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AGWS - 8 - A Trip to the Desert (PT IV - a tangent on Golf Architecture & Unnecssary Blog Titles)

According to my friends and family, I recently have fallen in love with Golf Course Architecture but in actuality, I have always loved golf course architecture, I just didn’t know that I loved it. I have always recognized good golf courses and knew what places were architecturally special but I didn’t have words to describe to anyone aside from using cliche words like fun and nice.

When I was growing up and caddying, members would always call out special shots and explain to me why the shots they were playing were special. I was beginning to understand that bunkers and water don’t make for a fun, strategic and difficult hole, rather it was green complex, angles and elevation changes that made for special golf. I remember realizing this entirely at the old fourth hole at Somerset (the Raynor course I grew up caddying at).

The old fourth hole was a par 180 yards (from the mens tees). Left of the green is a deep drop off basemented by a bunker that runs the entire length of the left side of the green. The left side runs at an angle away from the tee box meaning the further in to the green you went, the more carry you added to the bunker. However the main feature of the fourth hole was the green. It sort of looks like a biarritz green, even though the Raynor classic biarritz hole is later in the routing and this fourth green is in fact, NOT a biarritz green. The main feature of this green is the giant knob that is protecting the front of the green. The entire green slopes from front to back and this knob acts as a railroad switch, deflecting balls either left or right depending on your bounce and hitting accuracy.

The magic of this hole (and ultimately golf course architecture) came to life when I was caddying in a four ball match featuring a team of older gentlemen and a team of newer young guns at the club. During this match, there was a back left pin at the fourth hole meaning the flag was roughly 210 yards away. Due to the difference in game and playability, I witnessed the two ways to play this hole and also saw the hazard that each way to play the hole takes on. I saw the young guns grab their210 yard clubs and try to fly it to the back corner. The trick of the design as stated earlier is that the further back the pin is, the more of the bunker you need to take on. The two results were one with a 15 foot putt for birdie and one that was stuck in a bunker where the next shot was going to be blind below the green. The second way to play this hole was demonstrated by the seniors. They opted to use their 150 yard club and play it off of the knob in the front of the green. Similarily I saw the two ways that shot goes. One shot rolled all of the way down the hill (over 50 yards) off of the knob to rest within 10 feet of the hole and one took the knob the other way making leaving a down hill, left to right bender that was over 40 feet. This was fun, diverse golf!

This is the moment that catapulted my love for golf course architecture. Whenever I play a course I have played before, I try to evaluate and look for nuance that I have missed in the past and when I play new course, I always try to take mental notes on shots that scared me or required me to think. On my trip to Arizona there was one shot that did both. As discussed in the previous blog post, I had the privilege of playing Firerock Country Club in Fountain Hills Arizona. If you have not read that blog post yet I highly recommend you go back and check it out as it highlights the course in full. It was during this round at Firerock that I was faced with a fascinating shot.

The hole that I am talking about is the fifth hole. The fifth hole is a 540 yard Par 5, which meant for me, a short hitter, that this was a three shot hole. I didn’t mind, because the Par 5 first was very gettable and the fifth comes sandwiched in between a Par 4 and a Par 3. This early routing provided a lot of variety and different shots in just the first 6 holes which made for a very fun round.

The tee shot is very straight forward on the fifth hole. There is nothing intimidating and there is plenty of space in the landing zone of this par 5. I was pleased when I hit a well struck ball right down the middle, I could not have been more in the middle of the fairway. However it was after this shot that I was faced with what was a thought provoking and scary lay up shot. This shot was scary for a combination of a well placed bunker, the angle of the green and elevation changes. This is the part of a well written essay/blog post where a teacher or professor would like 3 distinct paragraphs of the 3 facets of this shot but that is impossible. To do so would do this beautiful shot an injustice because it is actually the perfect marriage of bunkering, angles and elevation that made this shot so memorable.

The green is protected by a sizable depression to the left with a false front that funnels the left half of the green towards the drop off. In addition to the depression, there is a bunker on the right portion of the green. So depending on your angle of attack of your 3rd shot, you either need run a shot up a hill and beyond a sloped hill, clear a bunker on your carry yardage or if you have a proper layup, you have a straight shot with the depression to the left and the bunker to the right. As you can imagine, if getting to this location for the clear shot was easy, this would be a poorly designed hole.

Protecting this location for the perfect lay up is a bunker and a hill. The left half of the fairway is higher in elevation than the right side. Perched atop the hill is a bunker with a high lip that has a bit of a landing zone in front of it. If you follow the slope down to the right, you will find land that will funnel you into the rough and more importantly a blind 3rd shot from the right side of the fairway. Additionally from this right side you are bringing the bunker on the right side of the green back into play. So you have to pick your poison and decide what you are comfortable with hitting and weigh the risk reward with this delicate shot. Your shots are as follows.

  1. You can sit back and not take on the bunker or the hill but you will leave yourself over 150 yards in on a Par 5.

  2. You can club up and try to hit it past the bunker and hill into the choked down fairway beyond the bunker.

  3. You can layup comfortably trying to get as close to the right side of the bunker without falling down into the ravine.

It is this conundrum that faced me and made this hole memorable. It was a fun shot and I would love to play it several times with several different pin positions to see what solutions and routes fit best with my game. But alas, this was the only time that I was going to be playing Firerock. In my round, I tried to cut close to the bunker but my shot rolled down the hill into the ravine. Leaving my next shot blind. I found the collar of the green and was able to 2 putt for par.

It is shots like these that fascinate me with golf, weighing the risk and reward but at the same time knowing your limitations as a player and calculating what best fits your game. Shots like these can display different types of genius in golf ranging from artistic to athletic, both valid approaches to this game. I hope that this stuff interests you, if it does, I would encourage you to follow me on instagram (@aspoiledwalk) and subscribe to this blog by submitting your email because I want to have dialogue about golf and create a community for people who share this same love as me. Thank you for reading the “A Trip to the Desert” series. Big things and another trip planned moving forward. Stay Tuned.


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