Course Thoughts - Forcing a Choice

As more and more courses are designed, adjusted, and installed, there are so many factors at play for how well-received a layout might be. You need to ask yourself who your target audience is for what you are designing. In this post, we are going to take a look at one of my favorite design concepts, forcing players to make choices.

Difficulty and creativity can be manifested in several different ways on a course. You can incorporate unique terrain, add extra distance, adjust OB lines, or even include a raised basket. These things do a lot for a course and can dramatically change how the course is played by each player. One of the most subtle ways a course design can do this is to include deliberate choices for the players.

At the most basic level, this is something like having two different gaps in the fairway with one being wider and easier to navigate and the other being a bit more difficult to hit. The larger fairway will get you pin-high, but you’ll be lucky to get to anything better than circle 2 from that shot. The narrower gap allows you to access the pin directly, but the treachery is in the rough should you fail to hit it. This decision will drive a number of players to make wildly different choices on the hole and experience an even wider number of outcomes.

Hole 13 at Faylor Lake

Image - Which gap are you taking?

This past weekend, I played a temporary layout that was overlayed onto a pre-existing course while adding a few extra temporary holes to increase the hole count to 27. One of the holes incorporated forced decisions very well. For this course, hole number 27 was a 575-foot par 4. The tee was set back through some small trees and bushes, creating a soft tunnel to drive through.

Halfway up the fairway, a line of OB flags was placed to designate an area of the hole as one side of a “river”. This first line of flags was placed roughly 250 feet from the tee. The width of the OB river was approximately 175 feet. This meant that you needed to decide between laying up your drive or trying to carry the river. For most recreational and novice players, laying up was the only choice. At the Intermediate level, we were splitting that decision based on how we felt. Advanced and Pro level players were trying to fly the river.

This created a unique situation where a lot of players had to make a legitimate choice at the moment they approached the tee pad. For those that might have been able to clear the river, how did that choice change as the tournament came down to the wire? For those of you that might be curious, I chose the layup play when it was my turn on the hole. A 400-foot shot into the headwind is not something I’m challenging myself to do with another 6 or 7 holes to play in my event.

Upshot on hole 27 at Roland Park

Image - Left, straight, or right?

Positioning holes like this in the course to shake up a player’s decision-making can make for some electric results and memorable moments. Do you go big or do you play it safe? Personally, I find that the safe play is the better play most of the time, but when it’s down to the wire, would I do the same thing? Maybe. I want courses that make me think. I want to approach a tee pad with a decision.

Hey, that’s my way of doing things. Not everyone has to like the same thing. Some people want a course that is predictable at challenging the same thing for them. Some people just want to play a course that they are good at. Some people want to be beat down by a course that gives no quarter. Whatever it is you enjoy, the point is that you enjoy it. If you’re having fun, nothing else matters too much on the course.

What’s your opinion on these types of things? Do you want courses that make you think? When was the last time you stood on a tee pad and debated with yourself what route to take? Let me know in the comments section down below!


- Gary Daddario III

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