Golf Course Architecture: Issue 55 - January 2019

43 ADAM LAWRENCE ground, something like Mammoth Dunes or Streamsong Black is basically an irrelevance, but it is also true that other designers look at what their peers are doing and being rewarded for and absorb its influence. The simple truth is, that given a site comprised of pure sand in the middle of nowhere, building an enormous course on it is a sensible response to the challenges of modern golf. We all hit the ball harder with our big drivers than we used to, and that means our mishits go further offline. Which brings us to Tom Doak and Sedge Valley. We should not be ignorant as to other factors going on here. Doak has, throughout his career, cleverly maintained his image as an outsider, a contrarian who likes to buck trends. To arrive at Sand Valley and build a par 68, 6,000-yard course is a brilliant way of keeping himself just that little bit ahead of the game. But it is also true that Doak has never bought into the Kool Aid of massively long golf. Wide, yes, for sure. He likes to cite his affection for old British courses like Rye and West Sussex – both short but both offering plenty of challenge because of a skinny par featuring only one par five and that at the first hole. It isn’t as though the rest of the golf business is unaware of the virtues of the small either. We have seen a small flood of short courses, mainly par three courses, being built at top destinations of late, and given the time pressures we know affect golfers, this seems like a sensible response. As does the push for shorter rounds of golf, to convert struggling suburban eighteen holers into dynamic nines that offer a faster game more in tune with today’s priorities. Indeed, Sand Valley already has a hugely compelling seventeen-hole par three course called the Sandbox, which does great business, especially on warm summer evenings, as resort guests wind down after their day. What is different about the Sedge Valley proposition, though, is that it is not meant to be downsized golf, which is to say a lesser experience. Doak is on record as saying that he hopes the course will make it easier for Sand Valley golfers to manage 36-hole days: I am recalled of Dr Alister MacKenzie’s remark after World War One that courses getting bigger meant that a normal day’s play had gone down from 54 to 36 holes! Sedge Valley will doubtless be a hit and add another level to the attractions of the Sand Valley resort: it will have great big golf and great little golf. But will it have a wider impact on the game, reminding us that 6,000 yards and a par of 68 is plenty of golf for the vast majority of us? That we shall have to see. GCA Photo: West Sussex Golf Club The typical British and American courses of the 1900- 1925 period were not fundamentally different in size. It was in the period after World War Two when America, mostly at the suggestion of Robert Trent Jones, set about modernising and lengthening its course stock. Britain, of course, came out of the war financially crippled. There was no money for major course building or expansion, so the differences between the club scene on either side of the Atlantic grew. British courses were not shorter to being with; they just have not been lengthened to the same extent. Rye: Harry Colt’s first design has been much changed but little extended. As the sea has retreated, creating more linksland, the club has preferred to extend its Jubilee course rather than make deep changes to the main eighteen. Rye’s primary defences are the wind and difficult greens. Swinley Forest: Famously Colt’s ‘least bad’ course, for many years Swinley had no proper scorecard. When one did come into existence, the medal tees were still short of 6,000 yards. It has in fact been extended quite significantly in recent years. West Sussex: Renowned as an island of sand in a sea of clay, the charming West Sussex (pictured above) reminds us that short courses can still have long holes; the brutally difficult par-three sixth is still a cardwrecker today. When playing these holes, it is always as well to consider what they must have been like in the 20s. Woking: Also now longer, at more than 6,600 yards from the competition tees, Woking remains a reminder that stout hitting is only one of many useful golfing skills. Starting and finishing with 300ish-yard par fours, the meat of the course comes in its legendary greens. Britain’s short courses