THEY say practise makes perfect but in golf much of that depends on the quality of the facility you have to practise at.
In this article I explore some of the game's great practice facilities and hopefully help inspire golfers and clubs alike to take practising the game more seriously.
In years gone by, most practice facilities comprised little more than a small putting green and, if you were lucky, a space somewhere near the clubhouse to take a few swings prior to getting a round underway.
Perfectly adequate to warm up but not enough to provide any stimulation to someone wanting to actually practise.
However, in more recent times the same care and attention that goes into the design of golf courses is being devoted to practice areas and, if funds and space allow, some wonderful opportunities exist.
THE DRIVING RANGE
As someone who has spent their fair share of time pounding balls on the range I can assure you that no matter how focused the golfer, it doesn’t take long for the mind to wander if you're just hitting to an open field.
The poor ball boys at my home club no doubt cursed me as they picked up countless balls in the trees either side of the range – but aiming at the trees, or the gaps between them, was far more interesting than playing to a big, open space.
I was recently presenting to the members of one the courses we’re rebuilding and the topic turned to the practice areas with a few members questioning the need for bunkers on the range.
It’s a fair point, and not something for every club, but when the aim is to build the best practice range possible, surely the point then is to try and stimulate the golfer by creating the same type of shots found out on the golf course?
How else do you achieve this without building bunkers, and possibly some greens, to negotiate or aim towards? Hitting into a field or towards a handful of flagpoles just isn’t the same.
The new range at Augusta National is a terrific example and hopefully this year viewers at home will get to see some of it on TV.
In 2010 what is now the practice area was the main car park for the tournament. By 2012 it was one of the best driving ranges anywhere in the country.
With two sections of fairway – one left and one right, bordered by trees - it offers two fairways to drive into which are the same width as those found on the course.
One requires a fade, the other a draw. A series of well-bunkered greens simulate the sort of approach shots found on the course then, to complete the experience, pitching and chipping greens are within a stone’s throw.
In Australia we designed a similar concept at Victoria Golf Club – a fairly narrow space that, with improvements to turf, drainage and a scattering of bunkers, now resembles a golf hole and provides a much more stimulating place to practise.
The 'Himalayas' at St Andrews
At St. Andrews in Scotland, the famed Ladies Putting Course, or “Himalayas”, sits just to the right of the opening hole.
Incredibly popular with virtually every age and demographic, it is an enormous and wildly contoured green with 18 ‘holes’ of varying difficulty and length.
The pins can be placed in some devilish positions and slopes can be used to gather the ball close to the hole, but anything less than the perfect shot can be rejected and sometimes finish as far away as where you started.
Old Tom Morris built the green in the late 1800’s and it was essentially the world’s first mini-golf course - minus the windmills.
For good players it’s a fun way to spend a few hours, either practising or having a bet with your mates, while beginners enjoy the wild contours and quickly learn how slope affects a rolling golf ball.
In recent times a few variations of the concept have been built around the world – at Pinehurst where it is known as “Thistle Dhu” or at the Bandon Dunes resort in Oregon.
There are of course increased costs in maintaining a green which is 6 or 7 times the size of a regular one so it’s not for everyone.
But if more of these existed we would surely attract more golfers to the game.
We have long championed the need for more quality short game facilities – somewhere where you can practise bunker shots, chips and pitches, perhaps even putts, and over the last decade or two a lot of courses around the country have added areas like these.
Whilst they are terrific areas to practise shorter shots, if space and finances allow this concept can be taken a step further to create a short course.
Some years ago at Healesville in Victoria we created such a facility – two hectares of short grass with four ‘proper’ greens, some bunkers and a creek.
The idea being that four ‘formal’ holes could be played, each up to around 120 metres, but at other times golfers could play cross-country, essentially playing from anywhere to any one of the targets.
It is arguably the greatest way to practise every imaginable shot under 200 metres and the perfect place for kids to learn the game.
In Nebraska, Gil Hanse and his team built a larger scale version of this same idea. Known as the H-O-R-S-E course it makes nine holes, each averaging around 90 metres.
Whilst the holes are all both beautiful and thrilling, the fun really begins when the course is played cross-country.
Full of dramatically undulating greens, sandy blow-outs and wild terrain the course has no tee boxes and the golfer with the honour decides from where, and to where, the next hole will be played. The only limit is the players' own imagination and it would be difficult to find a more fun and engaging way to spend a few hours.
Along with all the fantastic advances to teaching that have occurred in the last 20 years – firstly with the video camera but later with devices like Trackman or Putting Lab, practising has never been as informative or as fun ever before.
Now let’s just hope all this practise leads to shooting lower scores!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
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.
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