Five features to enhance playability of a golf course

Five features to enhance playability of a golf course
Kari Haug
By Kari Haug

In the spirit of Alice Dye and on the shoulders of her pioneering work, I have been studying and working for all of my architectural career to design golf courses that are more playable for women. I developed a modernisation of Dye’s ‘two-tee system for women’ and renewed the call to action for golf courses to make earnest efforts to build forward tees.

But in addition to tees, my concept of ‘leverage design’ improves playability of the golf course for the shorter hitter by affecting the ground game through carefully and intentionally designed landforms and slopes.

These ground features provide the shorter hitter with leverage in four ways: propelling the ball forward to gain distance, redirecting errant shots, assisting the golfer in lofting the ball or with shot direction, and saving a shot from a worse fate.

The leverage design style will provide a more equitable golf experience in terms of enjoyment of the game, not only for women, but also for all shorter hitters.

Although moving the tees forward to give the shorter hitter a better chance of hitting the landing area on the drive will help to improve playability of the golf course for many golfers, it is only part of the equation. The reason the equation is incomplete is because it is often the second shot for shorter hitters that is the most difficult. Where the contemporary long-hitting low handicap player rarely plays the ground game between the green and 100 yards out, this is often the area with the most challenge for the short hitter who is hitting a long wood just to get to the green. The ground game for this player is extremely important and slopes matter!

Below are five features that can be incorporated into a golf course to enhance playability for shorter hitters. These leveraging features will often make no difference to the low handicap player who is hitting a short iron into a green.

Speed chute – For the most part meaningless for the longer hitter, since their drive would clear this feature by 100 yards or more, but for the shorter hitter, the speed chute could propel the ball to gain distance. The landing area for the drive is still the most common location for a speed chute, but on par fives this element could also be used in common secondary, and tertiary landing areas for the shorter hitter.

Funnel – Most often to be used in the vicinity of a second or third shot landing area for the shorter hitter to assist the ball into a position away from a severe side-slope lie or worse, long rough on a severe side-slope. Another design intent of this landform is to funnel the shot away from a hazard that was not designed to challenge this calibre of player, but incidentally was located in a landing area affecting the shorter hitter. Not only would the funnel direct the ball away from a hazard, but further, it would re-direct the golfer’s ball toward a more favourable position.

Bumper – This land feature also affects the directional tendency of the golf ball. The difference between a bumper and a funnel is that while the funnel redirects the ball to a more favourable position, the bumper just saves the ball from a penal hazard and bumps the ball elsewhere, not necessarily into a favourable position. Like a saviour bunker, the bumper nevertheless saves the golfer from a much worse penalty or position on the golf course.

Launch pad – Since the shorter hitter frequently has difficulty getting the ball airborne, the launch pad sees the slope of the tee designed to assist them with the shot, with the front of the tee elevated in relation to the back of the tee. To further assist the shorter hitter, a right to left bias in slope of the tee will somewhat help with correction of the high handicap right-handed hitter’s slice that is often associated with a slower swing speed. Obviously, the designer should also take into consideration the landing area location, fairway hazard locations, and hole shape when making right/left tee slope bias decisions.

Catcher’s mitt– This feature can be used on slopes where designers may have difficulty creating a landing area that will hold a particular shot, and is again a type of ‘saviour’. If the shorter hitter’s incoming shot is into a slope that will cause the ball to run back, the catcher’s mitt (which could also be a subtle plateau) will prevent a long run-back of the golf ball. If the incoming shot is arriving from a poor angle, the catcher’s mitt will cradle the ball and prevent it from being shunted into long rough or a hazard. Finally, if the incoming shot is hitting a downslope that will propel the ball into a hazard, the catcher’s mitt can hold the ball short of the hazard.

With all of these interventions, the architect will want to carefully weigh whether or not the shorter hitter really needs the assistive leverage, and whether or not the location of the leveraging feature will also reduce the challenge for the low handicap player.

While the concept of a ground game is not new in the design of a golf course, using many different ground features with the specific intent to make the ground game play better for women, juniors, seniors, and shorter hitters in general would be revolutionary.

Kari Haug is president of Kari Haug Planning & Design, Inc. – a golf course architecture company that specialises in sustainable golf course design and women's golf