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Irma Goode asks, ‘Do you design greens from the perspective of better players?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


Low-handicappers have very consistent views on what comprises good greens. Their "scorecard mentality" dictates greens that reward skill with "makeable" birdie putts, "proportional (read: not severe) penalty," predictability, bad luck potential, and bail-outs in case they're in trouble. They think a good course should help them! Old architects were "defenders of par," but some Tour pros/golf designers are often "defenders of birdie!"

What's more amazing is that good players can be fond of greens with these features, even without other merits such as good aesthetics.

While good players figure heavily in design concepts, I consider all perspectives in design, including the Average Player, Course Manager and Superintendent. The architect's perspective blends these outlooks, giving appropriate weight varying with the course's role and budget.

While their desires often mirror those of better players, the broad cross-section of average players generally notices aesthetics more, accepts more "quirks" (unusual features for modern courses) and luck, such as severe green contouring – which better players call "goofy golf" – and accepts challenge beyond their ability, either a few times a year by playing difficult courses, or a few times per round, feeling easy courses are somewhat condescending.

If there are two features of greens complexes that consistently trouble "average players," they are forced carries and sand bunkers. Any design anticipating average players should limit these in common play areas.

Golf course managers often have a narrow perspective on successful design: Does it generate revenue! That means getting customers in the door, from membership sales, greens fees, and/or tournament outings. While probably not interested in design, the course manager desires to generate interest through the two traditional marketing tools – photography for advertisements, and good word of mouth. Thus, he probably wants some "signature holes" that photograph well, with other greens designed to move customers like cattle through the course.

If there are no dramatic vistas or backdrops, the course manager may want one well-bunkered green as the "signature hole." Since that slows play, he may lean towards other amenities that don't slow play – like waterfalls.

Similarly, the superintendent is concerned with construction and turf type, size (to distribute daily wear), sunlight and air circulation (to allow turf growth), traffic considerations (basically avoiding "cow paths" and drainage – high spots (that dry too quickly) and low spots (that dry too slowly). He may also favor a simple green shape, as tight mower-turning radii cause turf damage. These are practical things to most, but to a superintendent, if a green has all these things, it's beautiful!

The architect blends these views, while considering "architect-y"-type things, like target type, size, orientation, shape and elevation. We must also create a green approach, with suitable frontal opening width and orientation (for average players), and integrated green surrounds, including backdrops, fairway chipping areas, hazards, bail-out areas and a suitable backdrop.

We must consider all of those things, and then consider if – despite all the givens from the greens various "constituents" – a green will be similar enough to the others to have a theme, but not so similar as to have "sameness."