Hillary C. of New York State asks, ‘Is it your policy on public courses to punish players rich in skills, taxing their ability, while assisting poorer players to improve their games?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

Yes, my "public policy" does encourage a "tax" on the player rich in skills, while providing some "charity" to the average guy. But you can only do that so much. Of course, in golf, like taxes, everyone wants the design to "tax" someone else's wealth (or, in golf, wealth of skills) but not their own!

Architects classify holes as strategic, penal, or heroic. But you could use political terms, like "fascist" (penalizing for disobeying), "democratic" (where everyone has equal opportunity), or "socialist" (which help the "little guy").

Our designs actually first consider the "rich guys" – i.e., better players. We allow them skill "tax shelters" which give them great advantage, assuming they have the resources to find the strategically preferred fairway areas, using the correct shot pattern. The preferred areas offer approach-shot advantages of a shorter shot, better angle or vision, receptive green contours, better stance and lie, or the ability to take hazards out of play.

There is a very small percentage of serious golfers who can shape shots at will. Even the middle-level Tour pro is likely to hit it high or low, draw or fade, or increase backspin at will, while most have a favorite shot pattern they use exclusively.

So, what happens when a "fascist" hole requires golfers to hit specific shots with great accuracy to succeed? Players who can't hit that particular shot ask, "How do I compete?" The architectural answer, "You're screwed," isn't popular.

Democratic design has balanced holes favoring different game strengths. Golfers accept disadvantages on some holes, providing they have advantages on others. "Sunday Pin" greens usually allow golfers to reach some portions of greens from any fairway area, allowing par, but rarely birdie.

Socialistic design – "each to his ability, each to his need" – helps average players by avoiding features that mostly hurt them, like cross hazards, but using lateral hazards, that do affect better players, to partially "equalize" all players. We design longer holes, which average players won't reach in regulation, to require extreme accuracy by better players, and place most fairway hazards for longer hitters.

The 13th at Colbert Hills, a 356-yard par-4, is drivable for some, requiring a 258-yard carry, albeit, downhill and usually downwind. From the safe option left, the green contours allow an approach to hold the green, creating two viable play options.

Details make a difference, as illustrated by comparing two similar holes (the 7th at The Highlands in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the 13th at Colbert Hills in Manhattan, Kansas). Both are "drivable," and both have safe fairways left. But the green contours at The Highlands fall right, and the Colbert Hills contours fall left, towards the safe fairway.

The Highlands' safe fairway approach is tricky – a half-wedge to a green sloping away. An approach at Colbert Hills can hold the narrow green, because you're hitting into the slope, allowing possible birdies either way. That's even more strategic, and truly democratic, treating both short and long hitters equally.