Golf Course Architecture - Issue 73, July 2023

43 moment to look at the original greens designed by MacKenzie, Morris, Colt, Ross and Tillinghast, they were works of art. We have dumbed down golf greens to the lowest common denominator – speed.” It is in restoration projects that these problems are at their most intense. “On one project, there was a conversation that started with the club saying we want to be able to have speeds of 12 to 13 quite often,” says architect Jim Nagle. “We responded by saying, ‘Well, then you won’t have Donald Ross-like greens’. They took some time and came back with, ‘We want Ross greens’. They will periodically have the speeds up to 12 or more, but they recognise that it limits their hole locations. But then for regular play they back off. “I got into an argument with a client because they expected two greens to be designed at 2.2 per cent or less. I told them that was taking all the challenge and interest out of the green. It was all because the club wanted fast greens. It wasn’t until the superintendent and I measured the slopes on challenging, but acceptable, hole locations and saw that many were at 3.5 per cent (some were even between 3.5 and 4 per cent) that the club started to change tune. With higher slopes it becomes important to have surrounding slopes that do not accelerate or continue that higher percentage. “You have to build the greens with character, challenge, and authenticity – when needed – but have a design that works for everyday play but has fun tucked ‘Sunday pins’ that work with speeds over 11.5. It can be done and, as an architect, it’s fun to attack that challenge. If they want fast greens then they have to accept the trickle down: larger greens, somewhat less undulations and the associated costs to maintain.” On modern courses it is slightly different. Rob Collins and Tad King’s nine-hole Sweetens Cove course in Tennessee is famous for its severe greens, and at their new Landmand course in Nebraska, though not all the greens are wild, some certainly are. And Collins, who has operated Sweetens Cove since its (rather tortuous) birthing process, and is now a co-owner of the course, says that keeping the greens at a sensible speed is key to players’ enjoyment of the golf course. “At Sweetens, the greens average around 10.5 feet, but I’ve played them at twelve plus,” he says. “Thirteen feet is probably too fast. In the club championship last year, they were probably 12.5 and it was the most exacting I’d ever seen that golf course play.” But Sweetens, even though its greens are wild, is without doubt a modern course with modern greens. “There is a sweet spot at around 11 or 11.5 feet where the greens and the surrounds fully reveal themselves,” Collins goes on. “And that’s faster than Tad or I thought they could get when we were building the course. I give great credit to Tad because when he was finishing them he paid great attention to keeping the pinnable areas relatively quiet. Players don’t really talk about the speeds; just about how different they are from what they’ve seen elsewhere. People remark very often about how there is a discovery process to them. You can’t just play them one time and expect to have seen everything – because there are so many pin positions. But all the pinnable areas are one per cent slope or less. “Landmand was a similar approach. Going into the project we knew that we could not build 18 Sweetens-style The huge Biarritz eighth green at Sweetens Cove has no shortage of pin positions Photo: King-Collins