The Sixth Commandment Reward Thy Golfer Who Uses Strategic Planning

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

Golfers realized early that planning was equal to technical skill in importance to good play. Gradually, designs began rewarding good strategy and execution. Strategy means pre-planning the best route and shot pattern, to combat hole layout, course conditions, match status and to best use their strengths, for best score.

Most golfers think of themselves as military generals marshalling armies for an attack. Such planning requires field "intelligence." This is easiest to get when holes are clearly visible.

Modern players dislike blind shots, because they are less common than on early courses, and because our "information age" conditions us to expect necessary information quickly. Consequently, blindness is rarely acceptable now. Golfers favoring blind shots argue that they are both traditional and "only blind once." Increasing public play suggests that many golfers will be "first-timers," or infrequent players, and won't know or remember design nuances.

Most golfers like seeing the entire hole, including the green and pin location (especially distance to the green edge) to plan ahead - the essence of strategy. They strongly prefer completely visibility of two-stroke penalty hazards, especially water and out-of-bounds, as blind hazard areas may entice choosing the wrong line.

Golfers like both visibility and good definition, as uncertainty ruins shots. In most cases, design details should highlight targets and hazards, lead the eye, and "frame" holes with bunkers, ridges and grassing patterns to make features well defined, and understandable.

What's more, entirely visible holes are generally more attractive and satisfying. Golfers like seeing their shots roll to a stop, for absolute certainty about results, and "peacock posing" after good shots!

Lastly, blind shots are dangerous. Who wants to hear, "This is my ball. Check for yours under the dead guy!" Because of public opinion, higher design standards and potential lawsuits, I reluctantly design blind targets, knowing they are usually easily avoidable. Nonetheless, there are situations where blind shots are necessary or acceptable:

subsurface rock doesn't allow vision without great expense;

there is one visible option, and another, more daring blind option;

the shot is blind, but a gentle valley, distant target, or directional post indicates correct line; and

blind hazards (like bunkers behind greens) act as "save" hazards,

preventing worse trouble.

While golfers like visibility and definition, and architects usually oblige, the best strategies should not always be as obvious. Often, long-term charm comes when golfers have their "light-bulb" moment several years after playing it for the first time. Less obvious features, like differing winds and varying ground slopes in the target areas and pin positions on greens, can effectively create strategy as the most obvious, traditional golf-design elements. Obviously, visible hazards are not incongruous with less obvious advantages.

However, a detailed explanation of those "tricks of the trade" is best left for another day.