Short grass is the new rough
At least, it will be if today’s wave of “minimalist” golf course architects have anything to say about it. If so, your putter will become even more important than it already is.
Scary thought, I know. But this is a bandwagon worth hopping on.
The basic theory espoused by designers like Tom Doak and the team of Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw goes like this:[quote type=”center”] Thick rough lining fairways and greens gives players one basic option — gouge it out and hope for the best.[/quote]
On the other hand, there’s a-million-and-one ways to play any given shot from short grass, which makes the game more interesting and less punitive at the same time.
On top of that, a lack of rough lets golfers choose their line off the tee, rather than having trouble left and right dictate one direction (straight). Accuracy is still rewarded, though, because driving the ball to the right spot opens an easier approach to the green (and vice versa).
To be sure, this isn’t a revolutionary concept. The Old Course at St. Andrews – the wellspring of course architecture principles — features fairways as wide as a tarmac and closely-mown areas surrounding mammoth double greens. If you’ve ever watched an Open Championship played there, you’ve seen pros use the putter miles away from the flagstick.
Even the folks who run the U.S. Open are on board with the trend, and that’s saying something. The USGA has moved away from ribbon-thin fairways pinched by six-inch rough and greens hemmed in by the same stuff; today’s Open setups feature graduated rough – it gets taller moving out from the fairway – and close-cropped chipping areas around greens. The result: Less predictability, more emphasis on creativity.
Sadly, the men who run the Masters have gone the opposite direction. As carved by Bobby Jones and master architect Alister MacKenzie, Augusta National’s corridors were once wide open and rough-free. Now, the green jackets have shrunk the fairways and grown the rough – excuse me, the “primary cut” — even as the course gets longer and longer. The goal is to keep the world’s best players from obliterating scoring records, but it’s rendered great holes like Nos. 7 and 11 rather ridiculous.
Luckily, Augusta seems to be the exception. Short grass and expansive fairways are in, thanks in no small part to the success of places like Nebraska’s Sand Hills Golf Club (Coore-Crenshaw) and the quartet of courses at Oregon’s Bandon Dunes Resort, including two by Doak and one by C&C.
Coore-Crenshaw’s astounding 2011 renovation of Pinehurst No. 2 will offer a great test of the ground game during the 2014 U.S. Open, while Chambers Bay – the “roughless” and rock-hard Washington state muni – hosts the Open the very next year.
These tracks are proving the merits of tight turf while pushing a parallel development. In a nutshell, think “brown is beautiful.” Course superintendents, long captive to the “Augusta syndrome” which requires every blade to be blazing green, are using less water and fertilizer. This serves two purposes: Satisfying conservation guidelines, and creating firmer, faster course conditions.
The upshot to all this is that, slowly but surely, American golf is becoming more like the glorious version played in the British Isles. So brush up your bump-and-run and learn to wield the putter from off the green. Waaaay off the green. Golf is going back to the future, and I for one am happy to take the ride.
Daniel Mitchell is a golf writer who lives in Jupiter, Fla., a few miles from Tiger Woods as the crow flies but worlds away in every other respect. An avid golfer since age 12, Mitchell carries a (shaky) single-digit handicap, investing far more time in his dogs than his swing.