“That’s why the key to golf course architecture is to give the player options, because he will keep trying to take them.”
“Just because a golfer hits the shot solidly in the direction he wants, doesn’t mean he’s made a good choice of where to play...If you flirt with a hazard and find it, you have to take what you get. A golf course is just too big a playing field for it to be any other way.”
“I am a big believer in penalizing the good player with a bad bounce, instead of rough, or a bunker. And they do not seem to understand that they could have taken the bad bounce out of play if they were really paying attention.”
- Tom Doak, Tom Doak’s Little Red Book of Golf Course Architecture
TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, is home of the Players Championship, also known as the “fifth major,” and is precision golf at its finest. Each hole presents a stern test, a test that separates those on their game from those in search of their game. It is a test of rigor, with a big number threatening every shot.
Amplify the test with Pete Dye’s ingenious mounding that creates constrained and contained golf with stadium viewing throughout, giving TPC Sawgrass the appropriate nickname, the “Stadium Course.”
Contrast the challenge of TPC Sawgrass with Trinity Forest, the Dallas-based Coore and Crenshaw track that will host the upcoming AT&T Byron Nelson.
Trinity Forest is a test of a different kind. It is a test of variety, strategy, and interest that is difficult to capture only through words, so let Geoff Ogilvy to take us on a Twitter video tour of the course (be sure not to miss #8 and #17): Watch videos >
Whereas TPC Sawgrass provides straightforward play and decision making, Trinity Forest provides a variety of routes to a hole, most of which force the player to ignore the direct line. The width of Trinity Forest punishes inaccuracy and misguided decisions through increasing difficulty of recovery instead of the framed holes at TPC Sawgrass which punish a poor or misplaced shot.
At Trinity Forest, shots are penal in recovery, often snowballing through a series of mistakes that the player does not recognize until it is too late. Its dangers are hidden so well that they only reveal themselves in a culminating penalty. When it happens, players try to excuse it as a “bad bounce,” “unfair break,” or “goofy shot” to navigate… words never spoken over at TPC Sawgrass. But, that’s the beauty of Trinity Forest. Players have to grasp the goofy golf. They have to embrace the goofy golf.
The potential of Trinity Forest is exciting, but there is also reason to be cautiously optimistic. The course is unlike many Tour staples and is unique in so many ways. It remains to be seen how the players will fair, how they will react, and how well the course will present itself and play.
Trinity Forest is truly an experiment of translating golden age course design principles—providing width, allowing a ground game, testing recovery abilities, emphasizing strategy—into a test for the best in the world. It is a valiant attempt to go beyond other designs we all know so well like at Riviera, Augusta, and Harbour Town.
As with all experiments, some things will work, some things will not, and lessons are to be learned. Certainly, some criticism is to be expected and much of it will be fair. But describing play as “goofy,”, “unfair”, or “silly” at Trinity Forest is missing the point of the design. Instead, ask “could it have been avoided if only the player had paid attention?”