With the ability for golfers to purchase “deals” on golf courses, many avid golfers play on a different course every weekend and seem to love the adventure. Other golfers “collect” golf courses that are designed by a favorite golf course architect like Donald Ross or Pete Dye. One famous golf course designer who might also be a “collector’s item” is Pat Ruddy, the owner and designer of The European Club. This beautiful links course is in Ireland, which is home to many of the most superb of the world’s approximately 150 links courses. In fact, someone driving from Dublin in the South to Belfast in Northern Ireland, would be on a golf motorway along which are The European Club, Portmarnock, Royal County Down (Golf Digest Magazine’s World No. 1 course outside the U.S.) and the 2019 venue for The Open Championship – Royal Portrush.
Regardless of which golf course a person plays on, it’s always useful to get a peek into the mind of the course designer to understand their “modus operandi” for having set up the course in the way that they did, and what their intention for risk-versus-reward for each shot was. Many classic golf courses were often set up in an anti-clockwise direction, perhaps because the designers were right-handed. So, it was interesting to receive an email announcing the publication of an insightful new book by Ruddy, who has often been referred to as the world’s best links course designer. The book, by this writer-turned-golf course architect, is titled “Holes in my Head – a Lifetime Dreaming Golf Holes”.
Only upon occasion will a hole be set up for a “do-or-die performance”, for instance when hitting onto an island green. Typically, however, there are always choices and it is important for one to know what shot one can pull off precisely, and then stick to one’s game plan. As Ruddy says, a good architect makes “every effort to offer a test of brain and brawn and care is taken to add strategy into the plans”. It is therefore usually best to stick to the old phrase, “Piddle, Piddle, Up The Middle, Pitch and Putt.” In other words, if there is a water body in front of a green and a carry of 220 yards is required to clear the water, a player with a carry of 210 yards really should not be attempting the shot. Here Ruddy interjects, with his inimitable sense of humor, “Splash! Buy the last ten yards of a lake in front of a green on a busy golf course and you will become a golf ball millionaire!”
While exhorting golfers to plan a safe route and not live in a “fantasy world thinking that great shots will emerge from a humble practitioner”, Ruddy says he has often heard average golfers complain that many golf courses have holes which are impossible to reach in regulation. Regulation, he reminds us, is what a scratch golfer is supposed to achieve, not a 12 or 28 handicap golfer, even if they play from the more forward tees. The advice he has for non-scratch golfers is to add one or two strokes to regulation and play the course in that more sensible manner. He then goes on to quote Walker Cup player John Burke who once said, “There are no marks for stupidity. There was nothing to be gained if I had played a bad chip into the bunker. I view my head as my 15th club.”
One practical tip is that when laying up to avoid a water hazard or bunker, make sure to take a club with which it is impossible for you to reach it. Using your usual club and trying to make a soft shot or use a half swing might result in a perfect shot which goes into the hazard anyway. Another useful word of advice is to master the wedges and the 9-iron and learn to make solid contact with these clubs – the best way to practice those shots, says Ruddy, is on dry land while chipping over an expensive car!
So, dear golfer, the next time you plan to play on an unfamiliar course, find the course’s score card on the website and plot your way around it in advance, deciding on the best routes for each hole. The routes should be well within your capabilities so as to live up to the expectations of the typical golf architect who creates golf holes “to please, to tease and to squeeze players of all abilities”. After all, as Ruddy would tell you, “Golf is never a game of how, but of how many. It is wonderful to see a match being won with heroic golf but quite awful to see a game being thrown away through inadequate thinking or shot-making.”
And finally, if your fascination for “collecting” golf courses extends to playing on some of the world’s best links courses and takes you to the European Club, it is one about which the person who has set the course record of 67 there has said, “What wonderful optical illusions. I thought some of those par-4s were par-5s. A great links course”. That person being none other than Tiger Woods.
Kiran Kanwar is the developer of The Minimalist Golf Swing System -100% scientific, simple and specific. She has BS degrees in physics and math; MS degrees in sports science and nutrition; and is pursuing a PhD in biomechanics. She is a Class A Member: the LPGA, The NGA of India, The PGA of India. Visit her website: www.mgs.golf