Date: February 20, 2016
Author: Mike Clayton

Clayton: Oh should follow the path of greatest courses


To those on the inside of the world of golf course design, Bruce Hepner is known as a first-class architect but one those on the outside have likely never heard of.

Hepner worked for Tom Doak for twenty years before heading out on his own and he consults to many of America’s finest old clubs including Piping Rock, Cherry Hills, Holsten Hlls and Canterbury.’I spend my professional life ‘just trying to make golf courses better.’

Hepner was in Melbourne last week and we walked Kingston Heath together and predictably discussed all things design.

‘At so many golf courses it is easy to just get the simple things right and for very little money improve both the playability and the architecture. At so many courses it’s a matter of getting the mowing lines right and managing the forests’. ‘And, we have the same issues with trees as you do in Australia. It is left to our generation to deal with the issues of years of unplanned overplanting of trees.’

Lest you are wondering what this has to do with the Women’s Australian Open at The Grange bear with me.

I am caddying this week for Su Oh who is a fellow member at Metropolitan in Melbourne and someone I really enjoy playing with and caddying for on the odd occasions our respective schedules allow . We did the British Open together last year at Turnberry, the last three Victorian Opens and this is our third Australian Open together.

Su has a chance to be a really good player. She is only nineteen but her contemporaries, Lydia Ko and Minjee Lee are now established players on the LPGA Tour (Lydia more than established really) whilst Su will spend her second year as a pro switching between the Symetra Tour (second tour in America) and the LPGA where her ‘number’ will give her some limited opportunities to play. It’s not ideal but it’s nothing the old ‘just play better’ mantra won’t fix.

Like so many players the question of what to do with her swing is a vexing one. She hits the ball really well. She plays the game well and she well understands the famous line of Peter Thomson when Peter Fowler asked the five-time Open Champion how he might improve his game. ‘Shoot lower scores, Peter. Shoot lower scores.’

It’s simple yet in many ways so true. It’s Hepner’s equivalent of cleaning up the mowing lines and managing the forests.

Improving golf courses in many cases doesn’t involve blowing up all the greens and all the bunkers. Improving golf swings doesn’t need to involve the equivalent. Nick Faldo was one of the most successful who underwent the complete blowing up of his old swing and the remaking of a new one. Mark O’Meara did the same with great success but for every Faldo and O’Meara there are many you never heard of again because they went off in search of a non-existent secret.

Su could go either way at this point. It’s a good swing. It has its patterns and it produces it’s own predictable misses. You could say the same for most who ever played professional golf unless they were Ben Hogan or Moe Norman, the two who most would accept as having achieved a very high level of golfing virtuosity.

It would be easy for Su to think her relative lack of progress when compared with the extraordinarily high bar set especially by Ko but also by Lee is because her technique is somehow deficient. If Hepner were advising her he would be of the cleaning up the little things.

Golfers need to understand their own swings and their own games. Golf club committees need to understand their own golf courses and how to manage them It’s the same process in many ways and in Australian golf few have managed their major assets better over the years than Kingston Heath and Karrie Webb – who more than twenty years after she turned pro still has a chance to win this week. Good swings and good golf courses tend to be pretty timeless things enduring as fads come and go. Oh would do well to follow the path of one of our greatest courses and arguably our greatest player.