9th Commandment: Variety in Play and Looks

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

The 9th Commandment covers this, saying we should provide variety in both play and aesthetics. Memorability, variety and a fantastic golf site provide the course's soul.

Many rate courses by how memorable each hole is, long after the round. Given that writers drink at grand openings, I always suggest they write it down, while they remember anything!

I agree with the premise of making every hole different and most holes memorable. If all are spectacular, they blend together as much as if they were all bland. A few "average" holes are usually inevitable on some property, but these holes, with less aesthetics or difficulty, serve to highlight others even better.

Variety goes a long way toward memorability. Unique features, like greens 100 yards wide, or with huge contours, are memorable. Inevitably, someone says, "This green won't be anything like the rest of them." That's the point.

Design consistency is NOT continuity. We don't want every shot with a similar look and difficulties. Consistency is boring. Continuity is not. It comes through repeating some design elements, but with variety, change of pace and surprise. "Variations on a theme," if you will.

I recently designed a course with three perched greens, while most were set near ground level. I used one each on a par-3, par-4 and par-5 hole, and surrounded one with fairway, one rough and one with bunkers, so each is unique in look, play value and penalty.

Architects are believe it or not human, and creatures of habit. Many designs come from these habits, based on long-held convictions influenced by our mentors, their mentors, our favorite courses, and conventions imposed by others in the form of unstated rules or past criticism.

Further, clients hire architects based on previous work, and generally expect something similar. You don't want to hear your pilot say, "Fasten your seatbelts; I'm trying something completely new this flight." And clients don't want radically new things, either.

As a result, most courses feature holes that are much too similar, rather than holes far too different. Anything we can do to break our own molds, and separate one hole from another, helps the golf experience.

Every hole and every feature should be vastly different. Greens should range from the absolute minimum size (about 4,000 square feet) to football fields; bunkers from small pots to huge sand expanses; and tees should vary in size, shape and angle to start each hole uniquely. Some holes should infuriate, amuse, or provide relief from difficulty.

Golfers who care only about their score may view unusual features negatively, asking, "What if I have an unusual shot?" Others will appreciate the challenge of the unusual. After all, what is the point of going to play different courses if you expect them to be all the same?

Either way, golfers will discuss the unique. If they are discussing it, then we have made it memorable.