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The Architects Strike Back

MORRISH: When I first got into this business, we were capable of designing a 7,000-yard golf course that would force you to hit all fourteen clubs. I don't know what we would have to do right now, today, to guarantee that a good player would have to hit every club in his bag.

HILLS: At Oakmont Country Club they have a charity event every year with thirty-some players from the Tour. They charted all the shots. On no par four did a player hit more than a driver and nine-iron.

Again, I think you're all describing the situation as it applies to the very best players, but even within that set, there are some interesting things you see, like last year at Torrey Pines. Reese, how many yards did you add to the South course?

JONES: Five fifty-two.

Making the course 7,600 yards long, and yet that tournament was won by Jose Maria Olazabal, one of the shorter hitters.

JONES: They didn't play the maximum yardage any day, but you're right. The rough was decent. The fairways were narrowed a little, and the green contours were challenging. So other factors came into it. Even the eighteenth, the way we designed it, Daly couldn't hit it and Tiger couldn't hit it.

What I'm getting at is another counterintuitive thought—when you make a course longer, it can actually put more of an emphasis on the short game. Because you're hitting longer approach shots, you miss more, and have to play more recovery shots.

JONES: Well, yes, but we don't have the luxury to design small greens anymore, because of the volume of play. Old courses that have smaller greens are those like Brookline, which doesn't have a high volume of play. But today we can't defend par by having smaller targets.

See, we as golf-course architects want to make golf a game of continuing interest. If it's going to be a game of power, it's not going to be a game of strategy. Really, if we can get the ball back to a reasonable distance, then you're going to have choices. Ben Hogan was playing golf with a friend of mine, playing the fourteenth hole at Augusta, and the fellow asked him, "What club should I hit, Mr. Hogan?" And Hogan responded, "That's a dumb question." The man said, "Why is that?" And Hogan said, "Because you haven't told me what shot you're going to hit—you have four different ones that you could attempt. First tell me what you're going to attempt, then I'll tell you what club to hit." I think we're losing those choices by having the ball go so far. I think we want to get that back. We want to bring the strategy into the game more with shot options and choices.

PASCUZZO: You're absolutely right. There's a famous picture of Hogan on the eighteenth at Merion just as he's completed his swing. He's got a one- or a two-iron in his hand. That shot is now an eight-iron. Is that as interesting and intriguing?

There is what I call a "cultural" impact to this, because people who have come into the game don't necessarily know what it's like to play strategic golf. If they've never experienced it, they don't know the joys of it. They think golf is in many ways hazardless, and not knowing the other type of golf that exists or the way the game should truly be played, many times they come back to the architect and blame him. They say, "Why did you put that bunker there?That's in my area. That's in the place where we can hit the ball." Or, "Why is that greenside bunker so steep?" I have to explain to them that I've provided alternatives on how to avoid those hazards, but they didn't perceive that. They didn't read the hole the way they were supposed to. Maybe because they've never been asked to before. I don't know if "cultural" is the right word, but I see it in player attitudes.

It sounds like there is a component of this that's the responsibility of the people who are teaching golf. Instructors have probably been emphasizing power as much as anything, because that's what many students come to them for. They want to hit the ball farther. Perhaps instructors are not teaching the strategic component of the game as much.

JONES: Well, as you say, that's what the player wants.

MORRISH: I was talking to Byron Nelson not long ago, trying to compare his game back in 1941 to the way these kids are playing today. He said: "The number-one thing is they are just bigger and stronger. They measured my swing. Now they've measured Davis Love's swing, and he is seventeen inches longer on his arc. That translates to power. Pure and simple. Forget the modern equipment, that's just more power he's generating himself."

When I was a kid, they didn't have these semis that traveled around from tournament to tournament where these guys can go in, after a round of golf, and do stretching exercises and weight lifting and whatever they need to do. Now you see half these kids going in for their weight training every day. Back in the old days, players used to walk off the golf course and head to the bar and grab a couple of beers and talk about their games.

Well, in terms of the athletes training themselves to peak performance levels, you can't fault them for that. That's just taking golf, like any sport, to its maximum potential. It's great to see golfers training better. So then it comes down to courses and equipment. Are there other factors that I'm missing?

HILLS: I think we can design courses to challenge any golfer at any given time, given the resources and the land to do it. We can challenge the Tour players. We can make the courses long enough so that they're hitting three-woods, three-irons and four-irons into the greens and having difficult shots around the greens. That's certainly doable. It would be a lot more reasonable if we could keep all the good courses that we have now in the same kind of balance and just do it with the golf ball. We probably can't do it with other aspects of equipment, but it can be done with the ball. There are many advocates of this.

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