Golf course architects Forrest Richardson, Jeff Danner and Mark Fine have created an innovative twin-hole design for Southmoore Golf Course near Allentown, Pennsylvania.
‘Duel on the Hill’ is a nine-hole concept where each hole has a ‘twin’ that plays alongside its counterpart. Richardson says: “They’re definitely not identical twins. In fact, the pairs of holes – each pair referred to as ‘left’ and ‘right’ – are often a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ of one another.”
The twin holes have been planned to be nearly identical in length, but with stark contrasts: for example, one may play more downhill while the other moves uphill, one may be heavily bunkered while the other has a creek.
Southmoore, an 18-hole layout by James Blaukovitch, required changes due to development plans for a portion of the property. The challenge for the new design team was to find a way to incorporate the new development while preserving as much open space as possible. The developers, Water’s Edge at Wind Gap, also wanted to attract families moving to the suburbs near Allentown.
“Mark made extensive studies of the land,” says Richardson, who led the collaboration with Fine. The two first met in 2004 when authoring Bunkers, Pits & Other Hazards, a golf architecture book that is now in its third printing. “Together we put on our thinking caps to come up with alternatives that would be fun and engaging. We were looking for a routing concept that was new – something that would be ‘outside the box’ and exciting.”
The parallel nine-hole routing gives players the opportunity to select which hole of the two they prefer to play once they have left the green of the previous hole. With simultaneous tee times, the choice whether to play the left or right hole lies with the group that completes play of the previous hole first.
“I suppose you could call it a race,” says Danner. “But more than anything, we’ve engineered it to be fun and engaging. The pace of play benefits are secondary, but let’s not forget them.”
Depending on which holes a group ends up playing, the routing variation becomes exponential, says Richardson. “Even if you just play nine holes, there are 81 unique combinations you can end up playing. It may take a player several rounds, as an example, before they ‘get to play’ what we call ‘eight-left’… and, if you play eighteen holes, the routing combinations exceed 300.”
“We are empowering the golfer to finish quickly, and the reward is getting to decide their own destiny,” adds Fine. “The design is organised so each hole will have the same ‘pace rating’, meaning that each hole of a pair should theoretically take the same time to complete. What that allows is an even table where groups are envisioned to play as quickly as possible in order to ‘claim’ the next tee of their choice.”
The proposed design is for nine holes of 2,300 yards and a par of 32, so when two loops are played the eighteen-hole layout is 5,600 yards with a par of 64.
Richardson points out that the format of allowing groups to select from side-by-side holes at the subsequent tee might be reserved for weekends when play may be at its heaviest. “Independent of the concept to allow groups to flip back and forth between left and right holes, we envision two very solid nines where the pairs of holes follow the same general routing from start to finish,” he says. “The left and right paths can even be managed independently – the left being one to nine and the right being ten to eighteen – it’s flexible.”
Richardson and Danner have applied for US patent protection for the concept, officially as: A Method for a Golf Course Design with Pairs of Golf Holes Enabling Player Choice Based on the Order of Arrival at Subsequent Golf Holes.
The developer is in the process of gaining approvals and working to satisfy Moore Township’s rules and regulations. It is currently working with the community on matters such as buffering, traffic studies and open space preservation.
Richardson sums up the goals with the following: “We all want the same thing at the end of the day – a golf facility that will continue to provide open space, give people a place to recreate and socialise, and can remain in financial health for the long term.” The trio’s plans downsize the golf to create a more efficient facility yet preserve most of the holes and corridors with a fresh and fun approach to playing the game. “Perhaps it will even become a solution to the age-old problem of pace of play, which as we all know, has been a ‘duel of its own’ for many decades.”