Chipping Areas - Are They Really Perplexing
While watching The Players Championship a few weeks ago I had to admire the many chipping areas surrounding the green surfaces of The TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. Not to mention the precise finish grading of these areas, reflected by how many balls trickled directly to the drain basin. Nothing like well executed construction! But this aspect was not the focus of my admiration. The beauty of these areas lie in their thoughtful placement, AND how they coexist and relate directly to the green contours feeding back down into these devilish collection areas. Although challenging, they definitely elevate the playability of the Stadium Course.
For many year’s architects have been espousing the virtues of integrating these closely mown areas into green complex design as a way to speed up play, make the game slightly easier for the high handicap golfer while making it slightly more challenging for the better player. But most importantly making the game more fun for everyone by creating situations that require imagination through a multitude of shot options.
These areas certainly contribute to all of the above. When these areas, as is the case at TPC Sawgrass, are expertly integrated with the green contouring and the remainder of the green surrounds, the results are nothing but fun. Fun to play as well as watch! And the imagination they add to the game is undeniable. For adventuresome players there are an array of recovery shots to be explored from these areas. Whether it’s a bump and run, flop, pitch or putt each require differing execution, and based upon the terrain between player and hole, can take a tremendous amount of inventiveness. This facet also diminishes the tedium of endless recovery shots from greens ringed with deep rough. All of these aspects add a high level of excitement to the game!
Speed of Play
Speed of play is positively affected when this type of feature is implemented into the design. For most players the straight forward and automatic play from this point is too putt the ball. This takes much of the guess work out, not to mention difficulty, of how to execute a shot from these areas. I think we all would agree a single putt from a closely mowed area is vastly less time consuming than multiple chip shots from 2-3 inch deep thick rough!
Are They Perplexing?
At the cross-roads of these two characteristics is the effect these areas have on the psyche of golfers. On one hand there are the multitude of shots that can be played, BUT on the other hand there is the simple approach of merely putting the ball. Many architects advocate chipping areas are more challenging for the better player due to the shot option variety. These options can create indecision, leading to a lack of commitment to the shot and consequently poor execution. Conversely, because the automatic “go-to” shot for the higher handicapper is to putt the ball, this unwavering commitment makes for an easier recovery. I’ve had some fantastic debates in my own mind over this aspect and wonder…... do they truly make the game slightly more perplexing for the lower handicap player? I have no doubt they create a much more playable scenario for the less accomplished, but I still have not decided if indecision can truly be created, in the mind of the better player, through this type of design element. There is no doubt trepidation can be created in the weaker mind of us less accomplished players if we let ourselves get caught in the architect’s mind trap. Trust me, I am the hunter and have been hunted often! And I’m certainly glad most of us know our limitations and pull the putter in this situation 99.9% of the time. But even us skill challenged players still have an adventuresome side, and cannot resist attempting the miraculous shot only to find our ball back in the drain basin! But does the better player, even the elite player feel these effects? I guess the fact that we have witnessed, on occasion, elite players lay a divot over the ball when faced with these shots is proof the areas can get under their skin and into their head! But unfortunately I think recovery from thick rough still wins the day when it comes to challenging top flight players.
What I find more perplexing in this discussion is the varying reaction from almost all golf analyst’s when a professional decides to use the putter in these instances. During The Players telecast one player was praised for using the putter with the analyst declaring it “the right play”. Yet ten minutes later, under nearly identical circumstances a subsequent player was roasted for using the putter from a collection area. The telecast team declaring the player was “clearly displaying nerves by his decision to use the putter”, and went on to assert most players expose an underlying weakness when they avoid pitching in this situation. What? They almost equate it to a game of chicken with the player chickening out because he chose to putt the ball. This commentary was very prevalent during the US Open a few years ago at Pinehurst. When Martin Kaymer continually executed brilliant shot after brilliant shot from Pinehurst’s crafty collection areas with his putter the telecast team time and again questioned the approach. What? Their criticism certainly left me scratching my head, and making the subject even more perplexing! Is it the actual collection area creating indecision, or is it golf’s broadcast teams who are the culprits! Kaymer's results spoke for themselves and hopefully all golfers were taking notes and ignoring the comments.
You Can Do It Too
This design feature should definitely not be limited to the domain of elite courses. It is certainly an easy and dynamic element that most courses can, and should, explore implementing into their course setup. However, care should be taken with how and where these areas are implemented. If incorporated without expert guidance they can have an opposite effect on speed of play and playability. As I have eluded above, the moniker chipping area is more aptly referred to as collection area. And when expertly designed and incorporated they “collect” the ball. This should not be construed as an absolute required element, but in some instances merely expanding the fairway cut, in the wrong setting, can in fact funnel the ball further away from the green or possibly into trouble. When these areas exhibit a penal quality this can lead to tougher than intended recoveries, lost shots or even worse lost balls. This can definitely have an adverse effect making your course more difficult, increase pace-of-play and in the end reduce your course’s fun factor.
There is no doubt this design element has a very positive impact on the way the game is played, and this designer will continue to incorporate them at every opportunity. And when they implemented properly will definitely lead to an exciting, dynamic and fun golf experience!