Wednesday 13 March 2013

Multiple Tees

The origins of multiple teeing grounds are unknown to me, but Charles Blair Macdonald incorporated them into his timeless National Golf Links of America (1911).  He justified their use by writing the following in "Scotland's Gift: Golf"; 
I should always advise a place for three tees; one the championship tee, which would probably give pleasure to less than 5 per cent of your club membership; then the regular tees, which two-thirds of your club membership really care to play, leaving about 30 per cent of your club membership to play from the short tees, which means men who can drive only about 120 or 130 yards.  This gives all your members a fair game and you do not take the joy out of their life.
Over the ensuing century, golf equipment technology has changed the game measurably, greatly increasing the disparity in length achieved from the tee amongst a typical club membership.  This has made the job of golf architects more challenging, as the golf course must serve an ever-expanding array of masters.  Sadly, golf's governing bodies do not appear to be ready to challenge the equipment manufacturers and help restore some sanity to the game.  So how do architects proceed into the future?  Do we build tees for every conceivable class of golfer or create more complex hazard schemes to challenge many classes of player from fewer tees?

Many modern architects have opted to provide golf courses with lots of tees to accommodate the touring professional, the beginner and everybody in between.  And while that may be a laudable effort to meet the perceived needs of the widest range of players, should every golfer be expected to reach the green in regulation?  On the positive side, this approach offers much more choice to every player in regards to playing the golf course from a yardage that suits their game.  It also offers greater flexibility in terms of course set-up when faced with extreme winds or exceptionally damp conditions.  On the downside, a large number of tees visually clutters the landscape and require earthwork, long native grass and clever siting to maintain a degree of visual isolation between tees.  Secondly, the walk to the most forward of tees is generally pretty extensive, creating a disjointed walking experience.  Thirdly, more tees means greater maintenance expense.  Lastly, golf groups are very frequently comprised of players with diverse ability.  It would be to the detriment of the social aspect of the sport for a foursome to play a round together over three different tees as this is a natural spot to congregate and converse.
Harvester Golf Club in Iowa was designed by Keith Foster and utilizes up to six tees per hole.  The length of walk to the forward tees can negatively affect the experience, and visually the multitude of tees can detract from the overall landscape.  Better are the alternate angles provided to create day-to-day variety.(Photo: Google Earth) 
Golf courses from the classic era are more prone to use two or three tees per hole, with the former perhaps having two tee markers on it to provide greater yardage diversity.  Having fewer tees means that some players will not be able to reach some greens in regulation, and a singular bunker complex will not challenge all classes of player.  To successfully employ this strategy, it is imperative that certain carries from the tee, over water especially, are not impossibly difficult for some.  Golf is a journey from tee to green, and a proscribed formula should never be imposed on players.  Fewer tees means that the effective landing zone on a fairway will be much longer.  Therefore, a more complex bunker and hazard scheme needs to be designed to ensure a high level of strategic interest is maintained across the broad spectrum of golfers playing each hole.  Some holes will only present an exciting carry for the scratch player, while others will only concern those who drive the ball 150 yards, and still others for multiple categories of golfer.  Architects will need to pay attention to second shot landing areas of par fours for shorter hitters so that their stroke is strategic and not a thoughtless slog down the fairway.
Only into a good breeze do the latter two driving zone bunkers challenge the best professionals at Shinnecock Hills' 16th (designed by William Flynn & Howard Toomey in 1931) during the US Open, but are well positioned for club members.  The first two bunkers are only 175 yards from the middle tee, but provide strategic interest for shorter hitting members.  Note the short walk to forward tee, as opposed to above example.
(Photo: Google Earth) 
The 12th at Holston Hills in Knoxville, Tennessee designed by Donald Ross (1928) plays between 382 and 471 yards. The pair of bunkers short of the green provide strategic interest for those requiring three or more strokes to reach the green, not to mention scratch players after poor drives. (Photo: Google Earth) 
Golf course architects strive to create a pleasurable golf experience for the greatest number of players, and providing multiple tees helps to achieve that goal.  Limiting that number of tees to three for example, means that bunkers need to be located in a less formulaic manner because the goal is no longer to have everybody play approach shots from a similar spot, regardless of talent level.  When we allow for people to not be able to reach some greens in regulation, our designs begin to accommodate multiple routes to the hole, and that is an opportunity for greater design variety and complexity.

1 comment:

  1. Outstanding post, Tyler. Keep up the great writing!