Lie of the Land

Award-winning architect Paul Jansen discusses the importance of ground contours and asks why they have become a taboo subject in modern golf course design

Royal County Down

If you happened to watch the Open Championship last month you would have noted how much Royal Liverpool called for great creativity - and in many cases the need to improvise or invent shots. Royal Liverpool, otherwise known as Hoylake after the nearby village of the same name, rewards brain over brawn - at least when you stay out of the thick stuff. Much of this has to do with the course setup and how much influence the wind and ground contours have on day-to-day play. Added to this Royal Liverpool is a strong strategic test, so intelligent play is the name of the game.

Instead of having to skirt clover leaf shape bunkers or large water bodies - with fountains in them - at Royal Liverpool the golfer has to manoeuver his way around the links using the humps, bumps, cants and depressions to great benefit. The direct line to the pin may not always be the ideal line and this is where the smart golfers will use the wind and ground contours to positively influence the flight and roll of the ball.

This type of golf is not something you see every day. In fact many of today’s golf courses have been ‘dumbed down’ to accept one type of golf shot - the aerial one. This in part thanks to the way many golf courses have been designed and are being maintained with extensive use of irrigation systems. Whilst hard and fast is sometimes difficult to achieve in certain conditions, although not impossible, it’s not difficult to build or utilise existing ground contours that add strategic interest and call for creative shot-making.

Today there is too much emphasis on designing features such as bunkers and water bodies to create golf course charm and strategic interest when something as simple as a bump or depression can add as much value - with the penalty being much less severe for the golfer. Also, if we were to substitute some of our man-made features for more natural ones (think of grass depressions, fairway tiers or bumps in the ground) then I am willing to bet it would go a long way in helping solve some of the pace of play issues that harm our game.


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