D is for DOUBLE PLATEAU
The Double Plateau is one of the occasional templates that has no obvious “original,” but it could have been inspired by a number of plateaued greens Macdonald witnessed during his overseas research. The safe bet in such cases is to head to the National Golf Links of America, C.B. Macdonald’s distinguished template gallery.
NGLA 11th hole - image courtesy of Jon Cavalier @LinksGems
The Double Plateau template begins at the green, and works backwards. Greens displaying the ideal “Double Plateau” interpretations have three tiers: Two are the actual “plateaus,” raised higher than the third “ground-level” platform. It’s similar to the Biarritz in that landing on the wrong level will make two-putts a tough prospect. It is unlike the Biarritz in that all three levels are at different elevation, while the front and back levels are at the same height for a Biarritz. NGLA’s singularly-named “Plateau” at No.11 showcases a kidney-shaped Double Plateau rather than the more typical stumpy “L” shape—with plateaus at the front-left and back-right.
The Double Plateau is rarely doglegged. Rather, the player must take pin position into consideration from the tee; its location alters whether the left or right side of the fairway makes for the best approach. As seen at NGLA, adjacent bunkers guard the plateaus to enforce this strategy. The most famous hazard on a Double Plateau, however, is the “Principal’s Nose,” located about 70 yards out from the green, which both interferes with the player’s sightline and their ground game. NGLA’s is a more psychedelic “Nose,” as it features three “nostrils” around a central hump. The hump is the more relevant element of a Principal’s Nose, preventing victims from taking a direct line to the green when escaping from the hazard.
Those who prefer the more traditional, two-nostrilled Principal will admire Chicago Golf Club’s Double Plateau, which very accurately resembles a human snout. It’s another Macdonald classic, but featuring a more cubist nature, reminiscent of what protégé Seth Raynor would create in decades to come. This version also features a cross bunker off to the right. Although not an issue for modern drivers from the tee, it does pose a distraction from strategic consideration of the flag placement.
Considering the number of plateaus the aforementioned Raynor added to his greens at Fishers Island, it is not surprising that there’s a Double Plateau in attendance. But which one? The obvious choice is No. 9, based on title alone: “Double Plateau.” The green is a mirror version of those seen at NGLA and Chicago, with the added benefit of the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop. That said, it’s a touch short (365 yards) and the blind tee shot makes it impossible for the visiting player to fully identify the “perfect” placement off the tee.
Fishers Island 18th hole - image courtesy of Jon Cavalier @LinksGems
George Bahto instead makes an argument for No. 18 at Fishers in his book on Macdonald, The Evangelist of Golf. Some point out similarities to the Road Hole based on the green’s shape and strategic pot bunker, as well as its length (450-plus yards, playing as a Par 5 during strokeplay) and its playing angles. But this green actually checks all the boxes for a Double Plateau, and its visibility from the tee box allows players to play accordingly. When considered as a classic “Par 4.5” matchplay hole, No. 18 arguably fits more comfortably within the definition of “Double Plateau” than No. 9.
On the other hand, Bahto advocates strongly for No. 14 at Raynor’s North Shore Country Club, which also features a blind tee shot over a (slightly smaller) ridge, before approaching an indisputable Double Plateau green. It features no Principal’s Nose, but neither do either of the aforementioned Fishers Island entries.
Tom Doak is especially keen on his rendition of the Double Plateau, hosted at Bandon’s Old Macdonald course, describing it as “my favorite opening hole that we've ever built.” The choice from the tee box takes on an element of risk/reward, as bold drivers can attempt to carry a fairway bunker on the right to reach a lofted plateau, resulting in a more comfortable approach. The Principal’s Nose is very much in the green’s business, sitting right at the foot, rather than 50-or-so yards out.
Old Macdonald 1st hole - image courtesy of Bandon Dunes
The lack of an original, iconic hole leaves many angles for argument among aficionados, including these next few examples:
We would propose that a true Par 5 cannot be a proper Double Plateau, in the template form. Although Fishers Island No. 18 is a “Par 5” by virtue of its scorecard, it is extremely short and more realistically a “stiff Par 4.”
Macdonald’s design at St. Louis Country Club, on the other hand, features a 495-yard Par 5 named “Narrows,” which confusingly is an entirely separate template rendition. If the player looks to get home in two, then it most certainly plays as a true Double Plateau; after all, accuracy upon approach is paramount. But if the player opts to lay up, a short pitch takes considerable bite from the green, watering down its intent. Of course, if a Par 5 is of obvious three-shot length, then it could very much play into the Double Plateau’s purpose. Regardless of your (or our) take on the St. Louis iteration, No. 15 should be noted for its unique green setup: The first plateau is at the front, dropping off to the lower level, with the other plateau at the back-left.
St Louis CC 2nd hole - image courtesy of John Sabino
Remaining at St. Louis, we also suggest that a par three cannot be a genuine Double Plateau, in the template form. However, No. 2 at St. Louis Country Club started out in life as a short Par 4 and is actually named “Double Plateau.” This hole—now a brutal 225-yard uphill Par 3—may well have been more appropriately called “Biarritz.” The enormous green sports a three-foot swale cutting through its middle. It just goes to show how blurry the lines are in the world of template golf holes—especially at St. Louis Country Club.
Charles Banks and Knoll Golf Club West in New Jersey come to the conversation with the course’s second hole. Here Banks employed his popular “thumbprint” technique to create a horseshoe-style green: The lower portion is front and center, while the raised “horseshoe” wraps from front-left up around the back and down to the front-right. The horseshoe does change altitude from left-to-right, but it differs from other Double Plateaus in that the plateaus are directly connected. The question is whether the two plateaus must be totally separated by the lower level?