How Hard Should It Be?

Phil Mickelson attracted attention saying that the course redesign at the Atlanta Athletic Club created a course that was good for the tournament but bad for the members. He particularly thought the course was too long for the average golfer. His remarks have sparked a lot of discussion, including a conversation on The Golf Channel website.

From what I’ve seen on TV there are plenty of tee boxes, so I’d think the length can be adjusted to suit us “average” folks. Me playing the back tees would be the equivalent of me trying to hit Nolan Ryan’s fastball – it ain’t gonna happen. A little attention to the USGA “Tee It Forward” guidelines should make the length manageable.

However, I’m not sure length is the major problem. If the pros are having the trouble they are with hitting into (and getting out of) the bunkers, getting wet, hitting roots and trees (McIlroy and Woods), bumping up against out of bounds fences (Kuchar), punching out of the trees into creeks (Scott), etc. I suspect the average player will have even more trouble. After all, moving the tees forward should only make the hazards the pros hit reachable for us average folks, and we spray it around a lot more than they do.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t like to try. I’d love it. But I’ve discovered that I like hard courses more than many of the folks I play with. My opinion on the issue can only be based on courses I have played around here and consider to be pretty tough layouts. They’re about 7000 yards from the tips, while Atlanta Athletic is 7467. I don’t play the tips. I’m 61 years old with a 6.3 index.

There’s one course about an hour from where I live that I love, but some of the people I play with dislike. The Bandit has interesting (to me) elevation changes, sloping fairways, tough approach shots, and challenging greens. Lose a shot and it’s very hard to get it back because there are very few easy holes. The greens complexes in particular require thoughtful, well executed approaches. Moving to more forward tees helps a little, but you still have those interesting greens to deal with. I love it. Others don’t. I don’t shoot my best scores there, but I don’t care.

Pecan Valley Course Scene. From http://www.pecanvalleygc.com.

Pecan Valley is also about an hour from my home. It was the site of the 50th PGA championship, and is a beautiful, tight, challenging course. Moving the tees up helps a little because it reduces the forced carries over small creeks, but the creeks are still a significant challenge. In some cases you just move closer to a creek that you need to lay up short of. The greens are tough and well bunkered and trees are plentiful. The design rewards thinking your way around the course, not just banging it long. It’s one of my favorite courses. They have added a new set of forward tees that they say takes care of a lot of the forced carries, but I haven’t played there since they were added.

I guess I’d like to hear from the members at Atlanta Athletic Club. Is the course redesign bad for them? I’ll be glad to come as a consultant if they need a second opinion. I come cheap.

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