Wendy Knight asks, ‘How does wind affect course routing?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


The Scots said, "Nae wind, nae golf." ("No wind, no golf.") It still is a vital design element – and one that separates golf from the monotony of video games. Golf announcers still say, "scores are up because of the wind," because it's true.

We account for the prevailing wind in routing, taking cues from early architects, who triangulated* holes, aiming them in every direction so golfers faced different downwind, headwind, and crosswinds from hole to hole. Today, designing for wind variety is sometimes less important as real estate and environmental mitigation have increased in relative importance.

We strive to vary winds on par-3, short and long par-4 and par-5 holes by hole direction, trying to get some of each "going to each point on the compass." If we always put long holes downwind, and short holes into the wind, they would perhaps play to similar lengths. Golfers REALLY remember a long hole into the wind, even if they don't like its difficulty.

If I make concessions to ideal variety for ease and speed of play, I favor upwind and downwind holes, as crosswinds are difficult for average players.

For additional challenge, I often conceal wind direction by placing tees and greens in sheltered areas. Each disguises wind, with sheltered greens preventing golfers from gauging wind speed or direction from the flagstick.

I loosely estimate wind effects in designing holes. Estimates aren't perfect, but it's better than ignoring winds altogether in planning.

I plan on 1 yard additional distance per miles-per-hour of average daily wind speed prevailing downwind, and 1.5 yards less distance per miles-per-hour average wind speed in prevailing headwind, following a Golf Digest study suggesting that wind hurts golfers more than it helps. Trailing winds reduce backspin, reducing lift, maximum height and distance. Headwind drives shots down, reducing both flight and roll distance.

We also consider simultaneous effects of the downhill/uphill shot, slope in the landing area, and the lie of the ball at address:

• Shots gain/lose flight by approximately 1 foot per vertical foot of difference. A shot 70 feet downhill will travel about 70 feet (23 yards) farther. Uphill shots lose similar distance.

• Roll is approximately 10 percent of total tee-shot distance. Downhill landing areas increase roll, and uphill slopes reduce it, without affecting flight distance. We estimate roll variations from slope percentage – i.e., 7 percent downhill/uphill slopes gain/lose 7 to 14 yards on normal turf.

• Draws roll 10 to 15 yards farther than fades. If a hole clearly calls for a draw, we allow for this in calculating the distance of a good tee shot.

* To my current readers – not in the more recent political meaning – where all holes stay in the middle of the road, as compared to the other politicians. It means all holes face different directions on consecutive holes, so the golfer faces winds blowing every which way.

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