Thursday, May 19, 2016

Course Architects are one of Golf's Problems

The course I grew up and still play most of my golf on was 9 holes when I started. In the mid-70’s additional land was purchased and it expanded to 18 holes. A subsequent land purchase lengthened the course and took it to a par 72 (greatly compromising my ability to break 80 I might add). I still like playing the course for obvious reasons, but I’ve also remarked that the club should’ve sued the final course architect for malpractice.

I offer up two examples of where I think the architect lost the plot. The left half of the tenth green is narrow with a severe slope and has a bunker directly in front of it. Now I can, or could back in the day, hit a wedge into the green so it was fair enough for me. If I was above the hole or well to the right….well I’ve hit a bad shot. But the average member can’t go for the pin when it’s placed on this side and actually hit the green without extraordinary luck and from the middle of the green they are looking at a very difficult two putt. I mean very difficult as in I’ve played Pinehurst 2 a number of times and these greens are more difficult to putt.

The sixteenth is a par 5 dogleg to the right with a creek that limits how far the drive can go. The second, layup shot has to go up an incline over mounds and bunkers and find a thin slice of fairway. Anything that lands short of the fairway stays in the rough, go through the fairway at all (and I mean at all) and trees block your way to the pin if it is on the top portion of the green. Older members can’t clear the bunkers which are in the way even to get to a point where their third shot is 150 yards long. So the bunkers, which aren’t much of an impediment for the best players ,force the seniors to hit a layup shot which takes them out of range to reach the green with their third.

Mind you this is a small town course with a pretty strong golf tradition, but also a mostly older membership. We aren’t talking about the type of course which is well stocked with scratch and one handicappers and produces state amateur champions.

All of which brings me to this quote from an article on the sociologist Nathan Glazer who, among other things was critical of modern architecture (the buildings kind):

“contemporary artists and architects ‘do not find it easy to celebrate the common ideals and emotions of the community. It is more likely that they will celebrate themselves…Of course, any art requires some considerable assertion of the individual ego. But at the same time, great art, and certainly a great monument, requires the artist to give himself up to the constraints and demands of the task at hand.’”
One of the great problems facing golf to my mind is that too many architects have built courses without the actual users in mind. We have courses which are built with the best player in mind because those are the designs that are celebrated. And, if they are famous and look right, average players want to play them too…at least once or twice. But members are playing their course not once or twice but repeatedly and the object should be to design and build courses which fit the skill, or lack thereof, of the members.

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