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  • Writer's pictureRichard Mandell

Jump The Slope

To me, utilizing the ground to gain a strategic advantage is vital to great golf course design. This begins with the routing process as a golf course architect should always uncover natural contours of the ground and allow those natural features to determine strategy. After that, as Alister Mackenzie famously said, “In the absence of nature, one should manufacture….” The ground is possibly the best hazard a golf architect can choose to incorporate if the true goal is to create challenge instead of penalty.

Sculpting of the ground allows for the golfer to seek out his/her own target to advance the ball in the most effective way, which is what the early ancestors of the game first sought to accomplish. Avoiding sandy areas and high grasses the first golfers sought to carry the hazards in order to achieve the lowest possible number of strokes per hole. I doubt very much they started by just keeping the ball on the short grass only. I believe the spiritual flame of the sport would have burned within weeks if the only attraction to golf (and its forbears) was simply to avoid losing your ball.

Unlike the more common tools the designer of golf courses may call upon (water, sand, trees, high, dense rough), the contours of the ground do not unduly penalize the golfer who fails to reach the target. More often than not, the result is still a playable shot, just not in the desired ‘position A’. This very thought process was what led Mackenzie and his ‘player-consultant’ Bobby Jones to conceive the strategy of Augusta National Golf Club (which, despite its artificiality, has very little rough and great rolling fairways. Sand, trees, rough, and especially water can result in more permanent fates that will add to the golfer’s frustration with the game (not that that shouldn’t be a factor in design as long as it is done in moderation).

In addition to minimizing harsh penalty, contouring of the ground ( natural or otherwise) can separate the goals of different golfer levels by focusing on specific areas to gain an advantage, yet allowing those of lesser skill to negotiate the hole at their own speed. One tool I like to incorporate in manipulating the ground is what I call ‘jumping the slope’. This strategy is one which the golfer will certainly gain an advantage if negotiated. The penalty may be harsh, but at least it came at the expense of the golfer’s own willingness to risk danger.

Many sand bunkers (and other hazards) are placed by golf architects either for penalty or visual stimulation, the result being more penalty for miss-hits than not. In following my own mantra of ‘a hazard is to challenge, not penalize’, the placement of such a hazard does not require too much repetition. Its placement is solely for the golfer to gain that strategic advantage: Either a shorter next shot, better angle to the target, or better view to the next target. But just carrying a hazard in cutting a corner or negotiating angles is only one way to create a positive strategy.

Taking it a step further, ‘jumping the slope’ allows golfers to gain even a second advantage by gaining more kick and roll with a well-placed shot negotiating a hazard. The slope I defer to is simply the carry over a hill, plateau, or mound (often with a sand bunker placed into its face) that will propel the golf ball even further than just cutting a corner will provide. An aggressive shot over the hazard will hit the backside of the land form and provide the golfer with a substantial advantage over one who decides to play away from the hazard.

‘Jumping the slope’, though, becomes a masterful strategy when sand is not involved. In addition to eliminating a high-maintenance item (sand), the golfer can truly appreciate the landscape from both a visual and strategic viewpoint.

The beauty of this strategy utilized without sand does not require the lesser golfer to suffer unfavorable consequences while playing alongside a more talented golfer (unless they are playing head to head). In fact, the higher handicap golfer (or beginner) can play the same hole oblivious to the possible advantages, but also free from eh mental anguish too many apparent hazards can provide to the novice.

‘Jumping the slope’ is my modern twist on what the forefathers of my profession always utilized, finding interest and excitement in the land itself. It also is a strategy that does not cost an arm and leg to construct or maintain. With those considerations, golf can become more of an attraction to a greater number of players and improve the health of this wonderful sport. So next time you are faced with a golf hole that lacks the eye candy of sand and water, seek out the advantages of what the ground itself dictates to you. Jump the slope and gain an advantage.

About Richard: Richard Mandell is a Golf Course Architect in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Educated as a Landscape Architect at the University of Georgia (he is licensed in both North and South Carolina), Richard has close to two decades’ experience in designing new golf courses and renovating existing ones. Richard may also be the only golf architect in the world who is a certified arborist also. He co-hosts a weekly radio talk show in Pinehurst concerning golf and continues to teach a class on Golf Architecture at North Carolina State University which he started in 1997. Mr. Mandell also wrote the award-winning book, Pinehurst ~ Home of American Golf - The Evolution of a Legend (International Network of Golf Book of the Year – 2007).

Richard has been a member of The Washington Times Communities since August 20, 2009

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