Reward Thy Golfer's Skilled Shots Always

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

Carnival games never let you get the !@%$#&^*!# hoop over the #@@#&!@ bottle! However, golf is a game of skill, not luck, so there are some differences. Golfers won't accept playing fields that don't reward skill. And you will never hear, "In honor of your victory, we award you our traditional symbol of excellence, an oversized, super plush, stuffed bunny" at golf tournaments.

Golf courses have evolved to balance skill and strategy, much as in other sports:

In hockey and soccer, the goalie stops about 90 percent of the shots.

In baseball, batters get hits about 30 percent of the time.

In basketball, players make baskets about 45 percent of the time.

In football, defenses can't cover the entire field, and offenses attack lightly covered areas.

Golf courses are not standardized, but they do need to reward properly planned and executed shots. Architects call this receptivity.

Receptive Fairways

We make fairways receptive by orienting:

Target areas with the prevailing wind and the cross slope.

Dogleg holes with the prevailing wind.

We grade the fairways to:

Raise the outside of dogleg fairways (like super-elevating a highway);

Build concave fairways to retain shots (roll the ball to the middle);

Create predictable cross slopes that prevent tee shots from rolling beyond control, allowing golfers to plan tee-shot strategy; and

Avoid difficult shots like uphill ones from downhill lies with long irons.

To make them receptive, we design fairways whose width:

Exceeds the USGA-recommended 32-yard minimum width;

Are wide enough to provide play options; and

Are wider on longer holes, where golfers need longer tee shots.

Those fairways are adjusted for:

Crosswind holes, especially with a dogleg angled against the crosswind;

Perched fairways and/or difficult surrounding hazards; and

Highly elevated tees, where wayward tee shots fly farther.

Receptive Greens

We make greens receptive by:

Raising the back to stop the momentum of approach shots, and help visibility.

Generally, making the uphill slope greater for long irons. While A.W. Tillinghast favored less upward pitch for long approaches, in those days golfers played short iron shots for "check" and long irons for a roll. Few modern players do this, so we reverse this philosophy.

Creating more pitch for shots downwind, uphill, or coming from downhill lies, for additional assistance stopping shots.

Using gently concave slopes to direct shots towards the center, not off the green.

Creating a backdrop of small ridges to hold "hot" approaches shot near the green. These ridges also provide a green setting for the green and define the back edge of the target.

George Thomas didn't severely punish shots that found the green but went long. He left fairway behind the green, and we do so, especially on long par-4s.

Few golfers will discern green contours on the approach, so we seldom use reverse slope greens, or collector valleys, and then only golfers can see how these may affect their shot.

Receptivity is particularly important on resort and upscale public courses where we know many are first-time players, whereas a country club that will reliably see repeat play can and should have more subtle features.