Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Organic Green Shapes, Lost in Time

Many of the great old golf courses, when built, had remarkable greens and while the contours may still be with us yet today, the green shapes are not. Green shapes, over the decades, have devolved into unimaginative ovals and egg shapes. Just how these wonderful organic shapes were lost will become evident with a bit of understanding about the nature of golf course maintenance. But what may be more important and relevant is just how much these changes have affected modern golf course design when it comes to green shapes.

Look at these Donald Ross plans from Aronimink Golf Club. These are some wonderful shapes that are anything but the routine shapes that plague most courses today. I know these greens at Aronimink a little bit, having worked there back in the 70s and the while the contours were still there, the shapes from Ross's plans were simply gone. The recent renovation there went a long way to restoring these great greens. 

Aronimink Golf Club #13

Aronimink Golf Club #3

So what happened? Well, that's pretty simple, during the 1960s when courses almost all used triplex mowers, either completely or during the "shoulder" seasons and the triplexes couldn't follow the cleanup pass (outside ring cut) of the greens because of their turning radius. Along with that, anyone that has ever mowed a green knows that it's a cardinal sin to scalp the collar while mowing the cleanup pass. Those two factors when combined with superintendents that weren't constantly monitoring the greens' edges resulted in today's mundane green shapes on most of our great old courses.

In many cases more than 10% of the putting surface was "lost" and along with that, some great pin positions. And what makes matters even worse, is that today's golf course designers grew up on dumbed downed green shapes and their point of reference when designing or renovating greens is just as dumbed down . . . modified circle, oval and egg shapes on most greens.

Designers should be careful in creating and rediscovering organic shapes for greens lest green shapes become caricatures. Organic shapes for greens should not be forced, they need to be tied to landforms and be consistent with the design.

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