Friday, February 05, 2010

In Golf, Bigger Isn't Always Better

If you're watching the telecast of the Northern Trust Open this weekend, you'll no doubt hear plenty of chatter about the charms, the merit and the diabolical nature of the 315-yard, par-4 10th hole at Riviera Country Club.

For good reason.

It's one of the great short par-4 holes, not just on the Tour schedule but anywhere. And, to my mind, good short par-4s may be the most fun holes to play in golf.

They equalize the field, for one thing. It's not about how far you hit it but where you hit it. And the really good ones, like the 10th at Riviera which begs you from the tee to take a whack at the green sitting diagonally in the distance, make you consider a variety of options.

It's relatively easy to play long par-4s. You bang it far down the fairway as you can to have the shortest possible club into the green and, from there, you try to avoid whatever trouble is around the green.

Well-designed short par-4s force you to think, which is where a lot of us get into trouble. They'll reward a well-played shot but the risk-reward element comes into play with every swing. That's the thing about the 10th at Riviera. If a player takes a shot at the green off the tee, there's a reasonable chance he's going to find himself with a second shot that may be short but may have compounded the challenge.

Even by taking a more conservative play off the tee, a good short hole still demands a careful approach.

Golf is about options and the more of them a course gives a player, the better it typically is.

That's why the changes to the par-4 seventh at Augusta National were a mistake. Before all the length was added, it was a short hole that required you to keep it between the trees off the tee then prove you were a good wedge player. By making it longer, it has lost some of its magic though it's become more difficult.

At Harbour Town, the 300-yard ninth hole is pencil-thin but bold players can hammer a driver into the greenside bunkers if they feel chesty. It puts them close to the hole off the tee but there's no room to stray right or left. And even if you play safe, hitting an iron off the tee, it better be precise or you're looking through pine trees from 80 yards away. It tempts you but doesn't offer an easy way out despite its short yardage.

As golf as shown us so many times and in so many ways, bigger isn't always better.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing a golf architecture-related post, Ron!