Accommodate All Skills
Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland; Harry Colt (1925); private
Muirfield is perhaps most famous for its routing: Harry Colt designed two concentric loops running in opposite directions, thus ensuring that the wind would be encountered on all sides and therefore would never come from the same direction for more than three holes. But the hidden genius of Muirfield is in how the bunkering scheme allows the course to adapt to players of varying skill levels. It is definitely a course that tests a player's ability off the tee—while everything is clearly visible, Muirfield demands careful placement to avoid trouble. What is marvelous in the design is that the landing areas for the average player are usually wide and lightly defended, but as the better player tries to take the tee shot farther down the fairway, the landing areas become tighter and better defended. This bunkering technique has made the course manageable for the members on a daily basis while frustrating the best players in the world during the Open Championship.
Sanford, NC; Mike Strantz (1998); public
While nearby Pinehurst quietly beats golfers with subtle challenges, Mike Strantz's Tobacco Road is in your face from the word "go." The first hole is a perfect hint of things to come, with its tee shot through a very tight opening between two massive hills followed by a blind carry over a dune to the second landing area. There are few opening holes in golf that are more frightening. Tobacco Road is one of the most intimidating and frustrating courses in the world to play for the first time. While it has more width and playability than initially appears to the eye, Strantz used blind shots and overwhelming hazards throughout to hide that fact. A fine example is the tee shot on sixteen, where the player is confronted with a massive display of sand and seemingly no fairway in sight, yet the hidden fairway is large and receptive beyond the bunkers. The player feels intense pressure to execute the shot in large part because the architect has emphasized the hazard rather than the target. Strantz offers plenty of opportunities to score, but he also tells you at every turn: Don't you dare miss!
Create Shot-Making Chances
Pacific Palisades, CA; George Thomas (1926); private
George Thomas combined strategy and beauty as well as any architect in the game's history. He rewarded positional play but insisted players shape their shots to get into those areas of the course. There is no course quite like Riviera, where golfers are constantly encouraged to hit either a draw or a fade off the tee. Thomas did this in a variety of ways, from careful placement of bunkers to the keen use of side slopes that require a tee shot to be shaped to remain on the fairway. The joy at Riviera is this constant flow back and forth between fade and draw, even alternating at times on the same hole, such as the par-four third. There aren't many shots in golf that take pros out of their comfort zone more than having to manufacture a draw from a fade lie, or vice versa, which makes Riviera one of the game's great Tour venues. The result is one of the few remaining courses where a clever shot maker still holds the advantage over the bomber.