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Ivan A. Justice asks, ‘What do architects do to make a course more 'fair’?'

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


Carnival games never let you get the !@%$#^*!!$## hoop over the #@@#&!!^ bottle! However, golf is much, much different. It's a game of skill, not luck. Golfers want playing fields to reward skill. And second, you'll never hear, "In honor of your victory, we award you our traditional oversized, super-plush . . . stuffed bunny."

Golf courses have evolved to balance skill and strategy, similar to other sports:

· In hockey, the goalie stops 90 percent of shots.

· In baseball, batters hit safely about 30 percent of the time.

· In basketball, players make about 45 percent of their shots.

· In football, defenses can't cover the entire field, and offenses attack lightly covered areas.

Golf courses are not standardized fields, but they do need to reward properly planned and executed shots and strategy ‹ most of the time. I call this "receptivity" – the golfer's ability to reasonably predict what a good shot will do, in order to plan, and execute* it. Here are some things the modern golfer expects:

· Target Orientation, as often as possible, that is aligned with the prevailing wind and the cross slope, including doglegs.

· Contours that contain shots, including:

- Raised outside edges of doglegged fairways (like super-elevated highways).

- Concave fairways to direct shots gently to the middle.

- Predictable cross slopes, preventing tee shots from rolling beyond control.

- Avoiding Nearly Impossible Shots like uphill shots from downhill lies with long irons, and aiming over O/B or water to counteract wind.

· Width that exceeds the PGA Tour-recommended 32 yards and that provides play options (and proportionally wider on longer holes, allowing golfers room to swing freely, when more length is necessary for effective play).

· Greens that hold, usually by raising the back to stop the momentum of approach shots, and help from visibility.

Often, we pitch greens uphill more for long-iron shots. Interestingly, golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast favored less pitch for long approaches, because in those days, golfers played short-iron shots for "check," and long irons for roll. Modern irons play similarly, so increase uphill pitch for longer/lower-flying shots, shots downwind, uphill, or coming from downhill lies, for additional assistance stopping shots.

Concave slopes can direct approach shots towards the center of the green. Golfers find it frustrating seeing a ball on the green subsequently roll off, even on bad shots!

Small ridges behind the green to hold "hot" approaches shot near the green. These ridges also provide a green setting, and define the back edge of the putting surface.

Famed golf course architect George Thomas didn't punish long shots severely, feeling a shot reaching the green was better than one that came up short, or wide, even if it rolled over. He often planned fairway behind the green, and I do, too, especially on long par-4s.

Resort and public courses that cater to first-time players favor receptivity, as few of their "first-timers" will discern design subtlety, and will play most shots the same. Interesting features like reverse slope greens, or dramatic contours should be change-of-pace greens, not a steady diet. A private club that will see repeat play can – and should – have more of these subtle features.

Of course, we make exceptions, as these exceptions, if not overdone, can be the most memorable holes.

* If that doesn't happen regularly, they plan on executing the architect!