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Raquel W. asks, ‘Do modern greens have more shape than older designers used?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


They do now, but original photos of older courses often show that their green shapes had free-form shapes very similar in shape and size to today's designs. One Golden Age architect touted his use of small greens, explaining that 10,000 square feet would suffice. That's huge! What did he consider a BIG green?

The continuous reduction and simplification of green size and shape over the years is nearly universal, even under a diligent superintendent. While mowing outside an established green edge is easily noticed by scalp marks, mowing just 1/64 inch inside never got a maintenance worker in trouble. And, mowers tend to move on a straight line, eventually simplifying any fancy green shape.

My courses are subject to the same mowing practices as all courses before. Therefore, while I like a variety of green shapes, I rely on fairly simple shapes, and size them by the Goldilocks theory: oversizing initially, knowing that eventually (and temporarily) they will be "just right."

I am tempted to make all greens circular, since they seem to end up that way, and that works just fine. Circles (and near circles) do most efficiently enclose more middle (where we can set cups) for its edge; present more of a "single target" on small greens and longer approach shots; and avoid (barring unusual contours) "putting around the corner." These greens can be the smallest, and help keep budgets in check. Extravagantly shaped greens must be much larger, and even then, many subtle curves are usually quickly mowed out by unknowing workers.

Each "indention" of the circle creates a new "lobe" and shape, and often, bunkers or mounds accentuate the indentation, subdividing the target into different areas, as we often seek. So, many designs can benefit from some limited shape enhancements. The most practical shapes are:

• Circular greens (no indents)
• Kidney-shaped greens (one indents and two lobes)
• Peanut-shaped greens (two indents and two lobes)
• 3 Lobe/Sombrero greens (three indents and three lobes)
• 4 Lobe – no catchy nickname – (three indents and four lobes)
• Special Greens (ultra long/ribbon greens, square, L-shaped, doughnut, etc.) may have anything.

I don't design greens to be seen from an airplane or blueprint view. I design them for aesthetics and play values at ground level. Most golfers won't notice whether there are eight or 18 round greens. Contouring, surrounding bunker patterns and setting probably impact a golfer's image of the green more than a mowing line between green turf cut at 0.12 inch and higher collar, fairway, and rough cuts.

However, different greens shapes have visual aesthetic impacts for some, and play impacts for all. Therefore, a variety of green shapes is superior to consistent green shapes. Like most designers, I tend to repeat certain shapes (my tendency being toward the two- and three-lobe greens) and fight it with a R.O.B.O.T. calling for three greens of each basic shape listed above.

I seek further variety by consciously locating greens of even-number lobes (0, 2, or 4) on even-number holes, and odd-number lobes (1, 3, 5) on odd-number holes to avoid consecutive greens of the same shape. This rarely works out perfectly (and it doesn't need to, but it is a consideration).

Generally, I use more shapely greens for shorter shots – as they tend to subdivide the green into sub-targets, requiring more accuracy – and simpler shapes for longer holes. I use circles and kidneys for most single-target greens, two- and three-lobe greens for Sunday Pin Greens, and three- and four-lobe greens to help create multiple-target greens.

There are always exceptions, of course.