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Justin Case asks, ‘Sometimes, I'm afraid of playing a shot to a well-guarded green. Do architects provide bail-out areas on every hole?’
Justin, I don't provide them on every shot, but I sure do provide them on most shots. Occasionally, an old-fashioned, penal, "hit it here or else" stirs golfers' blood, as you've experienced!*
Less skilled golfers need "ultra-safe" play areas to make the course more playable for them – if they sensibly choose that option.** However, even top players consider the "total bail-out option" before playing many shots.
What makes a good bail-out area?
Tee-shot bail-out areas are usually short of the normal landing area, guarded with hazards. Here, wider fairways allow taking hazards out of play, albeit forcing a longer approach. Shorter hitters naturally play here, and wide fairways at 180 to 240 yards off the tee foster playability.
Where water is down one side, extremely wide fairways – I will make them up to 65 yards wide – allow safe play and compensate for difficulty on the other side. At the 270-yard mark, the fairway will narrow, adding demand to the full tee shot.
On approaches, golfers can always bail out by playing short of the green. However, I try to entice players to play away from the green with bail-out areas opposite the key green hazards, thereby inducing a mental dilemma!
I usually put the bail-out directly opposite the "Sunday pin" location, forcing golfers to club short or long to play safe. The 18th at Fortune Bay is a long par-4, with a pond left, making the green's back left the "Sunday pin." The right side of the green provides some safety margin, resulting in a longer putt. The true bail-out is 20 yards of fairway on the front right of the green, resulting in a straightforward chip.
Some bail-outs provide "false temptation." The 8th at Colbert Hills is a par-3 featuring a creek and deep bunker left.*** There is fairway the entire length of the green's right side, so you can club correctly while aiming well away from the hazards. However, the green slopes away from you there, and chip shots run a real risk of rolling over the green.
The bail-out area can be on the green itself! The 7th at The Quarry features what I call a "Sombrero" green, with strong bunkers beneath the brim, in front of the green. Your safe choice is to overclub to the back center of the green. The downhill putt over a tier makes for difficult par, but is MUCH more inviting than playing your second from a deep bunker!****
So, beware of bail-outs, as they are often more treacherous to score than playing safely to the middle of the green. Of course, that's how it should be!
* I've experienced it, too, especially when I'm down to my last ball!
** Have you ever used the phrase, "I didn't spend all this money to lay up?" If so, you probably don't consider bailing out too very often.
*** So deep, in fact, that I once failed to notice a 5-foot-7-inch golfer was in the bunker, despite looking from the tee, which is elevated over 50 feet above the green.
**** Rumor has it your feet get warm, because the bottom of the bunker is so close to the earth's core!
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