C is for Channel
Our previous templates post focused on the “Bottle,” a rather dramatic concept based around an alternate fairway for daring drivers. Like an adventure movie sequel, we’ll follow it with an even more adrenaline-fuelled take, the “Channel” hole.
Littlestone Golf Club - 16th hole - image courtesy of Littlestone Golf Club
The Road Hole was no doubt the highlight among lengthy Par 4s C.B. Macdonald saw during his tour of the UK, but he also took inspiration from Littlestone’s 460-yard No. 16. The hole doglegs left, around a dune. Driving over the dune (or through it) was impossible, but Laidlaw Purves (fashioner of the links at nearby Sandwich) opted to give players the option to land on top of it; if they could complete the uphill drive into the wind, they would have a straightforward approach shot into the green. Those less prone to adventure would need to hug the inside of the duney dogleg and complete a long, uphill shot for a chance at birdie. Those who take the most conservative route to the outside of the dogleg still have little chance of reaching the green in two, even with modern technology, because a pair of bunkers within the right side of the fairway make run-ups dangerous.
Macdonald’s Channel would go on to become perhaps the most legendary hole at the most legendary lost golf course in history. The Lido Golf Club on Long Island, as a whole, was the definitive statement in C.B.’s willingness to move Earth to recognize concepts. He created the “Channel” title to define water that ran in front of the tee box and around the multiple fairways... and he also created the channel to live up to that title. His version was a Par 5, and required two great shots to look at an eagle putt. First, crossing a wider portion of the Channel and landing on the small patch of fairway atop a dune on the right side. At that point, another question arises: Does the player feel confident their approach will bridge the bunker running all the way across the fairway, 30 yards short of the green? If not, they can always lay up short of it... but then again, if merely laying up, they might as well have gone the safer route right from the get-go. This iconic hole lives no more, but Gil Hanse will feature it at the Ballyshear Golf Links, a Thai tribute to the legendary Lido.
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw tend to avoid penal design, and their take on the Channel hole at We-Ko-Pa’s Saguaro course is no exception, relying on Scottsdale’s desert terrain to replace the water of the “Channel.” There’s a significant landing strip up and to the right of the primary fairway at No. 14, which offers the most straightforward angle and widest approach corridor to the green. Those who take the more conservative route will face an uphill approach to the green, and also be challenged by several bunkers along the left side during their approach. The bunker 50 yards out from the green will also complicate a potential lay-up shot from the safer fairway.
We-Ko-Pa - Saguaro course 14th hole - photo by Lonna Tucker courtesy of We-Ko-Pa Golf Club
Although some consider Macdonald the peak of strategic golf course design, it’s tough to deny the Channel hole can be the utmost example of heroic design as well. Accordingly, some thrill rides with Lido roots have emerged. The foremost example is “The Gambler,” a well-named Par 5 that is perhaps the most-photographed hole in the Myrtle Beach area. No. 6 at Arnold Palmer’s King’s North is a 570-yard hole, shaped like a Shepherd’s crook. The bold (and, if you’re on vacation, you might as well be) can aim for a rather large fairway island to the left of the primary fairway. It’s a much easier tee shot than Macdonald’s intention, but the approach is much tougher. The green sits right on the edge of the lagoon... from the tip of the island fairway, it’s an 150-yard water carry to the green, and approaches played too long to avoid watery graves will end up in a sizable sandy one at the green’s entrance.
King's North course 6th hole - image courtesy of Myrtle Beach National
The “template” nature of the Channel hole can be challenged due to Macdonald and Raynor having not completed other examples post-Lido, no doubt due to the cost required. The Camargo Club features a “Channel that never was,” however. No. 12 is named “Channel,” and the best approach into the green of this uphill, 415-yard Par 4 comes from hugging the valley that runs along the right of the fairway. Those who tee off to the safe left will have less fairway to work with due to a hazard that crosses the fairway diagonally. Raynor intended to construct an alternate fairway in the now-wooded area to the right, but those plans were abandoned following his death.
George Bahto is considered by many to be the foremost expert on Macdonald and his templates; indeed his The Evangelist of Golf is a strong base for our template series. His suggestion in that book, however, that Harbour Town No. 18 is a “Channel” strikes us as suspect. There are clearly two routes to the green; the left involves carrying the marsh for a shorter approach, and the right means a longer approach, but safety from the marsh off the tee. Two routes are different from two fairways: If someone aims for the risky left and misses right, they still end up on a fairway...that’s a result you won’t see on a true Channel, where players end up wet or on uncomfortable terrain. Second, the length of this Par 4 is not extreme enough to add any additional noteworthy challenge in approaching from the safer right side of the fairway.
Harbour Town Golf Links 18th hole - image courtesy of Sea Pines Resort
No. 5 at Muirfield Village Golf Club certainly resembles a “Channel” from above, with an alternate fairway along the left, divided from the right by a creek. This alternate fairway is intended to be accessed on the second shot, however, where it allows a better approach angle to flags on the back-left of the green. Granted, the distance of modern pros would make it an ideal target for bombers willing to chance it off of the tee, but a huge tree at the corner of the dogleg prevents the Bubba Watsons of the world from considering this option. Not a true Channel, but still a fun bit of strategy for shorter hitters.
Muirfield Village Golf Club 5th hole - image courtesy of PGA.com
As Long Islanders know, a Lido Golf Club now exists where The Lido Golf Club previously stood. Although not intended to be a replica of the MacRaynor legend, Robert Trent Jones did include a rendition of the Channel hole. Reaching the alternative fairway on the right on No. 16 does not require an uphill tee shot, but it does require a longer carry of the lagoon off the tee. This passes muster. A few factors raise questions, however: The angling of the shot to the second fairway means the approach isn’t all that much shorter than the leftward, safe route. Those playing from the right will also need to cross the lengthy lagoon again. Considering the lengthy fairway landing for those on the left, and lack of a cross bunker, playing from the safer fairway may actually be the easier route to birdie on this 460-yard Par 5.