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Q. Should Greens Help Hold Shots?

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


In general, yes. Some "architectural purists" (whatever that means) argue that a true challenge would require greens that are hard to hold. For a course designed for the top 0.1 percent of golfers, this is true, and a few courses should provide this challenge. However, most golfers find golf is tough enough.

The average golfer hits five to 15 good shots per round, defined by them as airborne, long enough and nearly straight. Golfers get frustrated when their "good" shots land on the green but don't hold. If the design focuses on those golfers, as most should, helping golfers hold the green is nearly a must, and it increases both golf enjoyment and speed of play . . . which also increases golf enjoyment.

This is particularly important on resort and upscale public courses where we must assume that most golfers are either playing the course for the first time, or only play on a limited basis and don't remember subtle features or have "local" knowledge. Few golfers can discern how green contours will affect the approach shot. At some clubs, more nuances might be in order.

In an earlier question, we mentioned that most greens should have back-to-front slope of at least 1.25 to 3 percent to help stop the momentum of the approach and have it hold. The front portion of the greens should be a bit flatter to reduce ball-mark damage.

I also design the approach and front portion of most greens to be gently concave to direct any shot that hits the approach or putting surface towards the center, rather than kick it off the green or into a bunker. This concave slope need not be more than 1 percent since side-to-side momentum is less than lineal momentum.

It can be steeper, but the combination of side-slope and up- (or any other) slope generally shouldn't exceed 3 percent (the maximum cupping slope) for most of the green. A green sloping 2.1 percent uphill and 2.1 percent to the middle yields an overall slope of about 3 percent (which brings back memories of high school geometry, the hypotenuse, etc.).

Greens should also generally be wider for longer approach shots, and the fairway connecting to the green ought to be flatter, since more long-iron approaches will be seen.

Most greens should feature a "backstop" of small mounds. These mounds serve multiple purposes of:

Providing a setting for the green;
Giving clear definition of the back edge of the target;
Helping hold the "hot" approach shot near the green;
Encouraging bolder play to back pins (I always prefer bold to timid play).

Some argue that a shot that does manage to go over those mounds faces a difficult up and over to a downhill green recovery, which is true. However, the percentage of shots going that far over the green is small, and we just can't protect every missed shot on a golf course.

Jeffrey D. Brauer began his career as an apprentice in the Chicago area in 1977. His first project was Kemper Lakes, which shortly after hosted the 1989 PGA Championship. He formed GolfScapes in Arlington, Texas, in 1984. In the last 29 years he has designed and consulted on a wide spectrum of projects, ranging from partial renovations to international resorts. His recent work includes teaming with the design team of Pascuzzo and Pate on a remodel of the world-famous La Costa Resort & Spa in California, and renovations at Superior National Golf Course in Lutsen, Minn., and Mesquite Municipal Golf Course in Mesquite, Texas.

He has been a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects since 1981, serving as President during its 50th Anniversary year in 1995-96. Jeff still studies the classic works - both old and new, and has played more than 75 of the best courses in the world.

Jeff gives many presentations and is a regular architecture columnist for many publications and websites, including Golf Course Industry and Cybergolf.com. He has also been a strong advocate for the "Tee it Forward" campaign and strives to make his courses fit the description of "fun to play every day."

Jeff's work has been spotlighted in most of the world's major golf magazines. Golf World ranked him as one of the top-20 golf course architects and Golf Inc. ranked him as the world's fourth-best value in golf architecture in 2010. Jeff's portfolio and reputation keep him at the forefront of desired designers for new courses, reconstruction and renovation projects. For more about Jeff, visit http://www.jeffreydbrauer.com/sites/courses/layout.asp?id=859&page=48451.