Yesterday, a fellow Golf Kentucky Links devotee posed a couple of interesting questions to me concerning a few of my recent course review write-ups. He noticed that I had commented that both Old Silo and Heritage Hill were very fair golf courses.
To his credit, Jason called me on my borderline overuse of the term “fair” and politely pressed me on what I meant by describing any golf course as fair.
To me, fairness is an important concept in designing, maintaining, and playing a golf course. Fairness not about narrowing the difficulty gap between holes, necessarily.
Instead, fairness is about the difficulty of the challenge of the shot. How good is the reward if I execute it my plan? And, simultaneously, how bad is the penalty if I don’t execute what I’m intending to do?
I believe difficult does not necessarily mean unfair. All of a golf courses’ holes shouldn’t be the same, in routing, layout, length, or difficulty. That would be incredibly boring and, I think, a very poor golf experience.
I have no problem with particular holes being very difficult, or even strings of difficult stretches of holes. I think they can memorable. If you are aware of them ahead of time, I think that they might get in your head is a great part of the golf mental game.
However, I don’t need to be beat over the head repeatedly on the golf course, either. Difficult for difficulty’s sake isn’t fun to me. I hold it in the same low regard as length for length’s sake. It’s lazy, it lacks creativity, and it offends my Protestant sense of fairness.
For example, playing Cog Hill’s Dubsdread in Chicago was one of the least enjoyable rounds of golf I’ve ever played because it felt more like a four-hour slog rather than a game that I had any chance of competing in.
As I was struggling to articulate just exactly what I meant by a “fair” golf course, I turned to the great Google machine for assistance. Very quickly, I stumbled across an online opinion piece that encapsulated my sentiment pretty perfectly, and much more succinctly than I could scribble.
I prefer to judge a shot, or a hole, on whether or not it offers reasonable options to devise and execute strategy. If it does, everything else that may happen when playing that hole is “fair game.” Period. – Tripp Davis of Tripp Davis & Associates Golf Architecture, in Is a Course Fair or Reasonable?
Mr. Davis’ quote really frames the issue of fairness to me on the golf course. I think it takes some intelligent, but incredibly simple, design values for a golf course to feel fair to me.
Anecdotally, I love short par 4’s, especially if they are borderline driveable. If a short par 4 has an impossibly well guarded green or lacks an accessible approach that penalizes a marginally errant approach shot, okay. It brings the risk/reward decision to the forefront of the golfer’s mind.
If I attempt to drive the green and miss, either with a well struck ball or otherwise, I would expect to be penalized and struggle to score par on the hole, be that a product of a hazard, bunkers, slope of the green, or some other design feature.
However, if I pull the shot off, I expect to be disappointed with anything less than birdie. Thus, in this example, there is an inherent fairness or equity in expected result.
But, if on this same hypothetical hole, there really isn’t place to lay-up that gives the golfer a reasonable opportunity to par the hole, then I think that tips the fairness calculus towards the hole being unfair.
Also, if you stuck that same trouble-laden green at the end of an uphill dogleg par 4 that plays blind and really long, what has the architect accomplished other than satisfy his inner sadist?
I think a good, fair golf course gives a player an opportunity to score well if he or she executes his shots correctly. I am of the belief there ought to be some holes that are obvious birdie opportunities, and other holes upon which par is an excellent, if unlikely, score.
Per his book, Bury Me in a Pot Bunker, Pete Dye openly designs golf courses to screw with golfers’ heads. I think that’s fine, and even admirable, on several levels. There’s a time and place for everything, and I enjoy a really hard golf course now and then. But I don’t want that experience, that feeling of having no margin for error, every time out or on every single shot.
Of course, I realize this is MY personal preference. Because I am an authority on absolutely nothing, but willing to opine on damn near everything, please, Dear Readers, please keep this subjective definition of “fairness” in mind as you read course reviews on this blog in the future.
On the other hand, if I was a better golfer, perhaps I’d have a completely different opinion of what constitutes a fair golf course or how important it is to the golfer’s experience.
As always, Dear Readers, I will be interested to learn your thoughts on golf course “fairness.”