The case for shorter tracks
By Torleif Sorenson on 11/19/12
Last week, after playing a practice round at Kingston Heath ahead of the Australian Masters, Ian Poulter tweeted the following:

Poulter got specific later that day:
"Par 3 15th is in the top par 3's in the world it's only 152 yards 9 iron today. None of this 245 yard crap we see so often. Pure brilliance."
Poulter's comment shows that average golfers like us are not the only ones interested in playing from sane distances.  In this tweet, Poulter targeted golf architects, but two architects in particular want to design less for length and more for strategy. Second-generation architect Garrett D. Gill points out that while municipalities generally want designs that are more friendly to average golfers...
" many projects we've seen at clubs around the United States, there is still the pressure - or interest - to do longer courses.  Those owners and developers look at scorecards, length, and slope, and there is still a stigma - good or bad - attached to the length of a course."
But when faced with a smaller footprint, Gill took a so-so medium-length course owned by the City of Saint Paul and redesigned it into the very enjoyable Highland National Golf Course.  Gill had to solve several safety-of-play issues, drainage problems, dealing with leakage from nearby water towers, and even concerns from nearby residents.  Not only did Gill resolve all of those problems, he also found a way to keep many mature trees in play, while giving golfers a subtle heathland design that stretches from 5,125 to 6,638 yards.  This is quite an accomplishment, given the restricted footprint he faced.

Part of Garrett Gill's attractive parkland / heathland design at Highland National

Texas-based architect Jeffrey Brauer also embraces the same thoughts, while still giving his developer-customers what they feel compelled to build:
"The Legend at Giants Ridge is only about 6,900 yards, so when I did the Quarry course and Fortune Bay, I was asked to do a set of tees from about 7,200 yards.  If you a do a set of back tees, it really should be about 7,250 yards or so."
Brauer is focused chiefly on the 99% of golfers who don't play from the tips; at Fortune Bay, Brauer created three sets of tees stretching from 5,324 to 6,772 yards and featuring some water-fronted greens and a fascinating split fairway at 16.  But, as requested, he also added a set of back tees playing to 7,207 yards.

At Colbert Hills at Kansas State University, most golfers play from four sets of tees ranging from 4,947 to 6,981 yards.  But the appropriately-named "Black and Blue" tees play to 7,525 yards, rated 76.5 with a stiff 141 slope.

The Tee It Forward campaign launched in 2011 with the idea of convincing golfers to change their philosophy, by played from the next-shorter set of tees.  The two major objectives are to speed up play and to make the game more enjoyable for amateur golfers.

This approach may be working; Gill's design at Highland National is exceptionally popular, while two of Brauer's public designs in Kansas have become quite successful:  Sand Creek Station in Newton will host the men's USGA 2014 Amateur Public Links Championship, while the intriguing Firekeeper Golf Course just outside Topeka has been ranked the #1 public course in the state by Golfweek Magazine.

As more golfers embrace the idea and as more touring pros like Ian Poulter speak out in favor of strategic design versus punishing length, rounds should become shorter, while municipal golf managers and course owners feel less-compelled to produce longer courses.  In turn, that should (in theory) reduce the amount of turf to maintain, which could help reduce costs and green fees.

What say you, oobers?

Photograph by Torleif Sorenson

[ comments ]
hughesj says:
I say, "Spot on!".
joe jones says:
Wonderful! Nuff said
bkuehn1952 says:
I have to laugh at these courses with back tees that measure 7,000+ yards. What percentage of the golfing population can actually have any chance of shooting close to par from those tees? 1 percent? Discounting the masochists out there that enjoy the challenge of shooting 104 from the tips, course developers are building these courses for a handful of people. Their money really should be focused on the other 99%.
Duke of Hazards says:
i'm no expert, but for the longer course setups, I would think it more appealing to have just a handful of the holes 'extra' long while keeping some at below average distances. in other words, I'd rather play a course that had a couple 450 yard par 4s, a 230-yard par 3 and a 610 yard par 5 to obtain the extra length than have all of the par 3's at 185 or all of the par 4's at 410+. diversity and character are king when it comes to design and you can create challenge in any number of other, better ways besides total course length.
Matt F says:
I'm bad enough as it is without having to play 7,000+ yard courses!
madmx99 says:
Love the article. That's they way it should be. By the way, Brauer designed my home track. Very playable for all handicaps.
Bryan K says:
I used to think...what's the difference between 6,400 yards and 6,600 yards? What's an extra 200 yards?

That extra 200 yards equals four par 4's that are unreachable in two for me, and those holes aren't any fun at all.

For me, the ideal length is about 6,200. Anywhere from 5,800 to 6,300 is fun for me. When you get to 6,400, that gets to be just a bit too long.
GBogey says:
I play one course frequently where the #1 handicap is a 335 yd par 4 and another course where the #3 handicap is 355 yds. Both holes are diabolical, so it doesn't have to be long to be hard.
jcstoll says:
Interesting comment from Poults, especially considering that the Kingston Heath course was controversial when it opened in the early 20th century - for its extreme length.
legitimatebeef says:
Ian Poulter's logo is quite phallic.
windowsurfer says:
A great article. A hilarious post by beef. Disturbing? Sure, but funny! (I saw a paperclip, Dr. Caddyschach.)
joe jones says:
Many of the worlds great classic courses have short par 3-4 & 5 holes that are very difficult . Old time designers used optical illusion, partially hidden hazards and tough green complexes with run off areas to equalize length. One of the prime examples is the Donald Ross design at Pinehurst. The pro's annually vote it in their top 10 favorite courses. However,today's green speed on most of these courses are impossible to putt on and don't receive the high target type approach shots that are commonplace today. Being long and wrong off the tee usually leads to scores that are not anything like the 20-25 under par shot on many weeks on the PGA tour.It's all a matter of perception.It never seems to matter in Scotland when the pro,s are humbled by any of those great courses but in the USA it is necessary to fly and die your shots to the green instead of bumping and running.What ever happened to taking what the golf course will give you?
ralfgrover says:
Nice shot out of the Highland redesign. Forgot to mention the signature new feature which is the Snoopy shaped bunker on hole 15. Does Snoopy still have a balloon in the parade today? Happy Thanksgiving!
Torleif Sorenson says:
Ralfgrover: Many trees block the view of the Snoopy Bunker from the historic water tower. Unless I can get permission to climb up one of the modern-day water towers, the best view is from satellite.
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