S is for Short
The concept for the “Short” can be traced back to Royal West Norfolk’s No. 4 at Brancaster. Although there are many Par 3 holes of minimal yardage, it would be architect Horace Hutchinson’s advice that had the most profound impact on C.B. Macdonald’s development of the template (more on that later). The shortest hole on the course (129 yards) with one of the largest greens, No. 4 is certainly the easiest green-in-regulation, but far from the easiest two-putt.
Royal West Norfolk Golf Club 4th hole
The putting surface sits upon a ledge among the dunes, which led Hutchinson and Holcombe Ingleby to prop it up with a long stretch of railroad ties. While eye-catching, the wall also alerts the player where not to miss: Those who come up short, left or right will face a difficult up-and-down from a thick cut well below the green. The only safe miss is to go far and right, where there’s a relatively flat area connected with the No. 14 green. This valley likely inspired the tendency to surround Shorts with hazards. There are also a few bunkers at the foot of the rail-tie wall with little strategic relevance aside from further punishing the short; one might hope Mackenzie & Ebert see fit to remove them during the current work at the club.
As with most templates, Macdonald more definitively laid out the “Short” when he returned to the United States. And again, his most famous example sits at the National Golf Links of America. He understood immediately that the purpose of such a short drive to such a large green placed emphasis on accurate short-iron play. Using some (aforementioned) advice from Hutchinson, he amplified the importance of the first shot. The Brit suggested that Macdonald drop a series of pebbles on a green sketch, and add mounding accordingly. This resulted in NGLA’s infamous central hump, which makes any two putt from the wrong side of the green feel like a birdie. This green also set Macdonald’s precedent for “wide” rather than “long” (Brancaster’s was rather circular).
NGLA 6th hole - image courtesy of Jon Cavalier @LinksGems
Those surprised to see the relatively “rough” bunker aesthetic at NGLA will no doubt find the Short at Chicago Golf Club more familiar. Another wide green, this one is wrapped by two long “moat”-style bunkers, set below the green, as seen at many MacRaynor designs. Rather than build up, as he did with the mound at NGLA, Macdonald built down. Both the left and the right side of the putting surface feature distinct “thumbprints,” which make even three-putts admirable for a poorly-placed tee shot. Both Seth Raynor and Charles Banks would use this putting “hazard” on greens throughout their career, but especially for Shorts. This version also features a forced carry over an irrigation pond from the tee, which only serves to spook guests already nervous about playing at such an exclusive club.
Chicago Golf Club 10th hole - image courtesy of Chicago Golf Club
Raynor and his thumbprint come into play in perhaps the most recognizable rendition of the Short, No. 16 at Sleepy Hollow Country Club. The pronounced dip sits right in the center of the square green, which is fully surrounded by sand. Although this shape adds to its photogenic nature, most pay more attention to the beautiful Hudson River Valley in the background. It’s more than just scenery, however: The falling-off behind the putting surface creates an “infinity” effect, making it tougher to gauge where the landing area ends. This makes rear pin placements particularly frightening.
Sleepy Hollow Country Club 16th hole - image courtesy of Sleepy Hollow Country Club
Banks made his landing area ambiguous with No. 2 at Long Island’s North Hempstead, but at the front in this case. The uphill tee shot leaves large portions at this green’s front ill-defined. Pins at the left of this wide green are easier to attack, both because the landing area is lower and more visible, and because there is a brief fairway apron (don’t put too much stock in it however, as it works better as a false front than a runway). Pins to the right sit on a higher plateau, and also must carry a large bunker fronting the green. Trusting one’s distance and playing to the center is key.
Short templates have made a resurgence, both because of their strategic brilliance and the relative ease of fitting a 135-yard hole into a route. Just one example is No. 15 at Gil Hanse’s Streamsong Black, which plays 133 yards to a wide green surrounded by the course’s noted waste areas. Typically, a Short has one of the largest, toughest greens on its host course. Black has many large, undulating greens, so the putting surface at No. 15 is in good company.
There are many, many courses that feature one—if not more—holes that fit the ideal length for a Short. It takes much more to earn that title, however. Consider Bandon Preserve, the resort’s 13-hole short course. At least six of those holes fall within acceptable distance for a Short, but Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw didn’t supply greens that lived up to the billing (not that they were trying to). One exception is No. 10, which features a green sizable enough for Macdonald’s purposes. There is a large bunker that rises to obscure the front of the green, which provides a unique (and reasonable) take on the concept.
Bandon Preserve 10th hole - image courtesy of Bandon Dunes
Another interesting look at the idea of a short (not “Short”) template comes from A.W. Tillinghast, who had a relatively limited collection of repeated concepts. His “Tiny Tim” idea shares a distance with true Shorts, and also the idea that the green is wrapped in danger. As seen with No. 14 at Bedford Springs, the difference lies in the green itself, which is rather small. True, this requires even more targeting from the tee than Macdonald’s versions, but C.B. also preferred to test the putting ability of his players. Tillinghast’s version, less forgiving, is more similar to Royal Troon’s “Postage Stamp.”
Perhaps no template has as much potential for ruination than the Short, because of its required distance. Unfortunately, many clubs have viewed the short nature of the tee shot as a weakness during the advance of golf technology. They mistake distance as the only relevant metric in modern golf, and continue to add new teeboxes. The once-Short at Raynor’s Nassau Country Club now stretches more than 200 yards from its back tees, all but wiping out the template’s intent.