Golf Course Architecture - Issue 74, October 2023

40 BRANDON JOHNSON INSIGHT The common phrase goes something like this: “Fourteen is our best hole. It’s the hardest on the course and can turn a par into a double bogey quickly”. Difficulty does not automatically make a hole good, or elevate it to be the best on the course. In my experience, holes anointed as such are often my least favourite on the course. Often a hole is deemed hard purely by virtue of its length. Most recreational players will struggle to reach the longest in regulation. No strategy required or pivotal decision to be made. The hole humbles the player because it surpasses their ability to reach a lofty distance threshold. With distance demands neutralising the other quivers in their arsenal, the long hole is perceived as a brute. In reality, it’s a one-trick pony in its scoring resistance tactics, failing to truly test a player’s grit, creativity, decision making or resilience in navigating a cunning strategic test. The purpose of golf course architecture is not to make playing the game difficult for the sake of it. It is rather to interpret the land cleverly and astutely, sculpting the ground in crafty, fun, beautiful forms that provide a myriad of avenues for players to approach the game. The degree of challenge comes from the balance of an alluring feature or landform and the complexity of the strategic riddle being presented around that feature. The intent is not to punish the golfer into submission nor create situations where success is consistently granted even for the poorest of executed shots. The human spirit craves achievement, especially when it is earned honestly through skilful physical execution or a display of mental creativity. Highly regarded architecture presents that difficult challenge, testing all facets of one’s game, while achieving this balance of strategic complexity throughout the round. Players may be easily wowed and overwhelmed with wicked slopes, bold contours and outrageous visuals. They all have their rightful place in golf course architecture. Distilling the challenge down to its basic elements and allowing them to carry the day might be the harder task for an architect and a welcome change of pace for the player. While contours, and the ideal of ground game options, can be the Brandon Johnson highlights the need for interesting and strategic golf course design rather than focusing on making holes extremely difficult or overly long. Is it hard or is it good?