Al Long-DeGrown asks, How do golf course architects design the approach?

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


I approach the approaches knowing that irrigation and improved golf equipment made the sport an aerial game, which reduces the importance of green approaches at least for better players. However, any short tee shot whether from short hitters, when recovering from trees, rough, or both may need the option of running an approach shot onto the green. Allowing the run-up rarely reduces challenges for better players, as they tend to miss right and left rather than short. My pragmatic preference is to leave most greens connected to the fairway, set near ground level, and reasonably open in front to allow a running shot to attain the middle of the green when necessary.

I generally make the approach similar to the green fronts width, figuring that if I sized the green properly, frontal approach width naturally follows, especially where speed of play is a concern. Where I want challenge, it can be slightly narrower than the green to further increase strategy.

How much narrower? One famous architect says he sizes approach widths at three-fourths of green width for long approaches, one-half open for medium approaches, and one-quarter open for short approaches. My R.O.B.O.T. accomplishes similar relationships, but has more anal retentive numerical progression. It says that basic approach width is Approach length (in yards) minus 100 = approach width (in feet).

Thus, a 190-yard approach would have green width (assuming 15% of approach length) of 86 feet and approach width of 90 feet, or be fully open, while a 130-yard approach would have a 59-foot-wide green and only a 30-foot-wide approach about 51% covered, providing both more actual width, and proportionally more open front green for longer approach shots.

While longer shots generally have wider approaches, site conditions often modify the R.O.B.O.T considerably, for:

Site conditions suggesting a different design,
Variety (I prefer approaches varying in width from 0 -100 feet)
I often widen approaches when prevailing cross-wind or cross-slope fairway lies will likely accentuate shot patterns, or when severe hazards guard one or more green flanks. Ill occasionally narrow (or eliminate) fairway approaches on short approach shots, on par 3 holes where golfers are playing relatively easy irons. More (or less) difficulty on a particular approach

However, I pragmatically avoid narrowing too many approach areas that makes the course too difficult for too many players. And, since average players approach shots usually have some roll, in deference to them I usually keep green-side hazards close to the green front and flare approach areas back to full fairway width quickly. Narrower approach areas should challenge good shots, but minimize punishment for shots falling well short of the green.

Par-5 holes spread out play, and require approaches sized for either a short iron home, medium-length shots by shorter hitters, and long shots (up to 270 yards) trying to reach the green in two in some cases, all at the same time! Of course, I have little sympathy for that 270-yard shot, unless its from someone on MY scramble team . . .

While some par-5s may easily have a cut-off approach, (like a fronting pond) or a very narrow approach, which challenges fairway wood accuracy in reaching the green in two, most par-5s should have approaches designed for the longer shots of average players, even if the hole is slightly easier for scratch players. They dont seem to mind! Since many players cant exceed 400 yards in two shots, the approach for 580-yard holes should be similar to par-4 holes with a 180-yard approach (80 feet wide), 560-yard holes like a 160-yard approach, (60 feet wide), etc.

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