Lawson Order asks, ‘Do architects feel they must mete out proper penalty for players' bad shots?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

From a historical perspective, based on my reading many golf architecture books, the idea of meting out strict justice was promoted most by Robert Trent Jones Sr., in his writings and work on U.S. Open venues. Most Golden Age architects wrote of "inspiring" better play with design, balancing chances of both success and failure. Many Tour pros now involved in designing courses have moved away from the "defending-par" mentality that purposely punishes or hurts golfers.

Today, designs target wider audiences than typically considered by Golden Age designers, whose designs were for males in the prime of life. Now, we assume anyone from Tiger Woods to the disabled will play, making designing harder than ever. The design usually targets one "sub-group" of golfers, and then accommodates others as best as possible.

If targeting champion golfers, a design may favor the "U.S. Open" mentality of deep rough, narrow fairways and small greens, demanding accuracy, and punishing misses severely, in an effort to "identify the best player." This is only appropriate for a small number of courses.

If targeting poor or average golfers, as many public and resort courses should, the design should favor "receptivity." In this scenario, the motto is "look hard and play easy," with hazards purposely located for aesthetics rather than to greatly influence play. The design theme of "hit it, find it, hit it again, and have fun" is appropriate here.

If targeting good players and those aspiring to be good, the most interesting courses inspire players to try a variety of shots to score well. This school of thought doesn't harshly punish those who can't hit the "correct" shot, but rewards those who can. Golfers playing this type of course face the dilemma of trying new shots, or shots they don't practice, because "it's the right thing to do," or staying with what's comfortable.

These designs create situations that favor fades and draws (in the high, low, running and soft-landing variety), run-up shots, "misdirection shots" – where playing the contour gets best results, power shots, high spin shots, heroic carries, strategic lay-ups, conservative and aggressive putting, various chip shots, etc.

Once a general target audience is defined, most holes should follow the basic theme, but a few may be of different character for variety. Generally, the receptive course is best for public and, more pointedly, resort courses that golfers see irregularly.

However, my designs at The Quarry and The Legend at Giants Ridge target different audiences at the same resort. The Legend is a "looks hard, plays easy" course, except for the 226-yard 17th over Wynne Lake. The Quarry demands many more shot types, more precision on approaches to avoid undesirable putts, and also features generally more penalty for misses, but has the flexibility to play easier.

In general, golf is meant to be fun! Architects shouldn't punish players through design, even if some golfers have games that look like they should be reviewed for "criminal" penalties. Of course, I feel the same about some golf fashions!