Here’s an interesting question for your next 19th-hole debate: If you could eliminate one of these features from a golf course you play a lot, which one would it be? What would be your second choice? How about your third?
Mounds and hills?
(I’m not including water and out of bounds in the discussion because they obviously are much bigger penalties.)
What got me thinking about this is Erin Hills, the U.S. Open site next week. It’s built on a glacier, which means lots of crazy hills but not many trees.
Hills alone won’t bother the pros, but Erin Hills has plenty of other weapons: bunkers with extremely narrow fingers of sand, crazy-thick rough and diabolical greens.
It’s plenty long, too. They can stretch it out to more than 8,400 yards if they want to, but they’re going to keep it at “only” 7,693.
Let’s go through the rest of those features:
Trees: While I often have gotten chewed up by courses with a lot of trees, I still like them. But that’s just a personal preference, both on the course and off. I love trees no matter where they are. I have felt very sad every time a big tree near where I live has been chopped down. Shade is a good thing.
Mounds and hills: One look at Erin Hills told me that it probably would eat me up. It appears to be one of those courses where even putting the ball in the middle of the fairway could leave you with a difficult lie. I’m a big believer that there needs to be an advantageous landing zone on each hole, one that’s bigger than a postage stamp and doesn’t just involve luck as your ball rolls down the fairway.
Bunkers: I know I’m in the minority on this, but bunkers don’t bother me. Well, I take that back. Huge, deep fairway bunkers can be a problem, but just about every green you play has bunkers. Learn the proper technique of hitting a sand shot and you’ll see why the pros often consider that easier than a chip.
Heavy rough: This is counter-intuitive, but I would be fascinated to see what it’s like to play a course with a U.S. Open rough. While it might be a miserable experience, it would be fun just to see what the pros have to endure.
Big greens: They’re misleading. You should hit the green more often with your approach shots because they’re more forgiving, but it could mean a lot of three-putts unless you’re comfortable lagging from 60 feet.
Little greens: I’ve played a lot of courses with tiny targets, and there definitely have been more than a few times when I was frustrated by a relatively good shot that didn’t end up on the short grass. But I’d much rather have a 60-foot chip shot with lots of green to work with than a 60-foot putt. Just personal preference.
Fast greens: Yes, slow greens are much easier to putt, but I love fast greens. They’re fascinating. It’s like playing chess on every hole. They make you develop a touch.
Hilly greens: If all greens were flat, our great game would be pretty darn boring. Playing the break should be a test on just about every putt. That doesn’t mean I would enjoy navigating crazy hills on every green, but I think every course should have at least three or four memorable greens that have about a five-foot break in spots.
So which one would I eliminate?
I’d go with mounds and hills as No. 1. There’s nothing worse than having a terrible stance or severely downhill lie in the middle of the fairway because your ball just happened to roll there.
My second pick is large greens. I find it challenging to get a 60-footer within three feet of the hole, and for me there’s nothing more frustrating than a three-putt no matter how long my first putt was.
It’s a close call, but my No. 3 is hilly greens if the course has too many of them. Maybe I would have a different opinion, however, if I ever actually played a course with U.S. Open rough.
OK, your turn. Start the discussion, and “all of the above” is not a valid answer.