Date: December 08, 2012
Author: Mike Clayton /

Greens never far from controversy

Redesigning golf courses is one thing sure to arouse the passions of players. No matter how much a course may be improved in the eyes of many it will never be as good as the old. Alister MacKenzie the great Scottish architect redesigned the course at Royal Melbourne in 1926 and then sailed to America and did, amongst others, new courses at Cypress Point and Augusta. He noted it was amazing that golfers had a particular affection for the mud heap on which they play. He understood the psychology of pleasant memories, perhaps a few dollars won and the company of friends. He also understood that the course may not be a real course at all but rather just a place to sock the ball around. We (Michael Clayton Golf Design now Ogilvy Clayton) rebuilt The Lakes in 2007 and 2008 and whilst we retained the routing the look and feel of the pre-2006 course was altered beyond recognition. The old greens were relatively flat and given how short so many of the par-4 and par-5 holes were we thought it was a course that could work with some more undulation in the putting surfaces. The best courses in Australia have traditionally relied on speed and tilt to make putting difficult. Only occasionally do our greens feature difficult internal contours. Yarra Yarra s great par-3 11th green is one and perhaps the 17th green at Kingston Heath qualifies but it is much less severe. Augusta National has some greens featuring wild internal contours and their 14th green is one of the most fearsome in golf. One thing though is certain. Difficult greens are sure to arouse controversy. Augusta gets away with the 14th green, and the wildly false-fronted fifth, because it s Augusta and Alister MacKenzie did it. They are brilliant greens but put them onto an existing course and most would decry them as unfair and/or ridiculous. The greatest hole in the world is arguably the Road Hole at St Andrews. There you drive blind across a wooden wall, alongside an (extraordinarily ugly) hotel to a narrow green protected by one of golf’s most severe bunkers at the front and a road and stone wall behind. Build it now and you would be deemed certifiable, yet strategically it is the model of models. Former Australian Open champion Robert Allenby has made no secret of the fact he doesn’t like the new greens at The Lakes. Greg Norman is no fan either, arguing he preferred the old course. Many times, in response, I have asked which old course he was referring to. Was it the one Bruce Devlin and Robert Von Hagge left the members in 1972, or the one where Greg won his first Australian Open eight years later? Essentially they were the same but already trees had been planted and inevitably they change the character of the course. Between 1980 and 2006 the course changed beyond recognition. There had been three incarnations of the 18th built by Devlin, Jack Newton and Peter Thomson before we took the hole back to something similar to Devlin s. The 2nd was lengthened and made a par-5 and the following hole shortened and made a four. The 4th and 5th greens were moved away from the boundary fence. The 7th was redone a couple of times and the 13th got a new green some time in the 1990s. There seemed to be no coherent plan and the course was a bewildering mix of architectural principle and look. It isn t perfect now either. The 15th green needs changing. We would like to see the fescue cut shorter around the bunker edges. Perhaps the shortened 9th hole could do with a back tee. But one should always be wary of comments from golf pros who often see the game only through the small and largely irrelevant prism of their own games. Unsurprisingly they like what suits them and dislike what doesn’t. As an architect you need to weigh the praise and the criticism with an equal amount of skepticism.