An Unlikely Find
If you were to go looking for the future of golf, the courses that will jump start the growth of the game, you would probably start with public courses. You would probably put a private country club, a 5-time major venue no less, near the bottom of your list. You would be making a mistake.
Outside Chicago, at Medinah Country Club, Rees Jones has restored a Tom Bendelow design and created the template for growing golf. Medinah’s Course Two needs to be the model for municipal golf, and these are the reasons why.
Playability is the crux of the matter. I’m going to break this down into its components.
Forgiving Off the Tee
At Course Two, Rees Jones uses the trees to define the fairways, not to imprison wayward drives. Accurate tee shots are rewarded with flat, perfect lies, but everyone has a chance to play to the green.
Water is pretty, but it’s an unforgiving hazard, so it needs to be used sparingly. At Course Two, there are one to three shots over water, depending on your tees.
The rough is kept at a reasonable length. You can find an off-target shot easily, and you won’t break your wrist getting the ball back into play. However, the rough is thick enough to cost the better player control of the next shot.
Finally, the bunkers are shallow and built without lips. Players and their golf balls can easily get into and out of them. If you absolutely lack confidence in the sand, you could go so far as to putt out if you want.
Welcoming, Challenging Greens
Golfers can roll the ball onto every green at Course Two. This allows players who don’t hit towering irons to have a chance at some birdie putts. Those low shots have a better chance at staying on the green because each putting surface slopes from back to front.
Once you’re on the green, however, nothing comes easy. There are plenty of mounds and undulations to challenge players of every level. What’s more, these breaks force players to think strategically about the angle they’re playing from and where they don’t want to miss the green.
Tees for Everyone
Course Two uses the Longleaf Tee System and has tee boxes from 6,400 yards all the way to 3,000. The design goes beyond just having more tees, and considers how players of each ability level will see the course from those distances.
The best example is hole 9, above. The shortest tees for this hole are just short of the hazard. This allows the beginner or weaker player the opportunity to hit the ball over water successfully by putting it on a tee and using whatever club they need.
As a bonus, I think these extra tees provide an opportunity for more play from good players, too. As I played my round with Adam Fonseca, we both agreed that it would be great fun to play the course all the way forward with just a couple of short clubs.
Golf is meant to be enjoyed on foot. Walking makes golf faster, less expensive, and more environmentally friendly.
Course Two is as compact as can be. The walks from green to tee are gloriously short, sometimes only a few steps.
Pace of Play
Combine playability, walkability, and a set of tees that’s appropriate for each golfer and you have a course with a brisk pace of play. Since time is everyone’s most precious resource and the biggest reason why we don’t play more golf, this alone is reason enough to consider this design a template.
The Next Step
What do we do now? Go to your municipality (or whoever owns your favorite track) and talk to them about implementing these ideas. Send them this article. Bring them information about the Longleaf Tee System. Talk to the superintendent about the bunkers and green surrounds.
I don’t expect that every course has the money or desire for a complete redesign, but every course can take small steps toward being more accessible and helping to grow golf.