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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What makes a golf course ‘tough?’

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I found this past weekend’s golf to be some of the most entertaining and thought-provoking of the season. While the men of the PGA Tour found a challenging and tough Muirfield Village, the women of the LPGA were getting a taste of a true championship-caliber layout at Olympic Club, the sight of many historic U.S. Opens.

In both cases, the best players in the world found themselves up against courses that fought back against their extraordinary skills and talents. Though neither course appeared to present fairways that were ridiculously narrow, nor greens that were ultra-fast and diabolical, scoring was nowhere near the norms we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on the professional tours.

So, that begs the question – what is it exactly that makes a course tough for these elite players? And is that any different from those things that make a course tough for the rest of us?

From my observation, the big difference for both the ladies and the men was the simple fact that Muirfield Village and Olympic shared the same traits – deep rough alongside each fairway, deep bunkers, and heavy rough around the greens. In other words — unlike most of the venues these pros face each week, those two tracks put up severe penalties for their not-so-good shots — and their awful ones.

Setting aside the unfortunate turn of events for John Rahm – who appeared to be playing a different game for the first three days – only 18 of the best male players in the game managed to finish under par at Muirfield Village. That course offered up measurable penalties for missed fairways and greens, as it was nearly impossible to earn a GIR from the rough, and those magical short games were compromised a lot – Colin Morikawa even whiffed a short chip shot because the gnarly lie forced him to try to get “cute” with his first attempt. If you didn’t see it, he laid a sand wedge wide open and slid it completely under the ball — it didn’t move at all!

On the ladies’ side, these elite players were also challenged at the highest level, with errant drives often totally preventing a shot that had a chance of holding the green — or even reaching it. And the greenside rough and deep bunkers of Olympic Club somewhat neutralized their highly refined greenside scoring skills.

So, the take-away from both tournaments is the same, the way I see it.

If a course is set up to more severely penalize the poor drives and approaches — of which there are many by these players — and to make their magical short game skills more human-like, you will see these elite players struggle more like the rest of us.

So, I suggest all of you think about your last few rounds and see what makes your course(s) play tough. Does it penalize your not-so-good drives by making a GIR almost impossible, or is it too challenging around the greens for your scoring skills? Maybe the greens are so fast and diabolical that you don’t get as much out of your putting as you think you should? Or something else entirely?

My bet is that a thoughtful reflection on your last few rounds will guide you to what you should be working on as you come into the peak of the 2021 golf season.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. ChipNRun

    Jun 12, 2021 at 2:55 pm

    I play on a Nicklaus signature course. It was built as one of the 1990s developments, so the layout offers maximum views of fairways for homeowners. Thus on 14 of 18 holes, you run the gauntlet with OB and/or Hazard both left and right of fairway.

    Oldtimers say that Team Nicklaus warned the developer that the course would be very difficult to play and to maintain, but the developer said “make it as hard a you can.”

    One problem is the four short “risk-reward” par 4 holes.. three are almost impossible to par – and are difficult to bogie – if you miss the fairway. I get way more birdies on the top five HDCP holes than these shorties.

    The past couple of seasons, lots of work has been done to correct the “20-year shakeout” that all courses need. Most of the splash bunkers have been replaced with flat-bottom bunkers – much easier to maintain, and seniors and not-tall women can get in out now without injuring themselves. (I’m not kidding – you could get hurt entering and exiting the original sand pits.

  2. Pete Kane

    Jun 11, 2021 at 2:45 pm

    You are dead right. I would like to see the premium on the short game

  3. Quince

    Jun 10, 2021 at 1:13 am

    Quite an elegant analysis and especially spot on advice! Thank you

  4. Bob E. Smith

    Jun 9, 2021 at 8:24 pm

    You hit the nail on the head!!

  5. Kenneth Watts

    Jun 9, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    A GREAT GOLF DESIGNER, BUT MOST OF ALL GREAT Golf Coarse Superintendent who understands the design from the archetic!! Been there, done it, seen it, lived it!

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Have a ‘Plan B’

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One of the things that I think is very interesting and fun about this game is that there are a number of ways to play every hole you encounter. And sometimes a hole offers “better” ways to play it than you might think. Let me explain with a couple of experiences from my own golf life.

ONE. In my thirties and forties, I played at a club outside of San Antonio – Fair Oaks Ranch. The 18th hole was a tough par 4 with a very small landing area and a gaping bunker at about 175 out. The skinny fairway left of that bunker wasn’t more than 15 yards wide, and there was a little mott of trees on the green side of the bunker that you would have to carry with your mid-iron bunker approach. Tough, to say the least.

That hole drove most of us nuts, and double bogeys were more common than birdies, for sure. Par was always a great score and bogey wasn’t “bad” at all.

So, one day it hit me that if I hit 4-wood off the tee, I would have an elevated fairway look at the green from about 200-210, giving me another soft 4-wood or 3-iron to the green, and the fairway was about 40 yards wide back there. Being a good long club player, I began to play the hole that way. Doubles disappeared entirely, pars became the norm and I even made the occasional birdie. Hmm.

TWO. At my recent club, the ninth hole just didn’t fit my eye or my game. I play a fade off the tee most of the time and turning over a draw was just not reliable for me at the time. That ninth is a dogleg left, with a bunker on the right side of the fairway that runs from about 160-125 from the green, right where the prime driving area is. What makes this hole so tough for me is that the prevailing wind is left to right, and trees just 60-100 yards off the tee keep me from starting the ball out left and letting it ride the breeze. This is another one where birdies are rare for me there, and bogies and doubles way too frequent. So, it dawned on me one day, finally, that I could hit 4-wood right at that bunker and not get to it, leaving me a 5- or 6-iron into the green, rather than the short iron the rare proper drive would leave me. So, that became my new strategy on that hole. I’m a good mid-iron player, so I’m fine with that, and that damn fairway bunker never caught me again.

THREE. My new club puts a premium on accurate wedge play. Most of the shorter holes have the smallest greens I’ve ever seen, so distance control with your wedge approaches is critical. And I find that reasonably full-swing wedges are easier to control distance than those awkward 60- to 80-yard partial swings. So, I’ve learned to put a premium on club selection off the tee on those holes to leave my approach shots in the 85-115 range, so that I can “dial in” my approach shotmaking.

My point in all this is that sometimes a hole gets under your skin or just doesn’t set up well for your game. When that happens, design yourself a Plan ‘B,’ and change the way you play it, at least for a while. Quite often you will find a solution to a problem and your scores and attitude will improve.

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Mizuno T-22 wedge and Cuater Moneymaker shoes review!

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Mizuno’s new T-22 wedges are forged from the same 1025 carbon steel with boron as the irons, giving them an extremely soft feel. Very versatile, the sole grinds allow for hitting any shot your heart desires.

The Cuater Moneymaker shoes might be some of the most comfortable I have worn in years. Tons of cushioning, exceptional traction all over the course, and they are even waterproof!

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: USGA drops the bomb on 46-inch drivers

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PGA Tour and LPGA Tour falling in line with this announcement by January 1, 2022. Only ten short weeks left for the long drivers.

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