In Depth: The difficult one-shotter

THE do or die par-3 has a strange appeal and, when done right, can make for some of the most fun and dramatic golf imaginable.

I FIND myself talking a lot about strategy in this business. In past articles, to members, committees, when pitching to clients.

Great strategy is at the heart of all the great courses. Wide fairways, greens angled to favour play from one side of the fairway over the other, playable for all yadda, yadda, yadda.

But another tool at the architect’s disposal is the complete opposite. A penal hole. One that simply asks for a great shot with trouble seemingly all around

Man or woman, good or bad, from the tee you have to hit one of your best to avoid catastrophe. Simple.

Of course, you can’t have too many or it just makes the course too hard for the average golfer but every now and then they add much to the variety of shots required.

We only have to look back a fortnight to Jordan Speith’s undoing at the great 12th at Augusta to witness how a hole which requires little more than an 8 or 9 iron can cause the world’s best to unravel.

Instead of the draw shot, which he’d committed to, the far right pin and perhaps a last minute swing thought to play a fade and five minutes and seven mesmerizing shots later the tournament was over.

Of course one of the great things about Augusta is the heroic nature of the back nine holes. With water coming into play at 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16, and many holes presenting birdie (or eagle) chances for those who play aggressively, the tournament regularly offers a dramatic final two hours of play.

It's strange, really, that more tournament courses haven’t learnt from this but instead seem to want to see players grinding out pars down the stretch.

In Australia, we have lots of great one-shotters and many requiring a forced carry. Holes such as the 10th and 15th at Kingston Heath, the 11th at Yarra Yarra, 9th and 15th at Commonwealth, the 7th West at Royal Melbourne, 5th at Woodlands, 7th at Barnbougle Dunes and so on.

Typically, our par-3s use bunkers or steep slopes to inflict punishment and add interest, but the truth is nothing sends a twitch through the fingers quite like water.

Augusta 12th

As Bobby Jones once said, “The difference between a sand trap and water hazard is the difference between a car crash and an airplane crash. You have a chance of recovering from a car crash.”

Of course, the use of water and forced carries invariably leads to the 'F' word: fairness.

These holes are rarely popular but, strangely, golfers tend to accept them if the course is either a) old or b) famous.

Sadly, from experience, people are far less tolerant on a new design! Who, for instance, could possibly get away with the tee shot at the 17th at St. Andrews – a blind drive of 220 yards over the edge of a hotel!?

Or Pine Valley, where demanding carries exist on almost every hole and yet it remains (and rightly so) the world’s best course?

Even the relatively obscure Worplesdon in Surrey, England, where the 10th is a short par three played across a lake.

Club folklore has it that one lady member has never completed a stroke round in her lifetime. But to try and build this now would almost certainly lead to a polite request for something more playable.

Some of the most difficult par three’s have also become some of golf’s most recognisable holes. Perhaps the dramatic setting or their photogenic qualities have added to their fame but holes such as the 16th at Cypress Point are amongst golf's best.

Whilst the brain-child of Dr Alister Mackenzie, it was club founder Marion Hollins who convinced the legendary designer that the hole should play as a long par three and not the short par four he had originally envisaged.

After teeing up on one side of the cliff-top and blasting a ball 220 yards to the land on the other side, the good doctor was convinced the carry was not too onerous.

In another week from now we get to see the drama unfold at another great little hole across water – the 17th at TPC Sawgrass.

Whilst Pete Dye is generally given credit for the design of the course it was Alice (his wife and design collaborator) who had the original idea for the famous island green.

Having dug a hole between 16 and 18 to mine sand for use on other parts of the course, they were left with a problem in the form of a large hole.

But rather than import more material to re-state the ground, Alice had the idea of simply putting the green where it was planned and filling the surrounding hole with water. 35 years and tens of thousands of lost balls later, the island green remains one of the best-known and most popular holes in the country.

As architects we generally try to create holes that even the beginner can find playable, but occasionally there is merit in building something you know many will label unfair.

Maybe it helps to balance out the simpler parts of the course, or just adds to the variety.

But to paraphrase Pete Dye: golf isn’t a fair game, so why try and always build holes that are?  

Photos: Mike Cocking



Mike Cocking

Mike Cocking is an architect and partner with one of Australia's leading golf design firms - Ogilvy Clayton Cocking Mead. Click here for OCCM's website

Mike is currently spending his time at Peninsula – Kingswood CGC on major course improvements – a project especially dear to his heart, having joined the club as a 15 year old and representing the club for almost two decades.

After completing a Bachelors degree in Environmental Engineering in 1998, Mike gained a scholarship with the Victoria Institute of Sport's golf program.

Over the next few years he represented Victoria and Australia in various team events, winning a number of major competitions including the 2000 Victorian Amateur Championship.  Travelling extensively for competition play also allowed Mike the opportunity to seek out and study many of the world’s best courses. 

His passion for the game and his inquisitive nature fuelled his interest in golf course architecture, and in 2000 he launched his career as a designer.  Major projects have included redesigns at Bonnie Doon (Sydney), RACV Healesville, RACV Torquay and Royal Canberra.

Mike is also a keen artist and a selection of artwork can be found on his website. 

Mike can be followed on Twitter: @OCCMGolf and @MikeCocking 


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