The first of three par-fives on the front nine, the fourth hole is also the first of the split-fairway holes at Braemar. Starting from the ridge that also serves the third green, the tee shot hugs a grove of oaks to the right to a landing area that fades away from the golfer. Beyond the grove, the expansiveness of the Braemar site comes into view for the first time.
Once one arrives at the first landing area, a decision must be made to gamble at some level. The smarter route to the right, also the longer route, requires an uphill second shot to a welcoming bowl fairway twenty feet above the left side of the hole. An expansive specimen oak is the aiming point for a right to left shot.
Those thinking eagle can take the shorter, more direct route straight ahead. Yet this direction demands threading a needle down a fairway that continues to fall away from the golfer. Discomfort lurks the entire way as the lower landing area is further concealed by a trio of sand bunkers tucked into the ridge that separates both fairways, a fourth bunker to the left side, and a pond that tickles the landing area as it eventually frames the left side of the green complex. The alternative aggressive second shot from the right side requires a big hitter to bounce a wood into the far side of the higher landing area and let the roll of the downward path kick the approach onto the putting surface. Too hot and it can run through the width of the green and find the water.
The green extends out from the high second landing area to the left, contrasting nicely with the opposite feature found at the prior green complex. The putting surface tumbles out of the hillside led by a ridge separating the front right from the back right. Golfers who choose to lay up on the right side will find a more comfortable, yet steep, downhill approach that can be accomplished at any trajectory chosen. One would best hedge their bet with a low bump following the run of the hill to funnel their golf ball onto the green. A third shot approach from the left side is a simple pitch. But from a narrow fairway concealed just enough to give pause, golfers may inadvertently decide the left side is not the smartest option.
One reason I am not a big fan of trees on golf courses is because, frankly, they cover up some of the best land features of a site. At Braemar, that was very evident to me in the design of the fourth hole. A scattering of random trees covered up a bluff that sat about thirty feet above another flat directly to the left. Right away, I zeroed in on the possibility of a series of bunkers cut into the slope that connected the two areas.
From there, the strategy of the hole began to evolve with the split fairway idea, something I am always seeking out in my design efforts and was able to pull off multiple times at Braemar. In order to make both routes work, I had to develop strong incentive for golfers to take the longer route to the right considering it was much higher than the direct route. But four fairway bunkers and a pond separated by a narrow strip of fairway is enough to deter even the most accurate golfers at least some of the time.
One feature of the upper route we emphasized is the chance for the better golfer to use the strong right to left slope to shape a wood or long-iron from right to left. Properly executed, the shot should kick on the downslope and roll onto the putting surface from there. Another favorite aspect of the hole is the way the upper fairway seamlessly rolls into the putting surface, allowing for the approach to affect the shot.