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‘Bull’ Cy Ames, asks, ‘How do you design the green?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


The green design must equally consider the two very distinct elements of golf – long play and putting. I design greens the way you play them, looking first at the approach shot, and then at the putting, realizing that there is a relationship.

For variety, I strive for a mixture of different approach shots, in terms of difficulty and shot type. All small greens might reward accuracy too much, for example, while a course of all large ones wouldn't stress it enough. So, size matters!

I also like to offer strategic choices on approach shots. As a result, the majority of greens on my designs are what I call "Sunday Pin" greens, which have the following features:

• At or near fairway grade with an open front – allowing an easy (and possibly a running) approach to the middle of the green;

• One perimeter pin location guarded by exterior hazards;

• Bail-out areas, with a harsher penalty for aggressive play to a tucked pin;

• Gently rolling contours throughout, rewarding proximity to pin with an easier, shorter putt.

They are appropriate for all types of holes on all courses, offering strategic value and daily variety (based on wind conditions, cup location, shot length and angle, and golfer confidence). Anyone can aim for the "fat" part of the green, but getting close to the "tucked pin" requires more daring and skill.

Other green types, with approximately two of each, well spaced throughout the round, in my typical designs are:

• Weekend Greens, which are a combination of Sunday Pin and three target greens – usually a wedge-shaped green with a frontal opening and two tucked back pins. These are adaptable to many holes, but I favor them on longer par-5s to create placement strategy on the second shot.

• Precision Greens, with the following features:

‪- a virtually "all-or-nothing" well-guarded approach;

‪- small size - just adequate for length of approach; and

-‪ flat to compensate for small cup-setting areas and approach difficulty.

A few precision greens provide variety, without undue difficulty and aggravation. I favor using one on a long par-4, with a small, fairway-level green. These are great tests of long-iron play, while being an "Equalizer"* for those with a short third-shot approach. On medium-length holes, I elevate precision greens. Hazards can vary from being surrounded with sand, fall-away fairway chipping areas, water, or rough. I shy away from these on very short holes, as ball marks can be a problem on very small greens hit by short irons.

Multi-target greens have exterior hazards and putting-surface divisions, like decks, ridges, valleys or knobs creating two, three, or even four (although these may be called "miniature golf" by some!) distinct cupping areas, or "greens within a green." The dividing ridges might kick shots far from the cup, meaning that punishment is not always proportional, making these "conceptually inferior" to Sunday Pin Greens. They can also be more interesting. Both double- and triple-target greens can have their axis and divisions lengthwise, side to side, or angled (which tests line, angle and distance together), creating numerous design options.

I often use a two-tier green along the line of play on long, downwind par-4s, as players can use the deck to hold a shot on the upper tier. Multiple-tiered greens fit well on steeper topography. On flat ground, they may appear artificial and/or require a lot of fill. They tend to be larger in size – since so much potential cupping space is used separating the divisions in the greens. On very short approach shots this larger size is useful in alleviating shade, ball-mark, and air-circulation problems, while providing the small targets that short approaches suggest. Less wasted cup space occurs if the ridges are nearly perpendicular to green edges. A ridge paralleling the edge or the long dimension of the green may leave areas too small – and too close to the ridge or edge of the green for pin settings.

In my opinion, most courses benefit from a Conversation Piece Green that makes golfers say, "What the _ _ _ _!" with an unusual feature, like a Valley of Sin, Large Rolls, an Ultra Green (Ultra Wide like Cowboys Golf Club's 3rd hole, Ultra Narrow like Indian Hills' 9th hole).

Divided (by creek, bunker or tree), Punch Bowl, Gun Platform (a form of Precision Green) or Square or L-shaped greens may also be considered. As strategic value is often compromised, I don't consider too many, and then wait quietly for the criticisms to die down, which usually takes about 50 years or so . . . I'll let you know

* This comes from a 1970s TV show of the same name, where average citizens got unexpected help from a former government agent.