Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

Not so fine whines

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 08/19/2011 01:58:00 PM MDT

This year’s PGA Championship lacked the controversial conclusion of “bunker-gate” last year (thank goodness), but controversy is never far away when a major is played.

Perhaps the most mentioned was the 18th hole at Atlanta Athletic Club. The converted par 5 was easily the most difficult par 4 on the course. Add to that it was the finishing hole and you get lots of big numbers followed closely by crying to the media. If the PGA gave away tee prizes at registration they should have included a crying towel designated for use after playing the final hole.

This kind of whining about a hole being too difficult is just too “rich.” Most of us play par 4’s every round that require us to hit a driver and everything we have in the bag and still can’t reach the green. The winner, Keegan Bradley, hit a 2 hybrid and 6 iron to the middle of the green in the playoff.

Perhaps the deeper issue here is that of “par.” The concept of “par” originated in the early part of the 20th century as the score an expert player would expect to achieve on a given hole – always considering two strokes on the green. But the concept of par has given us the kind of controversies that the 18th did and perhaps even restricted the golf architect’s pallet in creating great golf holes. It has long been accepted that golf holes that fall in the “no-man’s land” of lengths are controversial and for many years they were avoided.

Before the latest escalation in shot lengths, the USGA’s guidelines for par/hole lengths made holes up to 250 yards par 3’s, while holes between 251 yards and 470 yards were par 4’s. This meant that holes between about 230 and 270 yards were regarded as a poor hole, as were holes between about 450 and 490 yards. These are sometimes refered to as “in-between” holes as they might more easily be described with – stroke pars. Today, you can probably multiply those yardages by about 110 percent to account for equipment improvements.

These “in-between” holes are actually the most exciting for fans – and maybe for players as well. Besides, if all the players scored 4’s on a given hole, regardless of the par, wouldn’t that be boring? To my mind, I want to see lots of variation in scores and these “in-between” holes provide that. Assigning a par value runs counter to creating holes that are exciting.

Phil Michelson’s observation that the course wasn’t member friendly is one of those “duh” moments, but the tee sets designed by Rees Jones do allow for players to select a length that fits their game. However, the two longest sets – 7,603 and 7,304 yards – should probably be “retired” as I doubt any member will play them more than once. True, the course has many punishing bunkers and more lakes than Minnesota. But what major championship course considers the members as much more than an afterthought anyway. Truth be told, Michelson’s pronouncement of all that is wrong with the Atlanta Athletic Club’s Highlands Course was simply a self-serving “look at me” since he has begun to dabble in design himself.

During Open week, Tim Rosaforte, who writes for Golf Digest, broke the story that Sir Nick Faldo has been promoting the idea of the last eighteen major winners designing each of the proposed eighteen Olympic Golf Course holes in Brazil. Greg Norman, probably one of the more accomplished celebrity designers immediately chimed in with a “logistical nightmare” label. Rosaforte then commented that an old rivalry between Faldo and Norman was rekindled.

In response, Faldo recruited Golf Architect Tom Fazio to do the “backroom” work, which basically amounts to doing all the actual design work – all the plans and managing the project. Fazio indicated that he was interested, but needed to think about it for a few days – my guess is that he would like to wait until it goes away. It’s rare that two architects can work well together. Having eighteen strong personalities to deal with will be disastrous. Mark my words, if this happens, you can double the cost and if it is finished at all, it won’t be in the kind of condition that an Olympic event merits. There’s history between Faldo and Norman, but if we end up with the course that Faldo wants, there’ll be history between lots of the major winners as well.

There’s barely room for the ego of one person in the design of a course – eighteen or more egos? Forget about it.

Finally, Olympic organizers are considering a different competition format. You may recall that I reported the 2016 Olympic golf event would be decided by a 72-hole stroke play tournament. Apparently, Peter Dawson of the International Golf Federation heard our disdain for such an individual approach to an event that is so much about team competition. Dawson has been quoted as saying “perhaps the format is a little stereotyped.” Let’s hope they actually come up with something a little more novel than the usual week to week tour grind provides.

 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:






No comments yet»

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: