R is for REDAN
North Berwick Golf Club has several holes that we now call “templates” and it may be responsible for the greatest of them all. C.B. Macdonald—the architect most commonly associated with the templates concept—referred to the Redan as “the finest one-shot hole in the world.”
The original Redan (No.15 at the club's West Links in East Lothian) is 190 yards to a green that turns right-to-left at an angle near 45 degrees, when viewed from the tee box. Even more relevant than the degree of turn is the degree of slope, as the front portion of the green slopes boldly toward the left. The back shoulder of the green banks generously, however, to escort well-struck shots from the right side of the green to pins on the left.
The first of six key pot bunkers sits at the front-left corner of the green, to temper aggressive lines back toward the middle, but too conservative can also lead to trouble; three deep pot bunkers line the right of the green. Even if the player, doesn’t end up in one of these hazards, the altitude change from rough-to-green at the front, right, and rear presents a tough up-and-down. The only safe miss is long and left, allowing the player to pitch back and putt uphill for a potential par save. Two more bunkers sit at the fore of the green’s apron, built into the side of the hill. Although beneficial to the player as reference marker—the ridge that hosts the green rises to the same altitude, possibly impairing the player’s view—they can also provide visual intimidation for less confident golfers.
North Berwick 15th hole - Redan - photo courtesy of North Berwick Golf Club
Although the yardage might seem quaint for the modern low handicapper, it was a rather lengthy short back in the day for “Keeper of the Green” David Strath and Old Tom Morris. The combination of slope, relative lack of width, and the inner bunker intend to encourage a shallower draw than the lofty, more direct “dart” preferred by today’s pros.
The template’s name was apparently coined by a serving officer in the Crimean War who likened the hole to the redan fortress he'd encountered at the Siege of Sevastopol. The term refers to triangular outposts that jut out from walls to disrupt attacks. Rather than face a full-on assault at a parallel angle, it offers a flanking, advantageous defense. The war veteran returned to North Berwick and found the hole's green uncomfortably similar.
Macdonald presented his definition for a Redan in Scotland’s Gift: Golf : “Take a narrow tableland, tilt it a little from right to left, dig a deep bunker on the front side, approach it diagonally and you have a Redan.” This definition suits two of his most famous renditions, both featured on Long Island.
National Golf Links of America 4th hole - Redan
As is often the case, National Golf Links of America’s take (No. 4) has become a showcase for the Redan template. Macdonald ramped up the original’s features to do so, a hazard that he expanded from North Berwick’s singular pot bunker to a trench that runs the length of the green, and also a steeper run from the right of the green down to the left, which can also funnel wayward balls back into the front hazard. “This fourth hole at the 'National' is so good a hole that I am not sure that it is not better than the original,” wrote Bernard Darwin in The Golf Courses of Great Britain .
Perhaps not satisfied with the degree of difficulty at NGLA, Macdonald tweaked the design at the Piping Rock Club further. That iteration is an additional 10 yards in length, and the fronting bunker is both wider and longer, stretching significantly past the end of the green, perhaps to dissuade those aiming for the back-left. The traditional pot bunkers at the back are combined to form a singular trench, mirroring the defense at the front.
Another Golden Age classic (No. 4 at Swinley Forest) has been credited as one of Harry Colt’s finest shorts. The shape and distance (200 yards) obviously fits within the definition of a Redan, and the green also sits upon what Macdonald would call “tableland.” The most noticeable difference is the overall gain in elevation, requiring one or two additional clubs. Two bunkers sit at the inner-left, and two rest to the right of the apron. Swinley Forest also merits mention for opening in 1909, the same year that NGLA debuted. Clearly C.B. Macdonald wasn’t the only Golden Age architect in awe of Scotland’s great holes. It's likely that Colt and his contemporaries independently created classic examples of “Template” holes before the term was coined.
Swinley Forest 4th hole - Redan - photo courtesy of Swinley Forest Golf Club
Perhaps the most famous Redan, thanks to its annual PGA appearances, is Riviera Country Club’s No. 4 (via George Thomas). The hole is well beyond the traditional Redan distance, playing nearly 240 compared to the average (180-210). That allows it, however, to play more toward North Berwick's original intent. Ben Hogan referred to No. 4 as “the greatest Par 3 in the world.”
As perhaps the most revered template, the Redan has newfound popularity in the current era of design. Tom Doak labeled his effort at Bandon’s Pacific Dunes (No. 17) as the favorite Redan he's built—a big claim from a man who, with Jim Urbina, crafted a Macdonald-inspired 18 at the very same resort with its own Redan (No.12 at Old Macdonald). Playing a traditional distance, the hole at Pacific Dunes embraces the resort’s naturalist aesthetic in its front bunker. Although the back hazard is considerably wide of the green, players may become distracted by the backing wall of yellow gorse when in bloom.
Pacific Dunes 17th hole - Redan - photo courtesy of Bandon Dunes Resort
Coore and Crenshaw brought the Redan to their own Mike Keiser project. Sand Valley features a lengthy (225 yards) Par 3 where the right hump is not actually on the green, but the skirt. Played properly, it will kick onto the green in true Redan fashion. Improperly, and the player will be pitching downhill from the right.
It is entirely possible for a Par 4 or 5 to have a Redan green. Several courses, such as Seth Raynor’s Blue Mound Golf & Country Club, feature both a Par 3 and Par 4 rendition. Too much of a good thing? Not for Raynor.
Fans of Golden Age architecture are the staunchest proponents of the Redan... but even they might be willing to admit No. 7 at Shinnecock Hills may not qualify. Indeed, the idea is there but many—including a host of U.S. Open competitors—have reason to argue otherwise. To quote Doak: “I don't think the slope in front of the green allows you to play the bank shot from the right with any high percentage of probability...if you aim for that spot and the ball takes one big bounce, you're over the back right and looking at double bogey.” Perhaps by moving the position of the teeboxes, Shinnecock's 7th would provide a more realistic angle of approach, and fully justify the Redan moniker?
Shinnecock Hills 7th hole - Redan - photo courtesy of the USGA
Claims that No. 13 at TPC Sawgrass is a modern Redan also requires significant consideration. The issue is not so much the water that runs along the left-hand side (a typical Dye diversion), and certainly not the hole’s expected right-to-left play. Rather, it’s whether the best approach is actually to play it like a Redan. The portion of the green at the front left is unnaturally flat, and large enough to hold a well-struck dart. Attempting to arrive at these flags by riding the slope may actually prove more difficult. On the flip side of the coin (AKA the ridge that divides the green), flags at the back left receive an occasional ace during The Players Championship when the pros take a Redan route. The difference is the spine, and on which side the flag stands that day. Can it be a Redan one day, and a non-Redan the next?
There are many other Redan interpretations out there that we haven't mentioned, and many more that could slot into the maybe category, so why not share your thoughts by clicking the “Respond to this article” link to join the discussion.