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Chip Schott, asks, ‘Do you design greens to allow the running approach?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


My courses usually feature many ground-level greens partially unguarded in front, since many seniors and other golfers rely on low, running shots to reach the green. While these greens allow the ground game, I don't expect better players to use it regularly. I did see Tiger Woods make a running approach on TV, but that was to the restroom after a case of food poisoning.

So, naturally I wonder why every Tour pro talks about "ground game options." They must have similar feelings to mine concerning power tools: I have no real plans to ever use them, but somehow it's nice to have them around, just in case!

Running shots require reasonably dry, consistent turf (modern maintenance makes running shots more practical than ever, but heavy watering discourages them) and slopes – whether sidehill, uphill, or downhill – that assure predictable bounces. Otherwise, golfers prefer aerial shots. Modern equipment allows higher shots with backspin. Aerial shots are safer, just as airlines are safer than Amtrak. Once airborne, there's not much to run into, while trains occasionally face potential collisions that could knock them off track. Except in strong winds, or where runways/fairways are slippery, and staying on the ground makes sense for both golf shots and airplanes, running approach shots are more likely to deflect off line in any direction after striking a deflecting slope.

So, I suppose I will design for the ground game the day I see equipment advertisements touting balls that "fly lower" and with "less spin."

When I do design for players to use ground-hugging shots, it's usually in windy climates, where such shots generally make sense. In these climates, downwind holes reduce backspin, often requiring run-up shots. In other areas, we specifically design for the run-up shot on holes where we can predict long, running shots, like reachable par-5 holes (under 575 yards), drivable par-4 holes (290 to 350 yards in length) and ultra-long par-3 holes.

Occasionally, it's fun to tempt a player into a running shot on short par-4 holes, with a large green set low to the ground. I usually create one area with a consistent run-up slope, while other areas feature subtle folds and banks to deflect the ball away from the green. Such holes can lull a golfer to sleep, and allow great strategy and preferred approach angles without using traditional sand hazards.

My crystal ball shows increasing future water restrictions for golf, which may restore the need, and not the option, for the ground game, since the greens will be hard enough to reject the aerial approach. That would certainly buck the trend of efficiency that equipment, green design and maintenance have created for the aerial game, but it would also bring back the rub of the green, and perhaps, a bit of the fun the game once had. That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.