B is for BIARRITZ
Most of the template holes replicated by Macdonald and his acolytes draw inspiration from originals based in the homeland of golf, the British Isles. The Biarritz is a rare exception, most commonly traced back to the Southwest coast of France, in the region of the same name. There, Tom and Willie Dunn Jr. crafted one of the most famous and infamous Par 3s in history.
Biarritz Le Phare clubhouse - photo courtesy of Golf de Biarritz Le Phare
The “Chasm” hole (the current name for the template is derived from its original host club, not the original hole name) at Golf de Biarritz Le Phare. The third hole featured a heroic carry over the title chasm, about 160 yards, to a massive putting surface. The target area featured two large flat zones—one at the front and one toward the rear—divided by a drastic swale running between them, and guarded on the side by bunkering. It is believed that only the rear platform was ever pinned—totaling between 210 and 240 yards—making the hole essentially a test of a player’s ability to hit both long and straight (this was certainly a driver during the Dunn brothers' time).
The rest of the putting surface’s dimensions are largely conjecture, as the original lasted only four years before construction of a hotel moved the teebox and took the the bay out of play. The original green, and hole, would eventually be eliminated and, later, decimated during World War II. Furthering the mystery is the unlikelihood that Macdonald could have found himself in France during its brief existence.
All of these factors—or lack thereof—add up to occasionally contentious conversation among golf architecture enthusiasts.
Frequently, the “Other Interpretations” section begins at Macdonald’s template showcase, the National Golf Links of America. Perhaps fuelling the fires of Biarritz-bashers, the model doesn’t make an appearance. Instead, Long Island’s Piping Rock Club hosts the designer’s first Biarritz. In the absence of official documents, the Biarritz swale has traditionally been understood to fit within a range of 1 and 1.5 meters in depth, which describes Piping Rock’s variant well. Lacking a bay, Macdonald added a large bunker in front of the first plane. It’s important to note that this landing area is not green, but fairway, running down into the swale, which features a similar cut. The effect is a rather micro-version of the Valley of Sin, forcing a tricky up-and-down recovery for shots short off the tee. These specifications inspire the most vocal arguments, about whether the front could—or should—be pinned, and whether that act violates Macdonald’s intentions.
Piping Rock 9th hole - photo courtesy of John Sabino
One person who didn’t see an issue pinning the front was Seth Raynor, Macdonald’s nearest acolyte. His Course at Yale hosts perhaps the most famous rendition of the Biarritz, and perhaps the most dramatic as well. Players must carry nearly 200 yards of water to where the green immediately begins, through a swale deeper than Yao Ming is tall, to the back plateau. To compound your problems, the green tilts aggressively both front-to-back and right-to-left.
Yale 9th hole - photo courtesy of The Course at Yale
While a more “dignified” template, such as the Redan, might flaunt its subtle tweaks from the original, the Biarritz seemingly encouraged imitators to push the envelope ever further. Charles Banks created one of the longest versions at Forsgate Country Club in New Jersey, stretching to 235 yards. Not taking his nickname “Steamshovel” lightly, the designer also added Raynor-style thumbprints to both of the green’s flat surfaces. The most controversial element, however? His swale can be pinned.
Forsgate (Banks) 17th hole - photo courtesy of Forsgate Country Club
Getting back to Macdonald, The Creek gets a nod for its distinct rendition. Missing the green isn’t enviable for any Biarritz, but Creek’s takes it to a new level via its Biarritz/Island hybrid. It’s a big target, but tee shots are easily pushed by aggressive winds into the Long Island Sound inlet.
The Creek 11th hole - photo courtesy of The Creek
The naturalist tendency of the 21st Century has made this template a less-likely choice for new courses, but a few true Biarritzes have emerged. One of the more straightforward versions is No. 16 at Streamsong’s Red Course, featuring a 70-yard green that plays between the property’s dunes.
Streamsong (Red) 16th hole - photo courtesy of Streamsong
The most famous examples of the Biarritz don’t leave much room for subtlety. Accordingly, some of the more debatable examples are guilty of underdoing rather than overdoing. Tom Doak included a Biarritz-based hole at Bandon’s Old Macdonald, but the Oregon resort’s naturalist aesthetic raises some doubts. The green does take a pill shape, and features a swale through the middle. On either side of the swale, however, Doak enacts rolling features more in uniform with his Pacific Dunes design than the relatively plain planes of traditional Biarritzes. And, at 180 yards, it is short even by Dunn’s old-fashioned standards.
Bandon Dunes (Old Macdonald) 7th hole - photo courtesy of Bandon Dunes
There is no doubt a Biarritz green can accomplish its purpose as part of a long Par 4 or short Par 5, but two of the more notable examples raise other questions. For example, Tillinghast included one at Somerset Hills Country Club. Perhaps because of the hole’s two-shot nature, his swale at No. 13 is much shallower than the holes referenced above. This alters the approach, but is it watered down enough to strip the “Biarritz” title?
The “Gate” hole at North Berwick Golf Club does more than inspire questions about the nature of the Biarritz; it inspires questions as to the template’s origin story! The approach shot on this Par 4 is much shorter than typical Biarritzes, but the green much more severe. Similar to the course’s iconic Redan, the green tilts down from front-right to back-left, and is divided by a gully reaching Yale-level depths. If the concept alone weren’t enough to stir the pot, some suggest that Gate may be the true inspiration behind the Biarritz. North Berwick was founded in 1832 and Macdonald had decisively visited, unlike the Chasm hole. Two facts take some wind out of this theory, however: One, most historians agree that Gate was added in the 1930s, and it’s suspect that Bernard Darwin didn’t mention the green during his 1920s visit. Second, Macdonald named the template “Biarritz,” not “Berwick.”
North Berwick 16th hole - Gate - photo courtesy of North Berwick Golf Club