Bea Ute asks, Why are chipping areas more attractive than others?

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

Bea, I think it's because some are forced into the landscape, while others seem to occur naturally. When golf course architects create chipping areas now, we have to think about them, whereas the earliest fairway chipping areas weren�t so much designed as they were a result of maintenance practices, like much of golf course architecture. If they looked natural, it�s because the sheep "mowed" the areas that they could get to easily. I doubt Old Tom Morris ever lost sleep over the practical concerns that affect our creations today, and, in fact, the play aspects of fairway cuts may have never occurred to him. He just cut grass!

In America, broad swaths of fairway turf occurred on early American courses primarily because large fairway mowers (10-foot-wide gang mowers pulled by tractors) simply mowed three or four passes around each green, again on fairly level, easily negotiated areas. They avoided steeper areas completely, often creating a random variation that is hard to recreate when consciously thinking about it, whether on paper or on top of a bulldozer.

When the concept re-popularized in the 1990s, golf course architecture was in a period of highly sculpted earthworks. That, in combination with smaller mowers that could mow tighter radii but still only gently sloping areas, led to the more modern look. Specifically, fairway chipping areas commonly had "dipsy-doodle" fairway edge demarcations, usually at the base of steep slopes and numerous mounds, creating the modern design look. It can be dramatic - particularly with the contrast of bentgrass fairways versus bluegrass roughs in the north.

It can also look "forced" into the landscape as compared to the old-style fairway chipping areas, which were typically simpler, featuring nearly straight lines or broad and gentle curving lines, mimicking traditional Scottish chipping areas, or early American courses that did not pay close attention to mowing patterns.

There are more options than picking wallpaper. It allows us to create visual and play variety by configuring each chipping area differently. The aesthetics of a chipping area are influenced by the golf course architect's conscious decision on:

Purpose and Location: Fairway cuts that rise above the green are typically more visible to the golfer. When level with the green, the green sometimes disappears (if it has similar turf type) in a large swath of fairway around it. If below the green, they will be invisible on level holes unless the up-slope faces the golfer. Depressed chipping areas near the sides or back of the greens are easily hidden by higher features. If these are to be a part of the hole�s strategy rather than providing a different recovery option, it is necessary to locate them towards the front of the green, or grading for visibility.

Size: Chipping areas can vary from a narrow band simply expanding - but not necessarily perfectly paralleling - the collar by 3 to 20 feet for visual variety or a larger target size. Or, they may be much larger in areas to serve specific play purposes. Maximum size might be determined by:

Cart Paths - They are usually 45 to 60 feet from greens and it seems silly to provide design features outside the cart paths.

Irrigation - Chipping areas require higher maintenance, including good irrigation, and are not practical without sprinklers in the green-surrounds area. Typical sprinkler spacing of 65 to 70 feet limits chipping areas to this dimension, which is big enough anyway.

Drainage - High-maintenance chipping areas require better drainage than rough, but, as described above, they often look best set in low areas. However, we avoid areas that accumulate significant overland drainage, and if budget allows, we use special construction, like adding tile drainage and 4 to 6 inches of sand so that their turf responds similarly to the putting area to allow the bump-and-run shot that their design suggests.

Maintenance Costs - Fairways cost more to maintain than rough, so from that perspective, the less chipping area the better. That also increases the desire to put them where they affect play and are clearly seen, so they can be an aesthetic feature of the golf course.

Jeffrey D. Brauer and his firm, Golf Scapes, have designed 40 golf courses and remodeled 80. Canterberry Golf Course in Parker, Colo., and Giants Ridge are rated among the best affordable public courses in the U.S., while his Avocet Course at Wild Wing Plantation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was a Golf Digest best new course winner, Champions Country Club is rated 5th in Nebraska and TangleRidge Golf Club is 12th in Texas. President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects during its 50th anniversary year in 1995-96, Brauer also designed Colbert Hills Golf Club at Kansas State, which opened in June 2000 as the cornerstone golf course for The First Tee program as well as the first collaboration between the PGA of America and Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.