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Barney Adams on changing the golf ball to reduce distance

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The subject has been bandied about for years—a shorter ball, two balls one for the tour and one for amateurs. I will unequivocally state that I’m 100 percent against either approach. 

The first reason is historical and maybe the weakest. Golf is one of the few games where amateurs can play the same equipment, same courses lacking only the skills of the professionals. It’s this relationship that has been a significant factor in driving participation of the financial backbone of amateur golf.

To cop an old phrase, “If it isn’t broke don’t fix it.” Further, if something is done that essentially makes courses play longer, it’s playing with fire. The game has lost thousands of its most loyal participants over the last 20 years and making courses longer and more difficult isn’t on page one of the manual to change that trend.

The second and much stronger reason is basic economics. There are companies that have invested tens if not hundreds of millions over the years to produce optimally performing golf balls within the posted rules. Their efforts are closely examined by the enforcers of the rules and not put to market without a passing grade. To say to them, “Well the game has changed; what you’ve done is no longer applicable. Here are the new rules.” Further, these rules have the effect of making ball-to-ball performance very similar so that market advantage you have so carefully cultivated will be greatly diminished. I cannot fathom this approach without foreseeing it as the basis of lawsuits for years to come. You could make the same argument if there were to be a similar approach on the club side.

The same would apply to players. I hire a trainer, spend hours working out, eating carefully, all with the same objective: to gain an advantage by being able to drive the ball well past my players. Now you want to change the ground rules and eliminate my advantage—let me introduce you to my attorney. 

So, what’s the next step? 8,500-9,000 yard tour courses—that is if they have room—strategically placed pot bunkers, essentially a one-stroke penalty, tricking up landing areas making luck too significant.

Or a subtle but very effective procedure. Back in my very early days, golf balls were balata, and I remember two things. If you looked at them funny, they responded with a smile, the kind that made them unputtable. Subsequent designs went from rocks to today’s ball—delightfully stable but still completely playable. Huge drives on Tour today are fades that straighten out hitting fairways with forward roll.

Never happened in the old days. Fades were soft, landed, and didn’t go very far. Slices were fades out of control, and while undesirable, they had a chance of being found and played. Hooks were anathema, the shot makers hit draws and got the advantage of extra roll. When draws became hooks more often than not they did not finish in a desirable area. “You can talk to fades and draws; hooks don’t listen.”

This was all relative to the high spin rate produced by the balata ball. And therein lies the path to my solution. I’m not advocating a return to balata. I’m saying today’s ball making expertise can produce a ball that loses nothing in distance but adds spin, which is a way of saying it emphasizes shotmaking. This may be as direct as changing the dimple pattern.

This change would strike directly to the heart of the long hitter who naturally produces the most spin. He (or she) could not simply depend on clubhead speed—it would have to be balanced by shotmaking skill. We aren’t changing the course, we aren’t producing a short-hitting ball, we are emphasizing shotmaking. No distance loss for amateurs, just more understanding that it’s about controlling your ball.

We retain the good things about the game without a lawsuit infested upheaval.  

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Barney Adams is the founder of Adams Golf and the inventor of the iconic "Tight Lies" fairway wood. He served as Chairman of the Board for Adams until 2012, when the company was purchased by TaylorMade-Adidas. Adams is one of golf's most distinguished entrepreneurs, receiving honors such as Manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young in 1999 and the 2010 Ernie Sabayrac Award for lifetime contribution to the golf industry by the PGA of America. His journey in the golf industry started as as a club fitter, however, and has the epoxy filled shirts as a testimony to his days as an assembler. Have an equipment question? Adams holds seven patents on club design and has conducted research on every club in the bag. He welcomes your equipment questions through email at [email protected] Adams is now retired from the golf equipment industry, but his passion for the game endures through his writing. He is the author of "The WOW Factor," a book published in 2008 that offers an insider's view of the golf industry and business advice to entrepreneurs, and he continues to contribute articles to outlets like GolfWRX that offer his solutions to grow the game of golf.

40 Comments

40 Comments

  1. Brysoon McFaldough

    Dec 17, 2020 at 7:18 pm

    I have the best and simplest solution: determine the winner of every tournament based on the player with the lowest number of strokes. That way, driving the ball far isn’t the only metric, it’s an advantage only balanced by irons, wedges, short game and putting. And a course can’t be “obsolete”, because whether the ball is driven 250 or 350, whether the approach is 5 iron or SW, everyone plays the same course and can use the same equipment, the difference being their ability and effort.

    Oh, right, that’s what it already is.

    • Maximillian

      Dec 17, 2020 at 7:23 pm

      Brysoon,

      you’re a doofus. Any player who can drive it past 300 should be penalized. Who cares is that’s natural ability or hard work? Shorter hitters have a disadvantage and course designers’ egos are being damaged beyond repair. Who will protect the egos of the private club members whose courses are no longer “too tough for the pros”?

      Any player who drives it past 300 should get a 2 stroke penalty (and a $10,000 fine paid to the course architect). Any player who can’t hit it 300 should get a free drop at the 150 marker.

      Also, grow the rough to 2′ and make any grooves on wedges illegal.

      Also, ban all players over 6’2″ and body fat less than 25%.

  2. Keith

    Dec 17, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    What about having a specially made golf ball for major tournament only similar to tennis.

  3. Keith

    Dec 17, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    You say “Golf is one of the few games where amateurs can play the same equipment”. I beg to differ here because pros clubs particularly drivers are made exactly to the pros specifications. These drivers yo don’t find in the pro shop or golf store.

    • Maximillian

      Dec 19, 2020 at 1:54 am

      Amateurs CAN play the same equipment; there are plenty of clubfitters who can build you a club to tour specs. You can have a putter made to your exact specs from scratch.

      Being too cheap to do it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

  4. George

    Dec 17, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    The PGA is trying to ruin golf. People want to see the low scores and want to use the same equipment to see how they compare. Who cares if they shoot 40 under? Seriously? Old dudes gonna ruin the game. Rhinos.

  5. Ken Moum

    Dec 17, 2020 at 10:59 am

    Barney, as the USGA proved in 1930 when they increased the size of the ball to its current 1.68″ and dropped the weight to 1.55 oz.

    The resulting product was called the “balloon ball” and the weight was quickly put back at 1.62 oz. But those were wound balata balls.

    With today’s balls a lighter standard would do everything you’re asking for. As clubhead speeds went up, the ball would curve more.

    But the REAL benefit is that it would make it easier for Jr. golfers, women and seniors to get the ball airborne and keep it airborne. It might even increase their distance.

  6. greg

    Dec 16, 2020 at 10:53 pm

    Kyle

    You nailed it. This is only an issue in tournament golf. All others need not apply.
    For select tournaments, no drivers allowed, a two wood or other fairway wood as a tee shot option.
    Please leave the ball alone.

  7. matt

    Dec 16, 2020 at 1:14 pm

    Is Barney doing ok? Just wondering if someone in his inner circle needs to have an intervention. Did he just argue (and I’m honestly asking, this is incomprehensible drivel) that we cannot change the ball, but we need to change the ball.

    • Bsrney Adams

      Dec 16, 2020 at 2:32 pm

      I now hold the record for most interventions that haven’t worked My regular golf buds dropped me. Playing as a single, early evening tee time.

  8. don

    Dec 16, 2020 at 11:17 am

    oldandgrey I would leave everything alone. when Bryson starts to win every week then maybe do something. Been playing on and off since 1961. The problem is with the average golfer trying to be something that will never happen. everything is distance. Now that my drives are mostly all under 200 yds I started to use forward tees. now golf is fun again. every oldtimer I know inflates his game must be a mental defect with the truth. every time I play younger or older I’m almost eighty, in the club they all drive it 230 to 250 or so but on the course they hit it under 200 or off to the right or off to the left. One of the biggest problems is men trying to be what will never happen. Just go out use the forward tees and have fun..

  9. Kyle EricSon

    Dec 16, 2020 at 2:25 am

    So my solution is slightly different … limit the number of clubs to only 12. I don’t think most pro’s would want to eliminate any of their short irons or wedges, so maybe they’d eliminate a couple of the longer clubs (driver, utility iron, 2 iron, etc.) and then tee off with 2 or 3 woods. Of course these guys still bomb 3 woods but it would reign in the distances somewhat. Just my two cents …

  10. happyday_j

    Dec 15, 2020 at 7:55 pm

    If the only move is by increasing spin on the golf ball, that will only make the game easier.

    Guys will just play a lower spinning driver head to get the same launch characteristics that they have now. So distance of the tee being reduced by spin get negligible.

    However now your increasing spin on all other shot, which therefore means more control, sort of like when then tried to reduce spin by changing the grooves…

    • 2over

      Dec 15, 2020 at 10:53 pm

      Brilliant. Having grown up playing balata balls I’ve long maintained this is the way. in the 80’s, early 90’s a really good player could take the spin off the long clubs and hit draws for distance. Guys who merely had clubhead speed saw a lot of up shooting spinners that went nowhere especially into the wind.

      You could make a ball that would still go far for the player who can hit up on the driver with a square face and minimize spin…

    • Johnny5

      Feb 26, 2021 at 1:34 pm

      Wrong. Having a driver that spins less means you are playing either lower lofts or a driver with forward CG. Either of those options decrease backspin, but INCREASE sidespin. Add in a ball with more spin to that and it will be very difficult to hit the ball straight. Old clubs could work around this with the higher gear effect but today’s clubs have much less gear effect to work with.

  11. Tim

    Dec 15, 2020 at 6:30 pm

    Easiest way to control distance is to limit the tee height when teeing up the ball. This is equivalent to MLB lowering the mound height to get more action from the hitters. I’ve seen some videos address tee height and there can be 15 yd difference between teeing the ball low vs high. It’s a cheap answer that doesn’t cause mass rollbacks of the club or ball.

  12. Lg

    Dec 15, 2020 at 5:29 pm

    Just ignore the ball. Go back to the rule we had in the early 2000’s where am’s were playing Hi-Cor drivers and pro’s weren’t. In other words reduce the CT for the pro’s drivers, 3 woods and driving irons. They’ll still look cosmetically the same as those played by recreational golfers, but just with thicker clubfaces. There’s 20 yards straight away. Then go to a 44″ shaft limit, again it won’t affect sales because a company can still say that this pro plays this or that etc etc.
    Then for gods sake can we slow the fairways down, just do what the do at Augusta, slightly thicker fairways grown back towards the tee…and no this won’t favour the player who carries it further because all the evidence suggest that the like of Rory, Bryson get more roll after the ball has landed. Put these together and you have 20-30 yards and the game is relevant again!

  13. ben

    Dec 15, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    I think you miss the point when adressing the problem this way. If you play shorter, the game becomes even harder for the short hitters… The only way to made it fair is either to limit swing speed with radars (and give a penalty each time the radar bips) or put more obstacles and penalty areas betwin 320 and 370 yards…

  14. Peter Steward

    Dec 15, 2020 at 3:59 pm

    Never understood why that problem is so difficult to solve. Just don’t cut the fairway in the driver landing zone from 300 – 330 yards two weeks in advance of a PGA tournament. Every player will avoid hitting driver on those wholes. Problem solved. Cut the grass monday morning after the tournament and members and guests can play on as usual. Shorter balls are not the way to go. Ever hit balls on a range that had these 20% or 30% length reduced balls because the range is too short in size? Been on a range in Dublin that had 50% reduced length balls. Total crap, everybody hates that. For a reason, it is just no fun.

  15. USGA would-be

    Dec 15, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    This is stupid. Just mandate a condition of competition that you must play with a 60-compression ball. This goes away immediately.

    • matt

      Dec 16, 2020 at 1:19 pm

      yup… long hitter would still be long – although the gap would narrow… we could play faster, find stray shots quicker, reduce course size, reduce maintenance costs. If you’re the longest hitter in your group you’ll retain your status – people would adjust in about 2 weeks. Don’t get why people shudder at the idea. Really short hitters wouldn’t even lose distance, a lower compression ball is what they need anyhow.

  16. Kevin Ricciardelli

    Dec 15, 2020 at 12:45 pm

    Another way to reduce distance among the fastest swingers is to limit the size of the clubheads. I don’t think that Bryson would want to swing that hard with a 275 or 300 cc driver head. Far less MOI means less control.

  17. Jon

    Dec 15, 2020 at 12:32 pm

    Make the cup smaller for the pros.

  18. gordy3279

    Dec 15, 2020 at 12:18 pm

    here’s a pretty simple fix. Keep the ball the same but require pros to play smaller heads and steel shafts in all their clubs. Like baseball between college and the pros. College baseball players play aluminum bats and pros play wooded. The ball is the same. I guarantee if the pros played smaller heads with steel shafts swing speeds would go down. No way you get 130+ swing speed with a 275cc head and a steel shaft.

  19. Statmagic

    Dec 15, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    Which golf ball manufacturer is going to the be the first to say “our ball doesn’t go as far”?

    What exactly is the total available market for those who purchase that ball? I’m going to venture a guess and say there is no market for that ball.

  20. Ben

    Dec 15, 2020 at 11:57 am

    Making the ball balata again won’t do much. About 15 years ago, my friend found some Tour Balata 90s in his dad’s garage so we took them out. This was peak Pro V1 years, which hasn’t changed if you’ve seen videos online. The ball did spin more but the distance wasn’t all that different. With the driver maybe 10 yards, irons were about 5. But the short game was so much easier because you can spin the heck out of it. I don’t see how rolling back the ball or putting limits on the dimples will do anything. A dimpleless golf ball flies really straight. So now you’re giving the big hitters even more advantage by limiting the dimple pattern. Just let golf be golf. People are playing like crazy, even in a pandemic and people are watching it on tv too. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  21. Statmagic

    Dec 15, 2020 at 11:54 am

    Barney poking that snake with a stick.

    I guess everyone is just bored these days and need to rehash the same old stuff.

  22. Scott Shields

    Dec 15, 2020 at 11:47 am

    The solution is easy:

    Grow out the rough ….

    Soften fairways …

    Harden greens ….

    Make bunkers actually hard to hit from by either not racking them or making them waste bunkers….

    You won’t need to change the length of any course when missing fairways actually becomes punitive.

    As far as the ball goes, what’s done is done, just restrict further increases to what’s already out there, you certainly can’t take away from what exists.

  23. TonyK

    Dec 15, 2020 at 11:35 am

    Dimple (aero) regulation is the easiest.

    It is possible to not affect pretty much any club but the driver only with higher swing speed 110+.

  24. WRXFan

    Dec 15, 2020 at 11:32 am

    Please stop giving this guy credibility. he had one good golf invention 25 years ago, and that was it.

    • gwelfgulfer

      Dec 15, 2020 at 3:28 pm

      This… The hypocrisy is awesome when a former owner of an equipment company that tried to push boundaries and create equipment that would make the ball go further, crying about the ball going further… Barney failed and was taken over/bought out, yet here wrx still gives him a voice…

  25. Karl Furno

    Dec 15, 2020 at 11:17 am

    Great article! The charm of the game is that we play the same rules that the pros play. Period. Duh, we know pros have tour heads and custom shafts but that’s not what separates them from us. DJ and Rory don’t hit it 50yds pst us because of a tour model, it’s because of talent, mechanics, and conditioning.

  26. Paulo

    Dec 15, 2020 at 10:34 am

    There is no distance problem in golf. People pushing limits is what sport is all about.

  27. Henny Bogan

    Dec 15, 2020 at 10:32 am

    1. The average player does not play the same equipment that tour players do and does not play on the same courses under the same conditions as tour players do. If they did, the number of people who would leave the game would be astronomical, it would simply be too hard for too many. The game self-bifurcated years ago, even if we don’t want to admit it. There is not harm or shame in publicly acknowledging that.

    2. Your argument that changing the rules put on golf ball manufactures would cost them too much money and lead to lawsuits, but then you proposed a ball that spins more? How would you enforce a higher spinning ball unless you changed the rules put on golf ball manufactures? The golf ball is the most logical place to impact the game because golf balls are a disposable commodity. Players go through them at high rates and changing the golf ball formula would not impact the players spending habit. They’re going to buy new balls in the near future anyway. This is the cheapest avenue to invoke change and will impact the OEM the least.

    3. There is nothing stopping golf ball manufactures from making golf balls that do not meet the specs of the USGA or R&A. They choose to build to those specs because that is what golfers want. This is exactly what the courts would say to them if they try to sue the USGA. Illegal balls and clubs are sold today, nothing is there to stop them from being sold and used on a golf course.

  28. Matt

    Dec 15, 2020 at 10:03 am

    If you add spin to the ball, especially off the driver, you are naturally going to reduce distance given how optimized drivers and driver swings are today. This is impossible

  29. John Ward

    Dec 15, 2020 at 10:02 am

    Haha so your reasons are history and economics……….you sir, are the problem.
    Money and tradition over the betterment of the game and its participants. This sounds awfully familiar! Where’s your blonde wig?

    Also I noticed you are “100 percent against” a shorter ball, yet your grand solution was to create a spinnier ball aka a shorter ball. What do you think spin does?

    You want to preserve the “tens if not hundreds of millions” of R&D dollars put forth by ball companies, yet you want to change the construction of the ball? Isn’t that a paradox?

    You’re yelling at the clouds man. Your kids are sitting there saying “Ok dad, sounds good dad” and waiting for you to pick up the bill

  30. A. Commoner

    Dec 15, 2020 at 9:30 am

    Right on, Barney! I truly miss the way golf used to be.

  31. Travis

    Dec 15, 2020 at 9:02 am

    Does it matter at this point? Either do it, or don’t do it, but stop just talking about it. This stupid discussion has been going on for years with zero resolution one way or another. Take action and be done with it.

    • A. Commoner

      Dec 15, 2020 at 9:43 am

      Whom are you addressing?

    • Statmagic

      Dec 15, 2020 at 11:57 am

      Exactly right. Does years of discussing the same thing actually do anything?

      Money is the only thing that would prompt change. What golf ball manufacturer is going to the be the first to say “our ball doesn’t go as far”?

      Answer: none of them will.

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Opinion & Analysis

Club fitting isn’t magic

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I talk with golfers all the time about the benefits of having properly fit clubs and how they can help improve your game. But recently I have encountered some players who have actually come away from a club fitting disappointed in the final results, and it had me asking some questions, the most important being

“What were your expectations going in?”

As much as club fitting has made its way into the mainstream, the biggest misconception is that once you get a set of clubs that have been custom fit, you’ll suddenly start hitting more greens and hitting it 30 yards farther—when in reality that’s just not the case.

It’s not that those things can’t occur, but there is still a direct correlation between swing dynamics and skill level with what is possible in a club fitting because, after all, it’s physics, not magic.

Every time I drop change, I think of Gob and I giggle - GIF on Imgur

It’s all about creating the potential for better

In the modern “Amazon” world, we all want things NOW! With club fitting, there is still a lot of opportunities to quickly see improvements that come from reduced dispersion and more consistent results. For a driver that means limiting a miss to one direction, while hopefully increasing distance through optimization.

Now speaking of optimization the chart below, which was developed by Ping, it’s a scientific breakdown of launch, spin, and distance optimization based on ball speed. This means that at 150 mph, the farthest you are going to hit the ball under standard conditions is around 270 yards total. To put that into perspective, to reach 150 mph ball speed you need to be just over 100 mph in clubhead speed.

Why you shouldn't chase high launch, low spin in 2020 | Today's Golfer

If you are going into a driver fitting, and you are already seeing results within these ranges, don’t expect to magically pick up 25 yards out of thin air. Instead, you should have much more focused goals like the examples below

  • Seeing much tighter downrange dispersion. On the course, this will result in hitting more fairways, which should lead to hitting more greens, ultimately resulting in better scoring.
  • Reducing a big miss. A big advantage with newer drivers isn’t that they are way longer off the middle of the face—that’s just not true. It’s that away from the “sweet spot,” you will see a tighter variance in the launch and spin because of ever-improving MOI and driver adjustability. If you have one or two big driver misses in a round of golf that leads to a double bogey or worse and you can bring that number down to just one or even zero, you will see shots add up a lot slower on your scorecard.

At the end of the day, golf clubs are inanimate objects, just like a bike or even a car. Just because you have invested in making sure you have the best of the best equipment doesn’t mean that you don’t need to work on your game to see improvement.

New shoes won’t make you faster, but they can prevent injury and allow for more training—the end result you become a faster runner. Much the same way you can buy the most expensive and best-fit road bike in the world, but it’s not going to mean you are ready for the Tour de France.

Properly fit golf clubs give you the best opportunity to make better swings and the potential to be a better player—but it’s still up to you to utilize that potential.

This topic and a deeper discussion can be found in the most recent episode of the GolfWRX “On Spec” podcast with the conversation starting at 34:45

 

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Ball position do’s and don’ts for every club, including the putter

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From rolling the ball with the putter to catching the ball in the way up of the plus 10 degrees of angle of attack with the driver and everything in between including ball positions for fades and draws, high and low—there’s something here for everyone.

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Opinion & Analysis

Gil Hanse talks new Les Bordes project, what makes a good golf course, and much more

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professional photo

Gil Hanse is regarded as one of the finest “minimalist” golf course architects of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He’s been entrusted with restoring of the most revered and respected course designs in the game, including Oakland Hills (Donald Ross), Baltusrol (A.W. Tillinghast), and Fishers Island (Seth Raynor). And his original designs have drawn wonderful reviews, including for Streamsong Black, Rio Olympic Course in Brazil, and an 18-hole layout for the Crail Golfing Society in Fife, Scotland.

Hanse and his longtime partner and course shaper, Jim Wagner, enjoy the luxury of picking and choosing which projects they undertake, such is the demand for his services. One of them selected is the New Course at Les Bordes Golf Club in France’s Loire Valley, 90 minutes from Paris. It is scheduled to open in July 2021, and it will join the existing New Course (Robert von Hagge design). Together with the Wild Piglet, a 10-hole short course, and the Himalayas putting course, both which Hanse designed, Les Bordes is regarded at one Continental Europe’s finest golf clubs.

golf course aerial view

The Gil Hanse-designed New Course at Les Bordes Golf Club is surrounded by the Sologne Forest in France’s famed Loire Valley.

Dan Shepherd: Where do you see Les Bordes sitting on the golf world stage as a facility?

Gil Hanse: I think that, with the two 18-hole golf courses and the amenities that are already in place and the ones that are coming, I can’t see how Les Bordes won’t be considered one of the finest golfing destinations in Europe or in the world. You have all the cultural attractions around you, you’ve got the food and the wine, the quality of the amenities. It will be an idyllic place to spend time even if you weren’t playing golf, and then to have these two golf courses so different and varied in their challenges and their presentation really runs the full gamut. I don’t know where else in the world you could find that sort of variety.

DS: Can you pick out a couple of holes on the New Course that you especially like and tell us a bit about them?

GH: The 15th hole, a short-par four, would be one of them. There’s a lot of character and interest, when we were working on it we talked through the philosophy and then Jim Wagner shaped and executed it wonderfully and added some tremendous character to it. On the front nine, I’ve always liked the sixth hole, just the way it flows through the landscape and the different breaks. Trying to be reminiscent a little bit of Tom Simpson with segmented fairways and the way the green lays so simply on the ground.

DS: What makes the landscape at Les Bordes so special? And what makes this golf estate unique.

GH: The diversity of the plant materials is really something we have never encountered, with the broom and the bracken and the variety of trees throughout the property and the fescue grasses. Now they’ve also introduced heather so I think that there are all these great textures there that the golf course just seems to sit amongst. That’s what makes it unique, I can’t think of another golf landscape that looks and feels like the New Course at Les Bordes. There are so many different facets to heathland courses, which you can see in the courses just north of Paris like Morfontaine and Chantilly and the course much closer to where we live in Pine Valley, and I think there are all these different elements here that will create a unique experience at Les Bordes.

DS: How is it possible to build two completely different golf courses on the same estate?

GH: I think it was two different philosophies as to how Robert von Hagge did the Old Course and we approached the New Course. From that perspective, a significant amount of time passed between the creation of both golf courses, and I think that lent itself to, stylistically, different courses that appear differently, because one feels more manufactured and one feels more natural. Neither one is right or wrong, they are just different and one golf course extracts a very harsh penalty for poorly played shots and the other is a little bit more forgiving. I think that is what’s going to make Les Bordes one of the most wonderful golf destinations in the world, you have two distinctly different golf courses from two different eras but the quality of both of them is equivalent in how they were created and how they are presented.

golf course sand bunkers

The Old Course at Les Bordes was designed by Robert von Hagge, and it offers a diverse yet complementary counterpoint to the New Course that will debut in July 2021.

DS: When and how was this project initiated?

GH: The first time I went there was in June 2018. The owner and I had some mutual friends and the conversation came up that the owners were hoping to build a new golf course. The owner had said that he was really hoping to work with us on it, and that fact that we had mutual friends made that conversation easy to get initiated. Once I came to look at the property I was immediately sold on the potential of the ground, and then the hospitality that I was shown while I was there was amazing. Being able to stay on property and the wine and the food; I was treated very well.

DS: What course would you compare the New Course at Les Bordes with?

GH: I can’t think of a direct comparison. There are elements of a number of golf courses including a lot of the great heathland courses around London and several heathland courses around Paris. I think that Jim Wagner and I are always influenced by Pine Valley, which is very near to us here at home, and I think that some of the scale of National Golf Links is apparent out there. If you roll all of those into one, I think that’s a pretty good recipe.

DS: What was it that attracted you about the site at Les Bordes?

GH: The sand and the vegetation, and the reputation of the place. Obviously, we’ve heard of Les Bordes here, so the quality of the site itself and the commitment of the ownership as well, which is a big thing. When we’re considering the criteria of a project, Jim Wagner and I always ask ourselves “Do we have the potential to do something exceptional,” and I think that, while the topography at Les Bordes is not the most outstanding we’ve ever worked with, it still has enough character to it, and the vegetation and the soil gave us the opportunity to do something exceptional. Secondly, we ask ourselves “are we going to have fun doing it” and working with the ownership at Les Bordes, and if you can’t have fun in that part of the world and enjoy yourself then I think there’s something wrong with you. So I think the combination of all those really added up to that being a very attractive project for us. We’ve never built anything in Continental Europe and we wanted to make sure that our first project there was going to be something special, and Les Bordes gave us that opportunity.

DS: What can we expect from the New Course?

GH: You can expect fun golf in a natural, perfect setting. We were given the opportunity from the ownership to build some interesting golf holes; stylistically, it was fun for all of us to focus on Tom Simpson and some of his beautiful creations and some of his inspired designs, not that we copied him stylistically or design-wise but we were certainly influenced by him and that was a treat for us.

DS: It’s been reported you took inspiration from Tom Simpson, what elements of his work were most relevant here and how have you blended those with your own concepts?

GH: The scale of his bunkering was something that we really paid attention to, with clusters or rows of bunkers and that was interesting. From our perspective, it was just the way that they blended into the landscape that was amazing. Some of the green complexes that he built were fairly eccentric and so we felt that we could create a few on the golf course like that, but then he also built some greens that were simple in their presentation yet complex in their subtlety, and a lot of those things fed into what we did at Les Bordes. I know going forward, if the landscape is a good fit, we would certainly do more things in the style of Tom Simpson.

DS: How challenging was it for you to create a new course near the one (the Old Course) that’s considered one of the best in Continental Europe?

GH: I don’t think that we found it to be a challenge or challenging, we found it to be inspirational. It’s always nice when you come to a project and the level of quality is established through the existing golf course and the existing facilities, all of which are to a really high standard. We were excited and challenged in our creativity and what we were trying to do and hopeful that, when all is settled, Les Bordes has two golf courses that are very highly regarded, but I would be lying if I didn’t hope that ours was a little more highly regarded.

DS: Do you feel you succeeded in your goal and why?

GH: I do. I think that every golf architect when they are given a site hopes that the best that they can do is to maximize the characteristics of the site, and I feel that we have done that with the New Course. I feel that we have provided a great variety in the two different nines; we have captured the best of the topography on site; we have worked to enhance some of those areas through added elevation; and we have worked to create a very interesting and playable test of golf. I’m confident that, with all the work that we’ve done there, we have maximized the potential of the property and, as a golf architect when you walk away, that’s all that you can hope for.

DS: Tell me about the Wild Piglet.

GH: One of the things that golf is doing a better job on right now, and Les Bordes is certainly offering that with The Himalayas putting green and The Wild Piglet, is just fun. Fun and access, and providing an easy entry point to the game. You can go out and laugh at yourself, have a good time and not worry about losing golf balls or have the pressures of playing a full-size golf course. Our attempt there was to create a very fun and playable experience, but also one where a good player could go out there and be tested with shots. In order to succeed on The Wild Piglet, you’ve got to hit some really good shots, but you’ve also got the opportunity to just go out there and bang it around and have fun. One of the things that Jim Wagner and I worked with the team on was, basically, giving everybody their own golf hole or holes, and just letting everybody have a crack at it. It was fun and I think that if you go into your own little incubator, independent of everybody around you, it gives you the opportunity to be as creative as you want. Then, ultimately, Jim and I would take a look but I don’zt think that we’ve edited things very much. You have some individual expressions out there that, when put together, comprises 10 really fun, unique golf holes.

DS: What are the characteristics of a golf course that make you want to play it again and again? What makes it recognizable?

GH: I think that it’s fun and that there are interesting shots. It’s the ability to go out one time and then think, “OK, next time I play it I’m going to try this differently” or that you get put into a different circumstance each and every round, but that the design and the creativity within the design allows you to approach the problem solving differently each time. I think there’s that sense of the playability of the course and then there’s just the beauty of it and the presentation. I think that golf courses that have a sense of place and that feel like they belong where they’re sitting is also something that makes me want to continue to play it. I think that adds to the character and the quality of it so the way it looks, the way it feels as you walk through the landscape, and then, certainly, the way it plays and challenges you to be creative are courses that I want to keep playing over and over.

DS: How would you describe your style as a course architect? What are the general trends? And which architect has inspired you the most?

GH: We don’t have a style! I hope that we respond to each and every site, and that a golf course we have built at Les Bordes does not look like a golf course that we have built in southern Georgia at Ohoopee or Southern California at Rustic Canyon. I hope that every course we’ve built has a sense of place and a sense of belonging which will then, ultimately, provide unique opportunities. Through our methodology of being on-site so much, if we can capitalize on these opportunities, then each golf course should feel unique. I think our courses have some similarities in that we like wider playing corridors and interesting green complexes, and I think our bunkers are particularly attractive, but they do still blend into the native landscape and hopefully our courses change style to style depending on the site that we’re given.

DS: What does a course architect have as a weapon, apart from the overall length, to make a golf course really challenging for professionals?

GH: The greatest defense is firm conditions, and the opportunity to build a golf course in a place where the ball will bounce in the fairway and the greens. Professional golfers work so hard at their game and hone their craft so well so that they have a predictable outcome every time they hit a golf ball. They know when they hit their seven-iron what the outcome will be, but if the conditions are firm and they’re not sure if the ball’s going to bounce twice and check or not going to check at all, that’s the best defense, and that relies on the conditions on-site and obviously Mother Nature for a tournament. But I think from an architect’s perspective, the only other challenges we can provide are mental ones where golfers maybe feel a little bit uneasy about the shot that’s in front of them because they can’t quite see everything or they can’t quite determine the best way to play the hole is. Those are the type of courses that require study, and I think those are the best examples of golf architecture.

DS: What are the qualities of a good golf course?

GH: I think that a good golf course should have a sense of place, a sense of belonging, it doesn’t feel that it’s been transported from somewhere else and feels like it belongs on a property, and that it is one that has a variety of ways to play it, interest in the features that have been created or that have been found in the landscape, and it has to be fun. It’s a balance between fun and interest versus difficulty, and we want to provide ways for golfers to navigate around a golf course based on their own skill level and if a golf course gives you that opportunity to map or think your way through it, then I think that’s the best an architect can do.

DS: How much did/do you know about golf courses in France and what do you make of the architecture you have seen?

GH: I think of the countries where I have seen golf in continental Europe, France has by far the best, most superior golf-course design. You can put Morfontaine and Chantilly and some of the other courses around Paris up against some of the best courses in the world, not just in Europe, and so I think that when you have a few anchor courses that provide those opportunities, and then you have some newer courses that have been built that aspire to do really good things, and I think they do, I feel like France has a really good golfing baseline. That allowed us to build in a country that already had expectations for quality golf, and we’re hopeful that what we’ve created adds to that.

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