Aaron D. Corner asks, I dislike the sharp bend of one hole at my course. Is that considered good design?

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


There are only two times I won't use sharp doglegs when there are many trees and when there aren't!

A treeless dogleg is virtually a straight hole for good players, while sharp doglegs in heavy woods are difficult for golfers who don't get to the corner. Placing forward tees further to the outside of the dogleg lessens severity for average players.

Gentle doglegs, on the other hand, allow the enjoyable choice to shape shots. I believe the best strategic holes are slight doglegs that set up shot-preferred patterns and force alignment decisions on the tee.

In my routings, I try to balance straight holes with moderate left and right doglegs to avoid favoring either shot pattern. I alternate them where topography allows, but it's rare to achieve perfect alternating shot-pattern balance. Some top-rated courses like Pinehurst No. 2 alternate preferred shot patterns well, while Augusta National favors the draw. No one says Augusta suffers. Manhattan (Kansas) Country Club has a front nine bending entirely right, while the back nine doglegs mostly left. This imbalance means competitors who draw tee shots may fall behind early but have hope of catching up, while those who fade never have a safe lead.

The total number or type of doglegs isn't as critical as fitting holes to the topography. But I have found some "rules" apply to the doglegged road.

Many golfers don't notice that 0- to 15-degree doglegs aren't straight, but the angled fairway still sets up the shot pattern.

Fifteen- to 25-degree doglegs are ideal for heroic "Cape" holes. This bend makes determining the proper line difficult, as improperly aligned shots will run through the fairway.

Depending on clearing width and topography, 25- to 35-degree doglegs still allow vision from tee to green. They also provide some approach-shot distance advantage from the inside of the fairway over the outside. In sharper doglegs, this becomes more pronounced.

The 35- to 45-degree doglegs are the sharpest "graceful" doglegs. Steeper doglegs feel "forced" and can create safety problems if other holes are inside the corner. If the inside corner is left open, they waste too much land, especially on a tight site.

I have seen doglegs of 60, 90 or even more degrees! I don't think these work well, and are really a "poor designer's crutch."

Doglegs occurring before full-drive distance, dictating tee-shot length, aren't popular. Many older holes intended a full drive, but are now lay-up holes with today's longer tee shots. Unless this long-standing trend reverses, today's sharp dogleg holes will also become obsolete.

One famous example is the former 18th hole at Medinah Country Club No. 3 near Chicago, which successfully hosted U.S. Opens in 1949 and 1975. The USGA required Medinah to remodel its 18th hole for the 1990 Open. It was a sharp, wooded dogleg, curving approximately 210 yards and requiring a "snap slice," which was unacceptable for a major championship.

Par-5 holes can have double doglegs including horseshoe and reverse doglegs, which are distinctive. The double dogleg also implements strategy on the second shot, avoiding the bane of most par-5s merely advancing the ball as far as possible on the second shot.

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