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Strategic Thoughts

28 January, 2022

Since joining Top100 at the beginning of November, the Ranking Guidelines has rarely been far from my thoughts. We are bringing new panellists into the family and are so very excited about the future of our various lists. Every panellist will have their own thoughts and ideas on what makes great golf, but it was important to us to create some themes and topics that we can stand by and promote.

One such ideal that we truly believe in is the value of strategic golf design. Courses where players have to think their way round and make decisions. Courses that ask compelling questions. Questions that aren’t testing a binary response but reward creativity, thoughtful and nuanced ripostes – giving up their secrets over time and not lazily demanding one dimensional play.

To that end, each month we will take a deep dive into a hole that applies those principles.

First up, one of the world’s most famous par 3s – The Postage Stamp at Royal Troon:

Not sure many would describe a hole as fearsome as this as ‘strategic’, but I’m going to make a case for it.

Despite the green sitting atop a dune, the tee sits even higher - so you’re always playing down to it with the challenges and decisions laid out clearly in front of you. It never tries to trick you – but it's much more than zapping the yardage and hitting the stock shot.

What makes the hole so interesting is the depth and shape of the green. Wider at the front, and tapering away at the back. From front to back, the green is a full 97 feet deep, the back section 60% narrower than the front.

This means that depending on where the hole is cut, you have a genuine decision to make on the tee.

If the pin is at the back, do you go for the much narrower target? Or do you play instead for the significantly wider front portion? You’re almost doubling the width of the target, but you’re going to have to settle for a monster putt…

There aren’t many par 3s where even the mere mortals who play it can make this kind of decision, and one of the keys to the Postage Stamp’s strategy is the green’s great depth relative to its diminutive yardage.

From the tees to the front edge is 100 yards. To the back edge, it’s 130. On a calm day, for me, that’s anything from my 54 to a full pitch or half 9. When the wind’s blowing, there are even more decisions to be made.

For me, that is the very essence of strategic design. Putting decision making and options in the hands of the player, rather than dictating a one-dimensional approach.

To have the choice of playing for the front or back of a long par 3 is nigh on impossible for the majority of golfers. On a firm summers day, it might be luck rather than judgement that dictates where your ball finishes – perhaps one club of difference between the two outcomes.

But here, the decision is in your hands. Do you aim for the fleshy front with a sand wedge? Or go for broke with a full pitch to the narrow back pin? If you’re going to miss, do you tug it to the coffin bunker – where an up and down is not beyond the realms of possibility? Or do you go for broke and find yourself falling away to the more treacherous right-hand side?

It's still a small green that's protected all the way round - but the penalty of missing is still asymmetrical. This is the key element of a strategic one shotter. Like many great holes, the more you play it, the more secrets it reveals.

So next time you’re standing on that tee, remember that even though it might feel like a wing and a prayer, you probably have more control than you think. And for me that’s the sign of great architecture.

Sam Cooper, Editorial Director


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