Raymond Hearn Published Article

OK, SO MAYBE SPEED DOESN’T KILL, BUT IT SURE CAN HURT! (cont)

Page Four

The superintendent reasoned that a putting surface with at least 4,500 square feet of additional surface in the one-to-four-percent-slope range would present a much more reasonable and fair test of golf, not to mention maintenance. The membership’s concern was that Park’s “false front” of five-plus percent – a trademark design element in these particular original designs and the overall challenge of the green-- would be lost in the redesign.

My company’s redesign included an increase to 5,800 square feet in overall green surface -- an additional 800 square feet, in other words. The new surface area maintained a gentler but still visually apparent and challenging “false front” on a four-to-seven-percent grade, while 4,500 square feet of the green now exhibits an interesting variety of one- to four-percent contours with modified but still preserved challenge in the three to four percent range. The superintendent gained 3,000 square feet of new “cupping” area to more evenly distribute play and related wear and tear. For their part, the membership was happy to see the additional one to four percent cupping areas of the remodeled green while the “false front” to the green and the overall challenge was still preserved.

Granted, from a purely mathematical standpoint 6,500 square feet might have made more sense given the 27,000-round volume on the course. However, Park’s greens, apropos of their era, are generally small, and 6,500 square feet would have constituted the proverbial “sore thumb.” Putting surfaces on the course’s other par 3s average 5,000 square feet – a dimension at which the superintendent was able to maintain top-quality conditioning of the bent/poa greens.

“Will the remodeled green look out of place?” An excellent question, one that goes to the heart of the golf course architect’s design philosophy, appreciation of the game’s history and traditions, and critical judgment. For every sensitive interpretation of an original designer’s concepts, there is, regrettably, an atrocity – the equivalent of a red crayon stripe across a classical canvas, often made in the name of “progress” but conspicuous in its affront to context.

Thus choosing a golf course architect with significant classical design restoration experience is a must in order to maximize the potential to harmoniously blend the classical look of the restored, renovated, or remodeled green to that of the other existing classical green complexes that have remained unaltered.

On the opposite side of the ledger is blind obeisance to the original architect’s drawings and exact specifications, some of which may be impossible or undesirable to preserve. Classical design elements are generally worth maintaining, but in a few cases existing green design is of poor quality and does not possess any attributes that warrant restoring. Golden Age golf course architects had bad days, too, after all.

Fortunately, modern design software and its three-dimensional display capabilities allows architects and clients alike to make informed choices about putting speeds, contours, what to keep, what to tweak.

In closing, don’t hold on to greens that don’t “work” with your current putting speeds. Creative and carefully conceived redesign, coupled with a prudent and timely construction methodology, will yield the desired results with minimal disruption to play, as well as lowest-possible cost and emotional travail.

To revert to the aforementioned residential housing analogy, you may prefer the 100-year-old house, but that doesn’t mean you will be foregoing central heat and air conditioning. Faster putting speeds have generally added intrigue to the already-intriguing game of golf, and this seems unlikely to change any time soon unfortunately. Neither will our devotion to the game’s history. A reasonable synthesis of the two is achievable as long as we watch our slopes and speeds.

The author, Raymond Hearn, is a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and also heads the firm of Raymond Hearn Golf Course Designs (www.rhgd.com) located in Holland, Michigan.

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