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The Dodge Intermission Report – On ESPN

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


We break to make an observation, and answer a reader's question. Most U.S. writers would do this after the 7th Commandment, mimicking the 7th-inning stretch in baseball, or after the 5th Commandment, which would be "half time." However, I'm a hockey fan, so I'll insert my breaks in mathematically imprecise thirds.

First, the observation: I am writing these commandments! I will continue to do so until struck by thunderbolts, or plagues of locusts. Moses did not come down the mount with a "lesser-known" second tablet, and deliver them to the American Society of Golf Course Architects headquarters, before proclaiming the "real" Commandments.

Now, the question, from Ivana Justice,

"In your commandments, you didn't list 'fairness.' What is 'fair'?"

Ivana, that is a fair question. What is fair? Not golf and not life!

As a parent, I have heard my children scream, "That's not fair!" It means something didn't go their way. I have heard similar screams from golfers, and it usually means, well, pretty much the same thing.

I imagine that the first utterance of "unfair course" came from the loser of the first competitive golf match. When equipment improved enough to allow consistent play, golfers soon demanded "fair" courses that minimized luck and rewarded competitive skill so the best players would usually win. (From Simpson – Tom, in "The Architectural Side of Golf," 1929, not Homer.*)

It's not that early golfers didn't recognize inherent problems in the early rudimentary layouts, it's just that they were difficult to correct in those days. As earthmoving technology emerged, both design and maintenance became more sophisticated. The funny thing is that today's golfers probably complain just as loudly as their predecessors, who couldn't imagine courses today.

Chalk it up to human nature and general prosperity. As life and economic conditions experience more consistency, golfers expect more consistency. Early golfers expected the future was going to be bad, with famines, invasions, and short life expectancies the norm. It probably seemed trivial to worry about seeing greens or unlucky bounces. Golf reflected life itself.

Golden Age golf architects write prominently about fairness. Donald Ross said, "There are no unfair hazards. It's the player's job to avoid them," probably to deflect questions he knew were coming.**

If I had to give a definition, then,

"If there is one way to play a shot from the normal play corridors, it is fair. If there are two ways, it is strategic. And if there are three ways, it is flexible."

From experience, I know that from normal play areas, golfers like to advance the ball towards the hole, with some distance.

Like architects before me, I strive to provide a fair golf experience, but don't obsess over it, because, to some golfers, it won't be enough.

*To my readers in 2050, Homer Simpson is an animated cartoon character from a 1990s television show. He’s probably still in syndicated reruns.

** Don't ask me how I know that.