turf and trees don’t mix.  You can have lovely trees, but it’s doubtful that you’ll have very good turf – especially if you want playing surfaces that meet today’s standards.  On-the-other-hand, you can have wonderful turf, but not very good trees and you probably wouldn’t want to put the effort into pruning (limbs and roots) to get the turf product you wanted.  Besides, the trees wouldn’t look…well, like trees. 

But John Q has a certain affinity for trees.  There’s been research into that, but I don’t have the space here to explain more completely.  Suffice to say humans do seek out trees for shelter – physical and psychological.  The more hostile and barren the landscape, the more we look for shelter – be it from the wind, rain or sun. 

So, what to do?  Well, first of all, my recommendation is never start planting trees on a golf course – they really are too much trouble – not within playable areas and especially not where turf will be the groundcover.  Let’s say you have ‘em already.  Well then you really need to be actively managing them – just as you would any other feature on the golf course.  Certainly the management doesn’t need to be on a par with greens, tees or even roughs.  At a minimum, you’ll need an annual inspection.  And what if you haven’t done a thing with them for years and years?  The effort to get things back into proper shape may be drastic and/or take years and plenty of expense.  In the past ten or so years many courses have removed thousands of trees in order to eliminate competition from in-play areas and restore the shot values envisioned by the original designers.

Most turf species require nearly a full day’s allotment of sunshine.  Shade tolerant species generally don’t stand up to traffic (foot, play and equipment) very well.  Perhaps the most confounding aspect of the interplay of trees and turf is that the typical protocol for creating an acceptable golf turf only gives further advantage to the tree.  Irrigation and fertilizers only make the tree lusher – casting a heavier shade and growing ever taller.  So, often a superintendent’s efforts to grow quality turf around trees really only makes it less likely he/she can do so, while pouring “good money after bad” into extra fertilizer, pesticides and water. 

A tree’s roots will commonly extend to its drip line edge.  Sometimes, if the tree isn’t getting adequate water and nutrients the roots will extend even further to more intensively managed golf features such as greens and tees.  A single mature tree can draw 50 or more gallons of water each day.  NMSU research has determined that Pecan trees use 150 – 250 gallons of water per day!  Water usage by trees varies among tree species, the growing environment and season.  Roots also pose a hidden danger to golfers.  Some tree species are especially shallow rooting and a normal golf swing with an iron can contact the root, injuring the player’s hands, wrists and/or arms.  Tendon damage is especially prevalent and the result can be surgery.  Where roots are actually at the surface a thinly struck shot can strike the root and come back and hit the player.  I’ve personally know players that have been stricken in the face in such instances.

Tree litter is another factor that increases golf course maintenance costs.  They rarely lose their leaves all at one time and even a minor leaf “drop” can cause significant problems for players in locating their ball.  Fallen nuts, berries and other fruit can sometimes interfere with ball roll. 

I once was working at a course in Westchester County New York when seemingly without reason a 120 foot Tuliptree fell across an adjacent cart path and most of the 10th fairway.  As I recall, there was hardly a breeze and the crashing sound was deafening and shocking.  Thank goodness no one was playing the hole.  Inspection revealed severe rot and insect damage on a nearly hollow trunk.  While we love and need trees, golf courses shouldn’t be arboretums any more than arboretums should have golfers. 

Next week – Considerations for a well prepared tree management plan.

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: