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Hugh G. Carey asks, 'What is meant by risk/reward?'

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


It means what it means on Wall Street. Investors/golfers willing to accept potential losses (i.e. take a risk) may gain higher returns. In golf, this means challenging a hazard (i.e., risk losing a stroke) to potentially gain a stroke.

This concept originated at St. Andrews, through evolution and accident. The double fairways there allow golfers to play tee shots safely left. However, caddies tell you to "play as far right as you dare" often near out of bounds for a better approach angle to the green. Hard ground and wind require run-up approaches to an open front green. From the left, greenside bunkers and slopes often deflect approach shots.

Golf course architects are still adapting this concept, but many modern players have other ideas, believing that design should help them shoot lower scores, not challenge them, as epitomized by these recent architectural critiques:

"On the short par-4, you require a perfect drive to reach the green. I need more margins for error when driving the green."

"On the 9th, the safe tee shot is away from the water, but then I have to come over a tree when the pin is right. Shouldn't I have a better shot when I play safe?"

"Your reachable par-5 has substantial green contours. When I'm on in two, I want an easy eagle putt. Sometimes I might be better off laying up, and pitching to ensure birdie.

"That green slopes away from me. I can't fire a 3-iron to the back pin and hold it."

"A long par-4 green shouldn't have a ridge in the middle affecting my putt! It's bad design.

My answers other than, "Well, Duh?" are (in the same order):

(Sounding like a father teaching teenagers to drive): It's a privilege and not a right to reach a par-4 green with the drive. You must drive responsibly.

These features make the hole play differently each day.

Well, why don't you try it some time?

Who says you must aim at every pin and hit one type of shot?

Could you have hit a different part of the green where that ridge didn't affect your putt?

"Course management" has replaced strategy, and power has replaced finesse. Competitive golfers have learned that, like team sports, "playing good defense wins championships." On modern courses, with narrow fairways because of continual tree planting, just hitting the fairway is "Job One" on the tee shot.

The concept of hard par/easy bogey has morphed into "hard birdie/easy par" in the minds of our best players, perhaps because they see the best of the best pros each week making several birdies on television. And, they say, "I want to get me some of that!"

What these golfers forget is that exciting as consecutive birdies may be, if the course allowed them to do it every time and if golfers didn't face dilemmas, the game would lose interest quickly.