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Killer Dee Roll asks, ‘How steep should fairway approach areas be?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


The range of slopes for fairway approach areas in front of greens – or, for that matter, fairway chipping areas beside or behind greens – is 3% to 22%. Good drainage requires minimum of 3%-4% slopes, while fairway turf does well at slopes about 22% before they suffer from drought and/or mower scalping.

Sunday Pin greens are meant to encourage a running approach to the "fat" middle of the green. I've seen 10% slopes stop a 180-yard 3-metal from rolling on the green. For these greens, especially on long par-4s, a gently sloped fairway approach is preferable. Anything steeper requires careful thought. So, my obligatory R.O.B.O.T. for approach area slopes is (see if you can follow this):

"It's either gentle enough for a running shot or it isn't!"

Got it?

Providing the run-up approach, a desire for a variety of looks and/or play conditions often merits some earthmoving to achieve the desired effect. Many factors influence how steep the slope up to the green might be:

• Both speed of play concerns and windy sites suggest lower greens and gentler approach slopes. Headwinds require low, running shots under the wind, and tailwinds reduce backspin, requiring fairly level approach areas to play close to front pins, again with some release and roll.

• Proportionality suggests flatter slopes for longer approach shots. Approach areas should have maximum up-slope of about 1%-3% per iron (i.e. 2%-6% for a 2-iron shot, 9%-27% for a 9-iron) favoring lower slopes in windy conditions. This keeps the range within acceptable mowing slopes for fairway turf. On short approaches, it is possible to use a rough bank, and, of course, these can be steeper.

In most cases, the upward slope of the approach area is a function of the green site. If it's steep, or the green is situated particularly high, the approach will necessarily be steeper.

• Variety. Sometimes the selection of green sites naturally provides slope variations, but whether natural or manmade, I like a variety of up-slope in the approaches – from steep to the occasional reverse slope towards a green sunk below natural fairway grade.

I make as many approaches follow natural grade as possible, especially greens that clearly call out for a certain type of approach, and other greens around those. I even look for opportunities to sink a green.

WARNING! WARNING! OLD ARCHITECT'S TRICK APPEARS SOON!

If I think I'll have a contractor who will skimp on earthmoving by making slopes around the green fill-pad steeper, I compensate by drawing flatter slopes than I actually want, hoping it balances out!*

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations require wheelchair access at a maximum 5% slope, so if the frontal approach is the only wheelchair access to the green, then it must be a 5% slope, and I usually design these access areas at 4% to allow for construction error, having had a few torn out by inspectors lately.**

Cross-slope is an equal consideration – for ADA (2% maximum, if the approach is a wheelchair access route) and for good golf. "Concave" slopes assist in funneling shots to the green, while "humps," or variable slopes, may direct shots into nearby hazards, defeating the purpose of the open green front. A fairway approach offset to one side, with a fairly consistent cross-slope can also reliably funnel shots to the green. The farther the approach is offset, the steeper the cross-slope can be.

There are a variety of green-approach concepts that can make each hole distinct, with memorable differences in play concept, visual character, orientation, up-sweep and cross-slope, and elevation change. We will discuss those next.

* With all due respect to the many fine contractors, I count on my slopes being shortened up just about every time. The one exception occurred several years ago, when the earthmover was trying to bankrupt his company for an impending divorce. He wanted to know if he could move more earth at below market rates to ensure losing money! That once, we got all the earth moved – and then some – that the owner paid for.

** Hmm, let's see, minimum 4% for drainage ... maximum 4% for ADA. It's easy to see how a 4% grade might become the default grade for frontal approaches!