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Chip Shott asks, 'Why are there more fairway chipping areas around greens now?'

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


It seems that way, because your memory doesn't go back far enough, and you recall only its "re-introduction" to golf courses. Many early Scottish courses featured wide swaths of fairway around greens, primarily because there were only four heights of cut - green, tee, fairway and none, with areas beyond the fairway cut nearly unplayable heather or gorse. No one knows if Scottish sheep were just stubborn that way, or if they were early converts to a strong union system.

In America, fairway-cut green surrounds were prominent at Augusta National Golf Club. Green banks were typically shaved to fairway height, causing wayward approach shots to trickle down to the base of the slope, until it was stopped by the first cut of rough. This leaves the shot farther from the green and in a difficult lie, and is/was a subtle contributor to the difficulty of Augusta National, and a factor in slow play elsewhere.

For many decades, American golf courses favored rough directly adjacent to the greens collar, other than the fairway entrance. Whether due to maintenance or an effort to help courses stand up to the technological advances of that era (and influenced by the USGA set up of its open courses, I don't know). I do know that greens surrounded with slight upslopes (such as backing mounds) together with light rough tend to hold slightly off-line shots nearer to the green surface, generally speeding play. If the rough is as deep as typical U.S. Open rough, recovery becomes fairly one-dimensional and repetitive and favors the stronger golfer.

At the 1990 Open at Pebble Beach, the USGA started using fairway height chipping areas around selected greens, which was well received and broadened the potential pool of winners. The trend caught on, since in everyday play this adds variety and enhances playability by being more interesting and less difficult to most players. Fairway-height chipping areas emphasize skill in chipping - often the strengths of women and seniors - over brute strength. They are equalizers, and therefore well-adapted to all types of golf courses.

While many believe that a design element like this must be carried through on virtually every hole to create a theme, experience shows that a variety of chipping areas can be used without affecting overall unity and theme. Like-design elements such as railroad tie retaining walls, chipping areas may be used as little as once or twice per round and fit the golf course theme. However, 18 greens with chipping areas tend to be as repetitive as 18 surrounded completely by rough. I find the proper number to be somewhere in a 2:1 to 3:1 ratio favoring one style or the other. My courses normally favor the traditional look, with rough-surrounded greens dominating slightly, and chipping areas in a variety of areas, so that over time golfers who consistently miss either right or left are more likely to experience them. But there are no absolutes.

The key establishing the exact number to include is to consider the natural qualities of the green sites. When chipping areas are too simple or extravagant or occupy very small or large areas, they often look as if they were forced into the landscape. They work best when important strategically, and used in natural locations with details and even construction crucial to making them Marine ready; i.e., the best that they can be.*

We'll cover those the next time.

*For my future readers, this is a reference to a long running military recruitment ad around the year 2000. Many young people signed up, since it sounded a lot better than "Marines, you might end up dead . . ."

Jeffrey D. Brauer and his firm, Golf Scapes, have designed 40 golf courses and remodeled 80. Canterberry Golf Course in Parker, Colo., and Giants Ridge are rated among the best affordable public courses in the U.S., while his Avocet Course at Wild Wing Plantation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was a Golf Digest best new course winner, Champions Country Club is rated 5th in Nebraska and TangleRidge Golf Club is 12th in Texas. President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects during its 50th anniversary year in 1995-96, Brauer also designed Colbert Hills Golf Club at Kansas State, which opened in June 2000 as the cornerstone golf course for The First Tee program as well as the first collaboration between the PGA of America and Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.