Friday, 22 March 2013

Forward Tees

Too often, golf holes are strategically assessed from the back tee, or as some would erringly describe as "the way the hole was meant to be played".  Golf course architects need to consider the placement of each and every tee, and develop a strategic design to create an enjoyable journey from all tees.  Forward tees are important because they provide a more accessible starting point for beginners and a more properly scaled course for shorter hitting players - male and female, young and old alike.

Historically, forward tees were labelled as the "ladies tee" which only discouraged men from sticking a tee in the ground between the red markers.  This has had the ripple effect of "forcing" junior and senior men to play from too far back, slowing play and decreasing overall enjoyment of the game.  Thankfully, this nomenclature is fading away and USGA initiatives like Tee It Forward are popularizing their use amongst men, who are adding years to their golfing life by re-discovering the element of fun.

Forward tees have been used for nearly as long as golf has been played here in North America, but have they been serving those who use them very well?  Research suggests that women on average, hit the ball 75% as far as men.  Therefore, as a comparative exercise, a golf course with a forward tee yardage of 6,000 yards would be comparable to asking the average male member to play tees set as 8,000 yards.  Men would be giving up the game in droves if they were provided no other option, but that is the scenario presented to women at many golf courses.  Golf architect Alice Dye has long campaigned for better placement of forward tees and argues for a forward tee yardage of between 4,800 - 5,200 yards (6,400 - 6,933 comparable length for men).  Ultimately, we should be able to provide women the option of at least two sets of tee markers by which to enjoy the game.

Yardage is not the only consideration when locating forward tees, the requisite carry must be carefully assessed.  Golfers using the forward tees may be beginners or unable to get the ball in the air.  It is imperative that forward tees are not located in such a manner that water or long grass occupies the ground between it and the fairway.  We need players to finish holes without having to resort to dropping a ball on the other side of a hazard in direct breach of the Rules of Golf.  Golf architects need to provide an avenue for shorter hitting players to negotiate the course without impossible carries, playing around rather than over at the expense of an extra shot to reach the green for not taking the risk.

Pete Dye's island green 17th at TPC Sawgrass is acceptable only because most playing the course will only do so once or twice in a lifetime.  It would be unworkable at a private club where those playing the forward tees especially, would quickly tire of losing so many balls as an all carry shot is the only viable option provided.
(Photo: Google Earth)
 Especially true on holes of the doglegged variety, the angle of the forward tee in relation to the turning point is important.  Lessening the angle helps to avoid players being blocked out by trees if they fail to hit the ball far enough, and can lessen the severity of diagonal carries over bunkers or other types of hazard on the inside of the dogleg by providing an easier fairway to hit and hold.
The forward tee at National Golf Links' 2nd hole doesn't demand players carry the Sahara bunker, and by being located well right of the back tees offers a much easier route to the fairway.  The bunkering is well positioned in relation to the forward tee to provide a risky diagonal carry for those seeking a better angle of approach. (Photo: Google Earth)
Forward tees must be given the same rigorous design considerations as every other tee, size, sunlight, views, visibility of hazards and target, slope, access and constructed to the same high standard.  Golf architects must avoid dumbing things down so much for novice and short-hitting players that they fail to provide for the possibility of exciting shots, as golfers of all ability share in the excitement and thrill of reaping the rewards of successfully challenging an imposing hazard.
A rare instance in my travels, the forward tee at Barnbougle Dunes' 16th (designed by Tom Doak) affords the best view from any tee on the hole or perhaps even the property.

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.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Woodlands Golf Club

Surely the biggest surprise of my golf trip to Australia was Woodlands Golf Club, a golf course that must not be missed when in Melbourne to see the very best golf in the city.  Residing  amidst the Melbourne Sandbelt, it does not receive the same attention as more celebrated courses such as Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath and Victoria.  Famed golf architect Dr. Alister Mackenzie did not advise Woodlands on his famed tour through Australia and New Zealand in 1926-27, and consequently, the course has suffered in reputation, but certainly not in design.  The golf course opened in 1913 and was designed by club professional Rowley Banks, and in 1916 was extended to eighteen holes by another golf pro, Sam Bennett.  Originally, the course was leased from a landlord that forbade earthworks on the property, and therefore hazards were wire nets which acted as a vertical impediment, leaving only a sideways pitch-out as a means of escape.  A more elaborate and traditional bunkering plan was designed by C. Plant and J.D.H. Scott.  The design and construction of the bunkers was supervised by club consultant, Mick Morcom, superintendent of Royal Melbourne, who implemented the techniques utilized by Mackenzie there, and therefore dates the bunkering to after Mackenzie's epic journey.

Woodlands is laid out over fairly subtle terrain by comparison to her Sandbelt sisters, and features a strong collection of short par fours and an excellent collection of one-shotters.  The bunkers are visually appealing and in a few instances, perfectly highlight the strategic element of the design.  The golf course is situated on a fairly small acreage, but is routed in such a fashion as to play to each cardinal point of the compass and the quartering directions in between.  A less desirable consequence of the tight acreage are the walk backs to the second and sixth tees, and the awkward relationship between the thirteenth and fourteenth holes, but these are not knocks on the holes themselves and only detract marginally from the overall walking experience.  
The first in a sweeping dogleg left that is best approached from the outside of the turn.
These fairway bunkers at No. 2 depict typical bunkering throughout the course, no rough separating it from the fairway, wild shapes, attractive and incorporation of native vegetation.
The third is a short par-four whose drive plays diagonally over these fairway bunkers.  Some may decide to lay-up short and left of the bunkers to allow a fuller shot into a small, tightly guarded and elevated green.
The drivable fourth doesn't look like much from the tee, but playing near the fairway bunker right ensures an  approach played up the length of this narrow, elevated green.  See the aerial image below for a better illustration of the strategy at No. 4. 
I'm ashamed to say I don't have a picture of the fourth green which is void of bunkers, but sits a couple of feet above the surrounding fairway.  Drives or approaches that miss wide to a front pin face delicate chips off tight lies to a firm green which could lead to higher scores that you may think a 275 yard hole would warrant. (Photo: Google Earth) 
A staple of the Australian Sandbelt, the one-shot hole demanding an accurate approach to a target surrounded by bunkers.  Here, the fifth at Woodlands.
The ever-so-slightly-snaking par five sixth is protected at left by a large bunker complex, awaiting those whose fading approach fails to fade.  The front edge of the bunker sits 35 yards short of the green, a shot no golfer looks forward to.
The seventh narrows in the landing area and features a testing front right pin guarded heavily in front and directly behind owing to a small bunker eating into the green surface.
The eighth is a long par three with plenty of room to right to run an approach onto the green or bail-out.  Replete with intimacy, the third green and fourth tee reside immediately left of the green. 
The final hole on the front side is a long par four featuring an uphill approach with lots of room provided to avoid the guarding bunkers.  Note how the fairway left merges with that of the first hole helping keep the course feel small and intimate. 
The tenth is another long par four sporting a group of greenside bunkers that infringe upon the line of play diagonally, complicating long approach shots.
The eleventh is a short par three, a must have in the Australian Sandbelt.
The raked portion of the greenside bunker at No. 12 is were wayward approaches will come to rest.  The firm faces of the bunkers help balls run away from the hole, making short-sided recovery shots more difficult.
For those players successfully challenging the fairway bunkers on the short par-four thirteenth, the green is approached from a more advantageous angle.  
Ornately shaped bunkers flank both sides of the approach into the fourteenth green, providing much needed visual contrast over a flatter section of the property.
The real fun at the fifteenth, a par five, begins on the second shot where two groups of fairway bunkers lurk on either side of the fairway at staggered distances making the second shot anything but routine and plodding.
Note the ideal condition of the rough, illustrated here at No. 16, providing lies varying from perfect to bare soil, enhancing the element of "rub of the green" to the game, not to mention being more cost efficient than the highly manicured alternative.
Another strong par three awaits at the seventeenth where the green is protected by deep bunkers and short grass swales. 
The final hole plays up and over a high ridge, propelling good drives down the fairway.  Approach shots into the short par five need to negotiate this fairway bunker which lunges into the fairway at the popular 100 yard mark. 
Woodlands Golf Club is an excellent golf course that hits all the right notes.  While the terrain might not be as inspired as some of Melbourne's other notable clubs, the design is solid and an enjoyable round is sure to await.  Because much of the clubs property is lined with trees and forest, the only thing reminding players that they are in the heart of a massive urban centre is the constant flow of airplanes flying overhead to nearby Moorabbin airport.  While not ideal, the golf course architecture here is engaging, enough to possibly prevent you from taking notice.