Are Ground Contours taboo?

Admittedly I did not get to watch much ‘live’ golf on TV these past few days. I would like to have watched more but am currently in the throes of renovating our new home and this has taken presidente unfortunately. The timing stinks but I take solace in the fact that I have watched or visited many Open championships before (see my blog post )


Muirfield on a cold day

If you happened to watch the Open you would have noted how much Muirfield called for great creativity – and in many cases the need to improvise / invent shots . Muirfield rewards brain over brawn (at least when you stay out of the thick stuff). Much of this has to do with the course setup and how much influence the wind and ground contours have on day-to-day play. Added to this Muirfield is a strong strategic test so intelligent play is the name of the game.

Instead of having to skirt clover leaf shape bunkers or large water bodies (with fountains in them) at Muirfield the golfer has to manoeuver a way around the links using the humps, bumps, cants and depressions to great benefit. The direct line to the pin may not always be the ideal line and this is where the smart golfers will use the wind and ground contours to positively influence the flight and roll of the ball.

North Berwick

Rock and Roll at North Berwick. You can’t say that does not look or play interesting


Pennard. Hard and fast and plenty humps and bumps.

This type of golf is not something you see everyday unfortunately.  In fact many of todays golf courses have been ‘dumbed down’ to accept one type of golf shot only – the aerial one . If you want variety of shotmaking best you head somewhere else. Whilst hard and fast is sometimes difficult to achieve in certain conditions it is certainly not difficult to create (or utilise existing) ground contours that add strategic interest and call for creative shotmaking. In fact it is of my opinion that there is too much emphasis on designing features such as bunkers and water bodies to create charm and interest when in fact ground contours can add as much (if not more) value . Golfers today want even lies and immaculate play conditions and so the concept of brown fairways and a good amount of internal contouring is a foreign one. This is sad because both add so much to the game

Ground contours are the most underused golf feature today……this is alarming given what they bring to the party at a fraction the cost of any other feature. As an example it costs a copious amount more to build and maintain a bunker versus say building and managing a knoll or fairway mound. Furthermore the uneven stances (which are often scorned in the modern game) call for much more creativity and improvisation, than off a flat lie, and this too me is fun and exciting – I certainly want to test my skills in various conditions. In addition, when the ground is hard, and the grass a little scorched even the smallest hump and bump is heightened so one need not go overboard to create a bit of interest.

As golf architects we grade (manipulate the existing contours) the land to create positive drainage …why not go a bit further and grade the land (where it needs to be graded) to add strategic interest as well. To use an awful term…its a bit like killing two birds with one stone.

It is fitting that I should end by quoting Harold Hilton (past Open champ at Muirfield) “It is these unequal stances which bring out the true ability of the golfer. It is not at all difficult to hit a ball when the stance is what may be termed plumb and the lie a good one: this is the A B C of golf; but it is a very different thing to hit a ball when it is lying at an awkward angle and you have to take stance with one foot placed inches above the other. The playing of such shots requires a good deal of the knowledge of the game and the application thereof” and then there is Harry Colt – the brains behind the Muirfield design “As what we want to do, amongst other things, is to extract the very best golf from a man, and nothing does this so much as difficult lies and difficult stances”

O and not forgetting Mackenzie “Undulating ground consisting of hillocks and hollows is of enormous interest”

St Andrews

St Andrews. Ground contours and their influence

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