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Ivanna Noe asks, ‘How do architects create tee-shot strategy?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


Strategy starts at the pro shop, where players "buy a better game." But, smart on-course strategy lowers scores, with obvious cost advantages and better odds of success!

Golfers make strategic decisions, even on holes without strategic qualities. They must:

• Know their distance with each club.

• Adjust for wind, uphill/downhill conditions, and slopes that affect distance or roll.

• Account for daily variances in weather, hole locations and game situations.

• Aim correctly, allowing for shot pattern, wind and lie.

For many, those demands are enough – or too much! Nonetheless, strategic choices make it even more fascinating. I exploit the universal desire for lower scores* by placing hazards requiring mental agility to conquer. It starts on the tee shot, which all fall under these classifications:

• "Heroic." Heroic holes have dramatic options of driving over non-recoverable hazards, versus playing to a safe fairway. Examples include, "Cape Holes," with a diagonal carry over lake, and "Challenge Fairways," where an alternate fairway straightens/shortens the hole significantly.

Heroic holes work well downwind, tempting golfers to carry hazards, and increasing the value of open-front greens, as the wind will reduce approach-shot backspin. These holes reward length, so I limit their use.

• "Strategic". Strategic tee shots come in a few different philosophical types, including the following:

"Position paradox" is when you really need to find a certain fairway position, but really, really want to avoid surrounding hazards.

"Variable" is where daily wind conditions and pin locations dictate possible advantages. These require wide fairways, staggered bunkering, and greens with multiple pin locations.

“Democratic," whereby most shot patterns are accepted, with advantage coming from playing to your strength.

"Diminishing Returns" is where gradually narrowing fairways create dilemmas between the advantages of shorter approaches versus missing fairways. On long holes, the length advantage is usually very strong; but on short holes, it's less. These work best on medium par-4s, and reachable par-5s.

• "Penal." Penal tee shots come in three varieties:

1. "Forced Lay-ups" caused by full crossing hazards, limiting full tee-shot distance. Upwind, downwind, or downhill complicates getting close to the hazard without going into it.

2. "Forced Carries" caused by full crossing hazards requiring minimum-length tee shots to reach the fairway. These are sometimes necessary, but provide little strategy, so I use them rarely.

3. "Bottleneck," requiring shot placement in a narrow landing area, surrounded by trouble.

• "Hybrid." There are other tee-shot strategies, which have as much "challenge" as strategy:

"Cross-Slope Fairways" dictating "high-side" play, or a combination of flat areas and rolls providing advantages in limited areas.

"Forced Curve." Ground hazards suggest curved shots. Well-placed trees dictate them! Golf shots reach horizontal and vertical apex 70 percent through flight. Encroaching trees 180 to 200 yards from the back tee best accommodate curved tee shots, but require wide fairways, so all shot patterns can hit some part of the fairway.

"Open Field," with little difficulty, providing either equal access from everywhere (useful on public courses and opening holes), or with a green creating "delayed penalty" from certain areas.

"Battlefield," with randomly strewn hazards. Little used, unless some areas have fewer hazards than others to create some strategy.

With an infinite number of subtle variations on these tee-shot concepts, it's a shame that so many courses have blandly repetitive tee shots, when they could easily have 14 distinct full tee shots.

* Some say they play to entertain clients, but if they "entertain" by breaking clubs, they're playing for score, too!