Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

Guest commentary: Sonoma Ranch 8th Hole

By Mary Armstrong/For the
Sun-News Posted: 06/11/2011 08:08:11 PM MDT
The 8th hole at Sonoma Ranch is one of my favorite par threes. The greens at most golf courses drive the strategy for each hole and at Sonoma Ranch, Architect Cal Olsen brings this to bear in bold fashion.
I  can’t think of a single hole where the green doesn’t highly influence not only where you want to place your shot, but perhaps more importantly, where you don’t. In many cases, this is also true of your tee ball.  I think the 8th is a good hole for every skill level, whether you are scratchplayer or a beginner, so long as you play from the tee set that matches our ability. And this is vital, as you will see in my critique. By the way, my descriptions are from a right-handed player’s perspective – hooks, slices, etc. My apologies to you southpaws, but it’s for clarity’s sake.

Sonoma Ranch offers five tee sets (black, blue, white, tan and teal) on each hole to meet a wide range of skill levels. They offer some handicap level guidelines for each tee set on their scorecard: 1-4 for black; 5-9 for blue; 10-19 for white. For the tan and teal sets, they provide handicap guidelines for women – 20-29 and 30+ respectively. This course is a stern test of controlling approach-shot lengths. Therefore, my suggestion is to drop down an additional set from these guidelines. Your round will be far more enjoyable.

The green is segmented into two levels. The lower level is closest to the
tees and it pitches primarily back toward them, making it a substantially easier target than the more elevated rear tier. Ordinarily, this feature would sufficiently make the rear tier a more demanding target. However, Olsen has magnified this difficulty by angling the embankment between the two tiers and also by sloping the upper tier slightly to the back right of the green. This means that the average player that slices the ball will have a difficult time stopping the ball on the back tier. If you are playing this hole from a tee set further back than you should, you have no chance of stopping a shot on the rear tier; particularly if you hit fade or a slice. I haven’t played this hole with men much, but I imagine that it’s not unusual for the average right-handed male player to hit a fade or slice into the banking in the middle of the green and have it bounce into the right-rear bunker.

The green more readily accepts a draw and a left to right shot that lands on the embankment will ordinarily stay on the green. However, a hook shot can bring other problems into play – among them, those three pesky pot bunkers and the lake to the left. And don’t forget that the green falls off at the back to a small cove. When the flagstick is on the left side of the upper tier, the only way to position your tee shot near the hole is by landing the ball near the left edge of the green. If you are trying to position your tee shot for a dream “kick-in” birdie – foolishly I might add – then you risk that a slight tug or mis-aimed shot will beach or drench your dream.

Nearly every course has at least one hole that demands – or at least strongly suggests – a fade or draw to play the hole well. I support this concept as the architect’s duty to encourage improvement in all players’ games. I designed a similar hole in New Hampshire. Actually, it’s only similar in that it too is a par three and has an embankment between two tiers that runs at an angle to the line of play. In that case, the angle favors a fade to reach a flagstick on a small upper tier. I was once playing that course with a member that didn’t realize I was the architect – you get more honest comments that way. As we approached the hole, the member said something like, “This is the worst hole on the course.”

I was glad he felt comfortable saying that to me, but I didn’t think he was
giving it a fair shake. I said to him, “Well George (assumed name), that may be, but why do you say that?” He replied that whenever he tried to hit a shot to the upper tier, the ball wouldn’t hold or it would hit the embankment and bound into the bunker or down the mound behind the bunker. My reply to him was, “George you’re a pretty good player – you hit a draw on almost every shot. Did you ever think that the back tier was designed to accept a fade better? Perhaps you should work a little harder on your game and learn to hit the ball higher or with a little fade.”

If you’re having trouble with the certain aspect of a hole, work with your
LPGA or PGA pro to create a shot that fits it.

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:



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