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The WEEI Country Club
08.15.11
I’m Busy That Day

By: Pro From Dover

Watching the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club we were struck by one over-whelming thought: Thank God we don’t have to play it every day!

It seems we weren’t alone with that notion. Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and several others weighed in during the week with sharp criticism of the course. Mickelson was quoted as saying that he felt sorry for members who had to play the course, especially the 18th hole.

PFD has never set foot on the property and it’s certainly difficult to get a feel of a course just by watching it on television. Before criticisms started to fly, when we first caught a glimpse of the finishing holes we were struck by their difficulty and seeming unfairness. Then the barbs started to fly confirming our impression.

We have nothing against water holes in general but with rare exceptions,  there should be ample room to play it safe and to have a reasonable chance to avoid getting wet. Such certainly didn’t appear to be the case at AAC. Looking at the course layout we counted eight holes where water came into play with numbers 15 and 18 being especially penal.

Watching the pros dunk balls elicits a certain amount of schadenfreude. The network gleefully showed more splashes than an Olympic diving competition.

Yesterday’s tournament finish was riveting irrespective of whether big names were involved.  Player after contending player sent one swimming, the most painful being that of Jason Dufner on 15 where his five shot lead started to melt.

But remembering the circus only stops at this course once in a greatwhile, we know there are a few hundred members who have to play the course all the time. We feel their pain.

We’re left to think about all the courses we’ve played where the architects seemed to set out to make a course nasty. The reality is anyone with a basic knowledge of golf can do that. It takes little talent and imagination to make a course brutal. We could build a course that would have people crying for their mama by the turn. Big deal.

There was a creative fad several years ago with artists drawing impossible to play fantasy golf holes as wall hangings. The trouble is, some architects actually seem to believe that is what designing is all about.

It takes skill and experience to design a course that can stand up to the very best players and still be enjoyable for us hackers. That’s the key. Make it challenging yet playable for the low to high handicappers.

During the golf boom of the 80’s and 90’s, design work seemed to become a game of bigger, longer, more penal. Then a funny thing happened. Quite a few of those courses were built as the center piece to real estate developments. When potential buyers played the courses, they often said, “who needs this abuse every day?” Due to a lot of things including the recession, thankfully, many of those courses are now over-grown parks.

We played a course in Houston a few years ago and one of our companions summed it up best at the end of the round: What a waste of a perfectly good swamp! Recently, we played one in Ireland designed by Greg Norman where the owners asked him to return and soften it. He refused. Too bad because it was far too difficult a golf course for anyone in our foursome.

We’re a fan of Donald Ross and many of the early designers because they embraced the philosophy of making each hole challenging to the better players but allowing the high handicappers ways to play the hole without blood shed. Knowledgeable golfers sometimes comment that a particular layout is an easy bogey, fair par and tough birdie course. That’s a supreme compliment for a golf course.

Among modern architects, Arnold Palmer‘s late partner, Ed Seay, brought that approach to his designs. Old Tabby Links in Spring Island, SC and Golf Club of New England in Stratham, NH exemplify the concept that a golf hole should get progressively more challenging as one nears the green. Drive landing areas are generous but approaches and greens get very interesting. Think of the hole as a funnel toward difficulty.

The design industry seems to be getting the message as many new courses are being described as “minimalist and playable.” We can hope.

Put us down as one who wants to finish a game remembering several of the holes and not feeling like we’ve been beaten with a two iron.

Hold that invitation to Atlanta Athletic Club but we’d like to bid on the golf ball concession if it becomes available.