Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Is There a Great Short 4 on Your Course?

Is there a Great Short Par 4 hidden on your course?

With technology forcing the stretching of layouts to extreme lengths and allowing this length to somehow determine a layouts worth, it is enlightening and gets me down right giddy to see the emergence of the short par 4 over the last several years.

The powers that be that televise the age old game every week have come to realize and even relish the inherent value of the well designed short par 4.  Its ability to elevate the blood pressure and test the nerve of players at the highest level has been proven out time and again.  Furyk at Oakmont #17, Tiger at Royal Montreal #14. There are great short par 4’s scattered across the globe that we have all come to know and love or hate (this is what makes them so great). Witness the sharp left to right bending 10th at the Belfry in England, probably the first to be introduced and marketed for its strategic prowess during the Ryder Cup matches in ‘85, ‘89 and ’93. 

We can go as far back as the Old Course to find short 4 value in the flattish non-descript 9th hole aptly named “End”.  At 352 yards the strategy here lies in the character of two key elements..how firm is the ground and in which direction is the wind blowing.  The player must carry or run by End Hole bunker and Boase’s bunker with the ball spinning at just the right velocity to come to rest on the surface.

Over the years at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles the vaunted short 4, 10th has been on full display playing havoc with the best in the world and ultimately deciding the last two events.

Arguably Riviera’s finest hole, the 10th ranks among the world’s great short par fours, its timeless strategic challenge having perplexed golfers for more than eight decades. The key is the putting surface…everything about it.  Its awkward angle against the line of play, the narrowness from front to back forcing most balls to run off to the back hollow, its wicked tilt from right to left causing anguish as a player must allow the ball to encounter all the idiosyncrasies of the contours as it travels toward the hole…begging to hold on for dear life. Though reachable from the tee, only a perfect drive will hold this green – and a tee ball missed even slightly right will generally result in a bogey, or worse. The smart play is down the left side pin high availing the longest length of the green to work with, but the temptation to go for the green remains extremely tantalizing.

Is there a great short 4 on your course?  Let’s start by identifying some of the various elements to look for.

1.      Precarious Length
When faced with a hole that measures between 250 and 350 yards all of a sudden many clubs in the bag become an option.  Am I hitting it well enough to get there or at least get is somewhere around the green….should I simply pull out a safe iron and find a position of strength based on my approach game.  Do I need to make birdie to get back into or to close out a match.

2.      Angle of Play
Does the hole ask for a slight fade to find a speed slot onto the green or will the ground be receptive to a running draw.  The angle of play determines what type of player might be enticed based on the flight of their ball.

3.      Strategic Options
Options, Alternative Routes, Wide Landing Area, Narrow Landing Area, Risk/Reward.  The player needs to assess all of the options laid out in front of him and pull the trigger on the line of play that best fits the moment.  Is there a line at the green the will result in a bound and sweep onto the surface? Is there a secondary fairway that might result in a shorter pitch in…does that require a more delicate shot?....where’s the pin?....on and on.

4.      Elevation (uphill/downhill)
Whether the hole plays uphill or downhill will directly affect club selection and decision making.  Downhill holes might be a bit more enticing in that a player may feel the downhill contour will help to reach the surface.  An uphill short 4 might only challenge the better player, depending on the length based on the elevations effect on the overall flight of the ball.

5.      Prevailing Wind
This may mean everything depending on the length of the hole and the alignment of the entrance to the green.  If the hole is playing with the prevailing wind and is uphill a greater level of temptation to go might creep in given the assist from Mother Nature.  Once the wind starts to prevail across the line of play a new set of circumstances arises forcing a player to assess his ability to move the ball sideways.  With the prevailing wind in your face the short par 4 becomes a bit less exciting for most with a lay up being the most prudent play.

6.      Green shape and contouring
The best short 4’s place a premium on a player’s ability to land the tee shot along a line that represents a pitch and run on the green.  With a very narrow green width perpendicular to the line of play this becomes a daunting task and may dictate the play from the tee.  If there is an opening to the green that is viable and fits the shape of the ground and flight of the ball this opens up many more possibilities.  Depending on the danger around the green, this might also result in many more crooked numbers.

7.      Imminent Danger
What’s around the green? Bold bunkering, nasty fall offs, deep rough areas, water.  Are the hazards of a playable sort, bunkers or expanded collar catchment areas or is water simply too close to risk a lost ball and strokes.  The key to a quality design is to sprinkle just enough of each to allow the temptation to decision making engine to churn.

8.      Where is it in the sequence of holes
Where the reachable par falls in the sequence of holes can also be a game changer.  It most powerful spot in the rotation is the latter part of the round14-17 (Oakmont, Torrey Pines, TPC River Highlands).  At this point in the round the player might be sweating out a tight match and feel there might be an opportunity to steal a birdie or eagle.  Of course, this philosophy works both ways.  Earlier in the round players might be looking to “get things jump started” 8 at Pine Valley, 4 at TPC Boston.

Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to both create and reimagine short par 4’s.

At Roxiticus Golf Club in Mendham, New Jersey, following the devastation of hurricane Sandy, the 8th hole become exposed.  Mass tree falling opened up a line from tee to green of 280 yards, a line that was previously presented as an awkward 120 degree bender running along a thick tree line on the inside corner.  Ironically several years prior I had worked with the Club developing a long range master plan and identified the 8th hole as a possible opportunity for a great short 4.  The challenge was selling the program and removing the large stand of trees on the corner.  No sale….until mother nature helped the cause.

                                                    The 8th at Roxiticus before Sandy

                                                                 The new short 4 8th!

The exciting 12th at Mohegan Sun….play short to the well protected landing area or go for it chasing your tee shot down toward the lower fronting pot bunker and smallish green.  The closer to the green you can get your tee shot the easier the approach to this small contoured surface.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Work at Dennis Pines Complete, 9 Holes to go at Dennis Highlands

Work at Dennis Pines Complete, 9 Holes to go at Dennis Highlands
 December 13, 2016

The improvements designed by Robert McNeil, ASGCA at Dennis Pines and Dennis Highlands in Dennis, Massachusetts have been driven by the directive of establishing a new styling to the courses bunkering while providing a maintainable form.  The saying “they look harder than they are” can well describe the work that has been executed by McNeil, NMP Golf and the team at the Town of Dennis.  Speed of play, maintainability, strong character and strategy were all considered when redesigning the bunkering at each of these fine municipal layouts.

The project was broken into 4 phases. The Pines course back nine, then front….then the Highlands course back nine then front.  To date 3 of the 4 phases have been completed to high praise and increased revenues. The scope includes all new bunkering, tee improvements, cart paths and tree management. 

A new forward tee system was created at each of the courses to provide an enjoyable round for beginners, juniors and others looking to have fun and not be overcome by length.  The tees have been positioned to recognize the “real” average driving distance of these players and has allowed the true strategy of the holes to be in play from these tees.  The new forward course at Dennis Pines plays at just over 4000 yards.  These tees have proven successful in capturing new golfers, juniors and families.  

“The Dennis Pines Golf Course has seen such a positive response to the recent renovations designed by Robert McNeil of Northeast Golf Company.  Already a beautiful championship golf course, Rob’s vision of making the course more player-friendly while keeping the overall appeal of still being a challenging round hit a home run.  The number of rounds played at Dennis Pines since the renovation completion has increased and continues to garner interest from locals and visitors to Cape Cod alike.   For Fiscal Year 2016 there was a 10% increase in green fee revenue as well as a 12% increase in member round play.”

- Michael Cummings, Director of Golf