Date: November 14, 2018
Author: Mike Clayton

CLAYTON: A twitchy proposition at The Lakes

Golf course architects sometimes ride a fine line when they build a hole on the edge of what most golfers would describe as ‘fair’.

I dislike the concept and the need to sanitize the game in order to make it ‘fair’.

Everyone would suggest it’s a mental game, and that dealing with the inherent unfairness of it all is its single-greatest mental challenge.

Golf was never meant to be equitable. Just look at the run of holes from the 13th to the 16th at North Berwick or The Himalayas and Alps holes at Prestwick or The Road Hole at St Andrews, arguably the greatest hole in the game.

By any modern definition of fair they fall miles short. The Prestwick holes are blind, the former from the tee and the latter (with its deep fronting bunker) from the fairway. The 13th at North Berwick you pitch over a stone wall, the approach to the next is blind, and the Redan green – the 15th – mostly blind and the 16th green is one of the wildest in golf.

Any architect building them now would be run out of town.

This week at The Lakes the most controversial hole is the par 4, 13th. It’s 280 metres, driveable for almost all. What could be difficult about a downhill hole with a fairway 70-metres wide?

The green, modelled on the upturned fourth at Woodlands in Melbourne is defended not by bunkers but steep banks of short grass on either side. The concept is to ensure players missing on the sides are far from guaranteed a simple up and down to make birdie. Making a three if you miss on the sides should be as hard as making one from 60-metres away. Otherwise why not fly at the green all the time?

The problem for a designer is that, in making a demanding short hole for a first-class player, you might build at least one feature the average player will struggle with. In Australia, one notable example is the famous ‘Big Bertha’ bunker short and left of the great Alister MacKenzie-designed 15th at Kingston Heath.

A fearsome hazard, it gives the incompetent bunker player little hope of escape. As does the Road Hole bunker at St Andrews.

The best short 4s usually show off one difficult shot and one easy one. Choose the easy shot off the tee and the pitch is problematic. Go with the difficult – or brave or reckless – tee shot and the promise is a relatively easy pitch and the likelihood of a shortish putt for birdie. No one wants two hard shots and what’s the point if both shots are easy?

At the Lakes this week it is incredibly difficult to knock it on to the 13th green in one, but hitting the fairway 200 metres from the tee is likely the easiest shot on any championship course in the country. The downside? The pitch from there is one of the most difficult.

All of which is a choice for the players. But it’s not a black and white choice.

Those who want to sneak closer than 80-metres risk finding the pond on the right but a 60-metre pitch is a lot easier than one from 20-metres farther away. The angles into the flag are quite different from one side of the fairway to the other and the better of the two depends on where the hole is cut.

In 2011 and with chances to win both Jason Day and Tiger Woods one-putted the 13th green for bogey. That alone doesn’t make it a great hole but as Nick Faldo once said: ‘All the great holes in the world are the twitchy ones.’

The 13th is definitely twitchy and likely it will play some part in the finish on Sunday.

Mike Clayton, one of Australia’s most renowned architects, redesigned The Lakes in 2006.