Has the ProV1 destroyed your golf course?
Are bogey golfers with loopy swings suddenly dropping their handicaps by four with the same loopy swings, and one or two shorter clubs into every green?
Are mini-tour pros coming in twice a year and shooting mid-sixty scores in their sleep?
No worries, you have Beautification Bobby and Go-Low Larry on your membership roster.
Never heard of them? Sure you have…
- Have your fairways been pinched in over the last several years?
- Have you gained a new bunker or three?
- Has your club extended several tee boxes?
- Has Bermuda taken over your once lush, but penal rough?
- …and of course, new trees. We can never have enough trees!
My guess is, your course has had at least four of the above items imposed onto it over the last few years and should add one more to the list to be fair: A new Co-Architect.
My question is…why and more importantly, how did you go about determining any and all of the changes made to your golf course?
The answer should (hopefully) be linked back to 1) your original course plan, 2) the type of membership you currently serve, and 3) who you hope to attract in the future.
Is (and has) the membership traditionally been fifty-year old mid to high handicappers or younger, long-knocking low handicaps? Do you want to host a mini-tour event some day or does your club prefer the income the major disease tour scrambles provide every other Monday?
The problem, in truth, is the misconception of people like Bobby and Larry who don’t see themselves as Curators. Ask them about a few of the design principles outlined in, Tom Doak’s, “The Anatomy of a Golf Course, Donald Ross’s, “Golf Has Never Failed Me”, or Alister Mackenzie’s, “Golf Architecture” and I bet you’ll get a blank stare?
So why do clubs allow these well-meaning amateur architects to put their “stamp” on their course(s) every few years? If your answer is, “He has been a member for thirty years and is here as much as anyone”, then read on.
Misconception 1: Trees should be plentiful and penal. You want to start a war in your club? Try cutting a tree down. You want to be featured in the local newspaper? Plant ten new ones.
Please don’t preach about the “integral part your fifty-year old oaks play on a few narrow par 4’s or how dog legs wouldn’t be dog legs without a cluster of trees hanging over the fairway”. You want to scare your members to death? Put a 15 x 15 bunker where your trees overhang, and watch them avoid it like cargo shorts.
Trees should be the background to your course canvas, never the focal point.
They should not block sunlight from your greens and from the fairway, should rarely, if ever affect play. If the playing strategy of a hole is altered in any way by a single tree or cluster of them, get a chainsaw.
Don’t cut trees, buy fans!
Alister Mackenzie stated, “there are more mistakes in designing a golf course by attaching too much importance to the element of luck and there is too much of that very element in having to negotiate with trees.
Harry Colt put it this way, “a tree is fluky and obnoxious form of a hazard, because a tree can obstruct and/or stymie one ball without even affecting another ball located just a couple of feet away. A tree’s primary function was merely to distinguish between those players who had good or bad fortune”.
Turfgrass and trees don’t mix!
Misconception 2: Wide fairways = Choppy course. I can’t figure out which is more fun to watch: Professionals hitting three woods into eighteen yard wide par 4’s, missing the fairway by two inches, and chopping out or three hours of C-span?
Does anyone in their right mind think Augusta National is more exciting today, than in years past?
Do yourself a favor and study the routings of Donald Ross, Alister Mackenzie, Perry Maxwell, C.B. Macdonald, Seth Raynor, and A.W. Tillinghast. What you’ll find is all believed in the principle: Wide fairways, exacting iron play.
“But wide fairways make the game too easy”.
No, wide fairways create options and interest for the better player and really…don’t appreciably reduce his score. When a better player sees a wide fairway he engages his mind. “Should I attack from the left or right to give myself the best angle into the green”? “Swing out of my shoes and try for birdie or play it smart”?
For the higher handicap, wide fairways equal enjoyment and a fighting chance to shoot a good number, since many have a tough time hitting a twenty yard fairway with any consistency. Is it any wonder we can’t keep new players interested in the game beating them to a pulp each time they hit a drive?
Did I mention wider fairways mean faster play, which is the number one reason people don’t play or stay in the game?
So why did fairways shrink in the first place?
- The invention of single row, in-ground sprinklers. Guess the radius of most of these? Bingo! About twenty-five yards.
- Cost – Narrow fairways mean less impact to the maintenance budget.
- Green speeds – in a race to see who could get their greens rolling like Augusta every week, green undulation has been severely reduced, in conjunction with a reduction in fairway acreage. Today we see long runways, boring green complexes.
- Course design philosophy devolved – Robert Trent (Bowling alley) Jones/the U.S. open set-ups circa 1970’s all focused on the straight tee ball as the pinnacle of golf proficiency. The classic architects (pre-1950) believed par was earned on the approach shot. Think about the last time you saw a cross-bunker in the fairway? Sadly, most amateurs see them and say, “obviously bad hole”…but think of the options? “Should I aim left or right, lay up short or try and bomb it over”?
- The bulldozer – How many modern courses give you an advantage if you play down the left “speed slot” vs. the right? Par is no longer defended by angles. Just add some length and give them a flat lie every time has taken the place of the naturally contoured hole.
Misconception 3: Players are two and three clubs longer than twenty years ago. Have you checked the latest iteration of the popular Rocketballz irons? A 45 degree pitching wedge?!?!?! That used to be called an 8 iron when Jack played. Gap wedges? Hogan didn’t need one because that was called a wedge at 52 degrees. Have you been to a PGA tournament lately? They don’t carry it much longer than your best players at the club…but with fifty yards of roll…Fred Funk can occasionally hit a 300 yard drive.
I agree, players are a bit more athletic today and the proliferation of launch monitor technology has made dialing in distance a breeze, not to mention the ball…but I don’t believe players today are that much longer at your local club, especially with irons when you factor in the jacked-up lofts these days. In truth, handicaps aren’t going down locally or nationally.
Lengthening a par three by two clubs when the green is only a couple of clubs deep at best and/or killing off the short par four by eliminating the risk/reward aspect of the hole are all signs your club may be moving in the wrong direction. Nothing wrong with a 2.5 shot par 5, when the gamble of going for it more often produces tough par or bogey.
Wannamoisett #3 135 yards/Par 3. Too short…right?
Tidewater #3 – 138 yard/Par 3. One of the scariest shots I have ever hit!
Camargo #11 – 135 yard/Par 3. Par or double.
Misconception 4: Your Greens Committee Chairperson should actively manage your Course Superintendent. How would you like to have a new boss every one to two years over a twenty or thirty year career? Dumb question, but something your Course Superintendent is constantly faced with.
You can say, “it comes with the job”, but why? Why can’t clubs simply hire a great Course Superintendent and let the General Manager, a person who is at the club 5-6 days per week, handle the task?
Answer: They don’t trust their GM either. How do I know? Constant micro-management.
The reality is, most can’t leave well enough alone because the need to “stamp” the course with a tree or cluster of them, a new tee box or three, and/or the elimination of bunkers is too great.
My recommendations are simple:
- Hire a great Course Superintendent. If you don’t have one, hire a new one. If you have a great one already, let him do his job until the job he does is no longer satisfactory.
- Keep the position of Greens Committee Chairperson, with the caveat of focusing on membership interaction and communication, not the active management of the entire grounds crew. He should be a filter between the membership and your Course Superintendent. If he lacks a degree in Agronomy or isn’t a former member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, no armchair architecting either.
With regard to course changes, commit to make changes only after consulting the course master plan. If you don’t have one, develop one…tomorrow. It will/should include things such as rough height, mowing patterns, type of sand to be used, trees, green specifications, etc. If your board is in agreement with it, you can focus on the fun part: Playing!