Tad Gay asks, ‘How do you determine Green Orientation?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

You would think that orientation wouldn’t matter as much today . . . but it does, and the debate is as furious now as ever.

Top players now hit unbelievable iron shots with height and spin. Golf course architects could turn every green on end and not stop the birdie barrage. Sadly, average golfers are still very much like their forefathers, and still prefer their greens straight . . . to the line of play. However, every green has a natural orientation, too! And greens snugly fitting their natural contours look simply “fabulous!”

I consider each green’s orientation both individually, and as a group. Many greens sites require a particular orientation, while flatter green sites offer flexibility to choose an orientation, which helps in achieving variety. Hopefully, I have considered this while finalizing the routing, and most green sites support an appropriate green for their anticipated approach shot. Sadly, it doesn’t work out this way every time!

Orientation starts with the natural angle of the green site, and the second consideration is the usual R.O.B.O.T (Rules Of Thumb, Often Broken). I am considering changing the acronym to the more musical R.I.F.F’s (Rules I Find Frustrating) because they are impossible to follow closely no matter how good they sounded when I wrote them! And this is especially frustrating in green orientation, because that does set up the variety of shots. In sum,

I like greens that fit their natural contours…..

I like most greens to have their greatest depth generally along the line of play…. Greens sitting across the line of play should be the exception…and,

I like variety in greens orientation that encourages players to create different shots, and shot patterns, using wind and lie, etc.

To accomplish variety, I aim for six greens gently leaning right, six gently leaning left, and two dead straight, rewarding straight shooters.* A maximum of four greens should cross the line of play, for variety, and where the green sites suggests. These are best for short approach shots, and should be well spaced and/or later in each nine to speed play, with one each among par 3, 4 and 5 holes.

The gently angled greens should vary from 5 to 30 degrees from the line of play. Sharper angles are progressively more difficult for average players, and often appear to be more angled than they actually are, causing golfers to underclub to back pins, often with disastrous results. Generally, sharper angles are work better for shorter shots. My R.O.B.O.T’ angles greens 1 to 3 degrees per assumed iron approach (i.e. 1-3 degrees for a 1 iron, 5 –15 degrees for a 5 iron and 9-27 degrees for a 9 iron, which keeps the greens nicely under 30 degrees).

I often straighten orientation early in the round, on public courses, and when holes play downwind. I may strengthen orientation on a few holes near the end, in headwinds, or when the crosswind matches the orientation of the green, where shot patterns are accentuated. I also try to sequence greens orientations in terms of mixing left, right, across, straight, and sharp and shallow angles, trying to avoid consecutively similar configurations.

The longest par 4 may have a shallow green, which tests better players as most golfers actually approach with a wedge. Straight orientations work on downwind holes, as tailwinds tend to straighten shots, negating dramatic shot patterns. I prefer as many green as possible angling with prevailing cross winds.

These guidelines often conflict, as you can imagine. Usually, a few greens sites that call for left orientation based on natural contours, but a right angle based on play factors. After much gnashing of teeth, I usually create a large, round green and let golfers have at it, avoiding the issue of orientation altogether.

* Congress should be aligned similarly . . .