Speed Kills (Or Hurts, Anyway)

Part 3: Compromise melds history and practicality

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 “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.  The superintendent gained 3,000 square feet of new “cupping” area to more evenly distribute wear and tear.  For their part, the membership was happy to see the “false front” to the green preserved.

Granted, from a purely mathematical standpoint 6,500 square feet might have made more sense given the 25,000-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 5,500 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.

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.  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.

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