Morri: Say No To Vanilla Golf

The Old Course is all about adventure and finding your own way
“You can play vanilla golf the rest of your life and you’ll have no stress,” says 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy.  “But you’ll have no fun.”

The quote comes from a short video discussing the wild double green of the 3rd and 11th holes at Trinity Forest Golf Club in Texas, allegedly the largest single putting surface in America.

The course will host the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson tournament for the first time this year and Ogilvy has been filming some promotional spots for the event focussing on some of the fun and interesting elements of the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw design.

Aesthetically, Trinity Forest more resembles Barnbougle Dunes or a UK links than the bright green grass the Tours are generally so fond of promoting (a rant about that is a column for another time).

More than the look, however, it is the playing characteristics of the course which will be most intriguing to watch.

Thinking about that got me thinking about Ogilvy’s quote and what an important one it is to consider for golfers of every level.

Many pros see a course like Trinity Forest or Barnbougle Dunes as a threat because of the unpredictable nature of the bounce and some of the diabolical shots one can be left with.

That’s an understandable position (though one I don’t agree with) if you play for your livelihood but what about those of us who play recreationally?

You don’t have to go far in club land to find golfers who think the game should be some sort of formulaic proposition where ‘fairness’ is paramount and the play is dictated to the golfer via hazards and trees.

One of the first clues you are dealing with a person like this is that they will generally be of the belief that ‘hard’ and ‘good’ are interchangeable terms.

Anything that challenges this notion – such as wider fairways, less trees and/or greens that feature any sort of bold contouring - is seen as ‘goofy', 'too easy' and not desirable.

The result of this sort of thinking – which sadly seems more prevalent than those who believe golf should be an adventurous pursuit – is ‘vanilla golf’.

Think about the courses in your own local area. Unless you live in the sandbelt of Melbourne, the common themes will be tree lined, narrowish fairways (certainly tight for the standard of player who regularly frequents the course) with generally uninspired putting surfaces.

This is exactly the sort of ‘vanilla golf’ Ogilvy is talking about. It’s stress free not because it’s easy, but because it requires little to no thought.

Narrow fairways dictate that everybody play the same shot to ‘succeed’ and those who don’t pull off the requisite straight drive all face similar ‘punishment’.

Is it fun? If the main joy you derive from the game is swinging the club then perhaps it is, but the game’s greatest arenas show us something much different is possible, indeed desirable.

The Old Course at St Andrews is the best example of how golf should be. It gives the golfer acres of room to play and make their own decision on what route they choose to the hole.

Bounces are unpredictable (they all even out in the end, anyway) and the greens offer endless interest with their size and contour.

There is a freedom to this second sort of golf which encourages bold play and enlivens the spirit. And it appeals to the artist as much as the engineer without stifling either.

Vanilla golf, as Ogilvy points out, is ultimately not much fun hence people get bored with it and stop playing.

Less ‘vanilla’ and more ‘chocolate malt’ would make for a much healthier game. 


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