B is for Bottle
Charles Blair Macdonald came away from his UK journeys with many inspirations, including the Bottle template, which stemmed from the No. 12 hole at Sunningdale Old. The rendition he saw, however, is not the current one, which was adapted by Harry Colt during 1926. Currently sitting at more than 450 yards, Willie Park’s original was more than 70 yards shorter, with the green located on the right side of the hole’s signature series of bunkers, which dart diagonally to split the fairway upon approach. The left is the more risky to target, as it is both higher and the player must carry the heather-lined bunker at the front while weaving the hazard as it winds up the fairway’s center. Today, this route offers a straight-ahead look at the left-side green, but it would have simply provided a better angle to Park’s old green; it is unlikely players of that era could reach the left fairway from the tee. Colt’s renovation, coincidentally, made it fall more in line with Macdonald’s inspiration, as the left side became more purposeful during matchplay as part of a long “Par 4.5.”
Sunningdale Golf Club - Old course 12th hole - image courtesy of Sunningdale Golf Club
Much like “Narrows” and other templates, Macdonald took influence from UK courses but his version has ultimately become the most identifiable. He debuted the concept at the National Golf Links of America, making one key adjustment from the Sunningdale version. While players at the original make the split fairway choice upon approach at Sunningdale, here at NGLA’s No. 8 they make it from the tee box. The left route is elevated, giving a better angle to a raised green fronted by bunkers—but involves navigating the diagonal bunker system inspired by Park. The right is a far wider target, but requires an uphill approach to the tough green. Many associate the famous “three-nostrils” Principal’s Nose bunker with NGLA’s Double Plateau, but players will see the first rendition of this hazard at Bottle, where it can mar the view for those who tee to the right.
National Golf Links of America 8th hole - image courtesy of Jon Cavalier @LinksGems
Little has been noted on the basis for the name “Bottle,” but the obvious answer is to consider the thinner of the two fairways as the neck of a bottle, “drawn” by the signature hazard, widening as it travels away from the player. The similarity to an actual bottle varies from rendition to rendition.
Many Bottle holes have been marred over the years, with club managers recognizing the difficulty of the ideal tee shot...and doing away with it rather than celebrating its purpose. Interestingly, one of the most ideologically pure of these holes is available for public play at Francis A. Byrne in Essex County, NJ. Players must decide from the tee whether to fly the midway bunkers on this slight dogleg right to land on a thin strip of fairway that will, in turn, offer a better angle to a small green. The rightward fairway is much more inviting for the common player, and probably serves the needs of those who expect to green-in-three. The course was previously a second 18 for the adjacent Essex County Country Club. While the remaining course at that club remains private—and its Charles Banks features well-maintained—the architect’s “Bottle” example is still available and functional for everyday municipal users.
Banks is not usually noted for subtlety, so his Bottle at the Whippoorwill Club will not be too shocking in its divergence from Macdonald’s original. The right-side fairway sits higher than the left fairway and the player must also carry three bunkers to reach this platform. Taking this route is almost necessary to reach this 440-yard Par 4 in two shots. Those who play left will have a blind shot to the green but, if they’re alright arriving in three, they can lay up to a second Bottle-style fairway split on the left, which will offer a lofted approach down to the green. Banks essentially wrapped the Macdonald Bottle and Colt’s version into one neat package. Many a matchplay option.
Whippoorwill Club 14th hole - image courtesy of Jon Cavalier @LinksGems
Seth Raynor did not let Banks get all the credit, however. No. 12 at Watchung Valley adds a more defined dogleg to the equation. Although those who go left are not required to carry any bunkers to reach the higher left fairway, they must squeeze the tee shot into a tighter landing area, pressured by a line of diagonally-slanted centerline bunkers. This will give the player a straight line toward the green, while those who played to the right fairway will struggle to get an approach shot past three bunkers at the front of the green.
Watchung Valley Golf Club 12th hole - image courtesy of Sugarloaf Social Club
The Bottle is not necessarily a popular term in modern golf (outside of the clubhouse, at least) but it makes its appearances. Lester George’s Kinloch Golf Club features so many split fairways, one was bound to be a true Bottle hole. It comes early at No. 2, where crossing three large centerline bunkers provides a straightforward approach shot into the green, while the easier tee shot to the right requires carrying a large greenside bunker to get home in regulation.
If you have any argument with our definitions of certain templates...you may have a friend in Seth Raynor. Although (as noted above) the Macdonald follower certainly created what we would call “true” Bottles, he also muddied the water from time-to-time. At the Camargo Club, his last design, he named the No. 13 hole “Bottle,” with no comparison point to that title’s typical features (it’s a hard right dogleg with no centerline bunker or fairway split). Although some cite Camargo as Raynor’s best collection of Par 3 template holes, his dedication to the Par 4 templates seems amiss. The course also features a hole named “Valley,” which bears no similarity to the understood “Valley” template.
George Thomas certainly brought the Redan to Riviera Country Club, but did he bring the Bottle? No. 8 features two fairways, separated by a barranca (a Spanish term for a dried-out creek). The left fairway is thinner...but the wider right requires a longer carry across the arroyo (another Spanish term for a dry creek) for the second shot. So which is the riskier option, leading to a reward? There isn’t a correct answer; both options carry roughly the same risk...winning the hole means taking the informed route based on the day’s flag placement. This daily change in strategy makes it constantly engaging for membership, but we feel a true Bottle must offer a more black-or-white test of guts from the teebox.
Riviera Country Club 8th hole - image courtesy of Riviera Country Club
Finally, with all the split fairways at Lester George’s Kinloch Golf Club, there are bound to be options that merit argument, even if they ultimately fail the sniff test. The club’s signature par 5 No. 9 called “Palisade” is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to a split fairway hole. Those going left will ultimately deal with a marsh crossing, a fairway tree, and bunkers on their way to a GIR. Those who take the risky route right, to a thin fairway wrapped by a creek, have a chance to make another risky shot to the green for an eagle opportunity. Is the decision from the tee similar to that of a Bottle, with the creek representing the hole’s classic bunkers? Yes. Is the rest of the hole just too wild to reasonably associate with Macdonald’s template? Also yes.
Kinloch Golf Club 9th hole - image courtesy of Kinloch Golf Club