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Balancing Playability In Golf Course Design

Case Study - Chambers Bay Hole 8


I view playability as creating shots with similar shot values and requirements for all level of players. Playability suffers when the design of a hole requires players of varying skill levels, especially higher handicaps, to play shots the design does not accommodate. Or execute shots well beyond the reasonable skill of the player. One of the great aspects of the game is being challenged to execute certain shots during a round, and when achieved it can be an exhilarating experience. It literally lifts your human spirit and invigorates your golfing soul! I try to achieve this balance in shot making because I firmly believe golfers of all skill levels want to be challenged, and playability derives from the appropriate level of difficultly each challenge possess for each skill level.


Obviously, distance is a big part of this equation, and over the years I have found clubhead swing speed to be the most dependable component to predict distance for the majority of players. The last few years I have focused on better understanding this component and implementing it within my designs. I have relied on data developed by Barney Adams, who has done years of research through his club development at Adams Golf. It’s very revealing information as to how far the elite level player hits the ball, and the disparity between the longest hitters and the everyday player with a clubhead speed of 95 mph or below. The drop off in distance is quite dramatic. As a result I have focused on staggering teeing grounds much more than I did in the early years of my career. This increased stagger creates staggered landing zones aimed at providing similar playing experiences for all levels of golfers.


For instances, a hole playing 420 yards from the back tee should require a player with a swing speed of 100 mph to hit driver and an eight iron for the approach. In order to provide a similar experience and shot value for a player with a swing speed of 75 mph the distance should be roughly 250 yards. This is quite a difference, but the experience for the shorter hitter is similar and far more playable. If this player were required to play the hole

at 300 yards or more, which would require a hybrid approach, the experience would be vastly different and playability decreases dramatically. Distance is not the only factor and it’s important to create this consistency when designing hazards as well. With this approach a golf hole can be designed with consistent characteristics and shot values, which equates to increase playability and enjoyment for all playing levels.


In the example, the 8th hole at Chambers Bay plays 557 yards. This is almost considered a par-4 for the elite player! Because of the short nature of all the par-5 holes at Chambers Bay additional yardage is needed. I would suggest shifting the tee back and attempt to gain a back tee yardage of 570 yards. Even at this distance the green is still reachable in two for players with swing speeds of more than 100 mph, so providing this opportunity for all skills levels is imperative. In the diagram Players A-F represent swings speeds of 75-120 mph. With the back tee positioned at 570 yards, forward tee yardages for players B-F are set at 550, 520, 485, 440 and 340 yards respectively. With these varied distances all players have the chance to reach the putting surface with two well struck shots. Additionally, the severe slope along the left side can result in a very favorable kick off the hill, allowing a player to simply play left, using the slope as a safety net to avoid the severe slope along the right side. The absence of any bunkering along this edge makes for a relatively easy tee shot on an otherwise defenseless hole. To enhance strategy, staggered bunkers have been added along the left slope challenging all players to reach this preferred side of the fairway. Players A-D must negotiate the first carry bunker and players E & F must contend with the second bunker further along the left side. This staggering of the hazards creates similar challenges for all players. The forward tee positions have been shifted to the right to reduce the angle of the carry over the new fairway bunkers creating a more playable scenario.


I have also angled the green slightly and added greenside bunkering to place a premium on achieving the approach angle from the left fairway position. A strong sideboard slope along the front left greenside further aids players on their approach and when utilized provides an avenue to the putting surface avoiding the front bunkers. All players choosing not to challenge the bunkers off the tee and favoring the right side will bring into play the newly added greenside hazards on their approach. Additionally, a sharp spilloff along the back left green edge into a soft hollow is incorporated. this will add interest and defend back left pin positions. The spilloff is sharp and defined, but the hollow fairly shallow, so recovery from this area would not be difficult.


Those who play the hole as a conventional three shot par-5 will have to closely gauge their second shot for a precise distance to avoid finding themselves in the front bunkers, as well as position themselves properly with repsect to the terrain in this area. A ridge thru this second landing zone will add interest and challenge to the layup, and properly positioning your shot will dictate the ease of the approach.


In my opinion these alternatives would make this hole more interesting visually and strategically while maintaining playability for all levels.

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