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The Challengers David McLay Kidd

  • As golf course architects, we learn early on to trick the golfer, and to put fear into a golfer. My name is David McLay Kidd, and I am a golf course designer. Today, we are at one of my, maybe my favorite spots on Earth, Bandon Dunes. When I built this, I didn't ask a question, "Is harder better? Is there a need to have resistance to scoring? What are the shot values?" I built a golf course that fell across nature and was an adventure, and allowed people to have fun. I think that the question of challenge, difficulty, playability, are the greatest questions for our game. When I came here as a twenty-something, I was completely steeped in golf from the United Kingdom, especially from Scotland, where I'm from. And there, golf is as much about the weather as it is about the terrain you play across. And the weather offers a fair amount of the difficulty, the challenge that's involved. In the U.S., I started to be indoctrinated into this ethos of resistance to scoring and shot values and this whole "harder is better" ethos, and then Tiger Woods turned up, and everyone said, you know, "Golf's too easy."

    I and many other golf course designers sort of bought into that. For quite a while, golf courses got really, really hard for the average player. It's very easy for a golf course designer to think that they're working for the person that writes the cheque. It's very easy to forget that in the end, they're working for a golfer. Golf course architects learn early in their profession that there are these tricks they can play to deceive the golfer, to make him misjudge distance, misjudge angles, to put fear in their hearts by showing them disaster at every turn. And golf course architects see it as a badge of honor to create those things, and I did, too. I've gone back and reevaluated that. At Mammoth, I went the opposite way. I wanted to sort of reset my architectural ethos. I started to wonder, when you play a golf course that you know and love, there are certain holes on that golf course that you enjoy more than others. There are certain holes that you can be more aggressive on than others.

    The simple analogy I used was green light/red light. When I play my home club, I know that there are 6, at most, holes on the golf course that I would consider green-light holes. I feel confident, I can go for it, I can make birdie reasonably easily—those are the fun holes. I wonder to myself, "What would happen if I try to build 18 holes which were green-light holes?" If I tried to build your confidence and get you to play aggressively, it doesn't mean I'm going to make them easy—it just means I'm not going to make them overly hard. Making birdie is still going to be a challenge, but I don't want you to wreck your card, I don't want you to lose the ball. I go back and reimagine the courses that I've done in my career on a pretty regular basis. This plan I'm looking at now is an up-to-date aerial photograph of Bandon Dunes. Here on the 14th hole, this is a relatively short par 4. I want to take this bunker out completely, it really doesn't serve much purpose.

    Look at that. What's interesting is my peer group, some of them have pushed back on that, trying to find negatives in it. "It takes too much grass to do it, there's not enough challenge in it." And yet, if I stand on the 18th green of the courses I have created that follow that mold, I don't hear any golfers saying "It was too easy, I had too much fun." What is entertaining about golf—it's scoring. It's about continually hitting the ball. It's about having some degree of success. And so if I can build a golf course that allows scoring and allows recovery, that makes for a lot more fun. I will never be an apologist for being an entertainer on a golf course. It's not that hard today in the social media-connected world we live in to build a golf course and have it lauded for a year or two, or maybe even three, but it's hard to do it for 5, or 10, or 20. Maybe that's where the old dead guys win over the young live guys like me, is the courses that are truly great have to stand the test of time.

    20 years ago this place opened, and in 2020, it'll host the U.S. Amateur, probably the most elite amateur event in the world. That makes me feel like I had a successful career. That doesn't look bad does it? It's a pretty good view.

Is a harder course a better course?

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