The Seventh Commandment Is Old as Golf: “Design With Thy Wind – and Ball Physics – in Mind”


Golfers use all available tools to score, and wind is the biggest tool available. Good design allows reasonable chances for success. Contrary to popular belief, I assist your quest to play well and your comfort while doing so!

How? By avoiding greens too small, steep or hard-to-hold shots or make putts; and fairways too narrow, sloped or firm to hold shots. The laws of physics affect ball flight and roll, so allowing for these is paramount in design.

Knowing that the targets will receive your shot and your strategy is correct allows a feeling of comfort in addressing a shot. Imagine how tentative you would feel seeing consecutive road signs reading: "Chicago, next left" and "Chicago, this right"? Tentativeness and confusion ruin golf shots. Golf holes have "road signs," and I align most signs to create preferred "driving routes." If the lie, wind and target all point right, a light bulb goes off, saying "fade"! You pick the club and line, then comfortably execute. Signals include:

Wind Direction

Heavy wind encourages all players to keep shots down for better control, regardless of direction. Prevailing wind direction and strength aren't constant. I trust them as much as riverboat gamblers. But I do design for the typical winds during the course's main golf season.

Expert golfers use wind to shape shots, usually "riding" or following the wind for additional distance on tee shots, and "canceling" wind on approaches. Others have a preferred shot pattern, especially in crucial situations, or when their game isn't "up to par." Average players simply allow for wind drift.

On approaches, downwind shots spin less, while headwind shots spin more, so the shot pattern accentuates playing into the wind – i.e. more curve and stop, while downwind shots curve less and roll further.

It is not your imagination that wind hurts your distance more than it helps you. Studies show that a tailwind may add a few yards to a shot, but it's likely to take away almost 20 yards!

Target Orientation

Targets angled right suggest fades and ones angled left suggest draws*. A shot following the target's orientation stays over "safe" ground longest, while playing against the target orientation minimizes the margin for both flight and roll error.

Target Slope

Gentle down and cross slopes can enhance distance, like hitting a low draw into a left cross slope. Steeper slopes may propel shots off the fairway, and induce the opposite strategy: high fades into the slope to minimize roll. Up slopes reduce roll, prompting low running shots for distance.

Good players use green contours to "trickle" approaches down to the pin, while staying away from bunkers. If coming over a hazard, they use it as a backstop, possibly playing more spin.

Lie Slope

Ball flight mirrors lie. If it slopes right, the ball goes right; left slope lies go left; uphill lies fly high; downhill fly low. Designs should avoid difficult "physics" combinations – like uphill long-iron shots from downhill lies. We adjust targets according to all of the above, generally with:

• Deeper greens for downhill lies or downwind shots;
• Wider targets for side-hill lies, crosswind shots; and
• Targets oriented/angling with the lies, winds, etc.

Our holes follow natural contours, which often run against the wind. In these cases, I alter fairway contours. Failing that, I make targets wider and deeper, allowing golfers to "go at it" as they deem best, accepting that some holes with mixed signals are inevitable.

* Except to 7 percent of the world's population, who are left-handed. I am told this runs in cycles, so for my readers in 2050, that percentage will be higher, and perhaps reversed!


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