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The art of the short par-4: Tempting two-shotters from the South

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

No. 15 at Pine BarrensATLANTA, Ga. - For the final round of the 2003 Masters the tee markers on the par-4 third hole were set some 30 yards forward inthe hope that some contestants might be lured into dangerously going for thegreen with their driver. Conventional wisdom holds that such an aggressiveplay pays only when the pin is cut back-right, not in Sunday's shallowfront-left position, but the move did snare at least one player; but whoknewthat the player to took the bait would be TigerWoods.

Woods' drive sailed right into the pines and led to a double-bogey six,killing the momentum he had gained from a birdie at No. 2 andeffectively ending his chance at a third consecutive green jacket. The thirdhole at Augusta is not usually considered a drivable par-4, but in the 2003Masters it became the ultimate expression of how both alluring and deadlythe short two-shot hole can be.

In his book "The Links," Robert Hunter writes on the topic of the desire ofsome architects to make golf courses play easier (even in 1926!): "It's notthe love of something easy that has drawn men like a magnet for hundreds ofyears to this royal and ancient pastime; on the contrary, it's the maddeningdifficulty of it.Golf beats us all, and that is the chief reason we shallnever cease loving her, not ever give up our attempt to subdue her."

While that sentiment may cause us to wonder if Hunter suffered from aslightly heightened masochistic bent, it nonetheless helps to illustrate thecomplex psychological resilience that characterizes most golfers and makesthe tantalizing rewards of the short par-4 such an irresistible siren. EvenTiger Woods isn't immune to it, always.

The bright light and kryptonite of the short par-4 is temptation, thedesire, with one fell swing, to both card a birdie and indulge in golf'sfinest, most conquering ego-moment-the driving of the green. Author GeoffShackelford addresses the issue of temptation in his book "Grounds ForGolf," writing, "The element of temptation is the driving force behind allof the most interesting features in golf architecture. The shots we enjoyhitting most are those that elicit internal deliberation, causing us todebate whether to try a risky shot versus the safer play. They make uswonder if the time is right to take a chance and to consider whether we willregret having taken the easy way out."

No. 5 at CuscowillaNowhere is the "internal deliberation" more demonstrated than at thedrivable or near drivable par-4 where the chance for heroism, as well as theaddictive perfume of achievement, is so imminently possible compared tosimilar chances at longer holes or shorter pars.

One of the finest models of this type of hole in the South exists two hourswest of Augusta National on Interstate 20 at Cuscowilla Golf Club, a Bill Coore and Ben Crenshawdesign on the shores of Lake Oconee. The fifth hole plays 305-yards uphill,with a jagged cavernous bunker dominating the centerline of the fairway. Thedrive offers three options: a safe play out to the wide fairway right; alonger drive to an upper but narrower fairway left of the bunker; or acolossal shot over the top of the bunker at the green.

The beauty of the hole is that the most devastating result is reserved forthe most second-nature of all plays, straightaway drive that ends upbunkered. Other degrees of error are subtler. The nature of the small,crowned green (shaped like a small inverted light-bulb angled severaldegrees left) makes approaches from the lower right fairway ticklish,particularly to a rear pin. The upper left fairway is normally a superiorposition but reaching it takes courage and strength.

Across the lake from Cuscowilla-almost within sight-is the 11th hole at JackNicklaus' Great Waters Course at Reynolds Plantation, a par-4 of lessthan 350 yards from the back markers and a good bit downhill. Decisions hereare effected by the pin placement; if it's cut to the extreme left of the60-yard wide green, out toward the water, it's an iron and a pitch. Cutcenter or, especially, right, it's worthy of a go. Yet in certainsituations-a tail wind or a big bet-taking a blast at a left pin couldcertainly enter the long player's mind, however suicidal it may seem.

Of the several remarkable drivable par-4s in Florida, arguably none is asfeast-worthy as the 15th at World Woods' Pine Barrens Course outside Brooksville. What makes this330-yard theater of water, scrub, and sand so intriguing is not only it'slate placement in the round but also that the conservative route, a longiron or fairway metal to the gurgling left fairway, yields an approach-asemi-blind pitch from an awkward distance to a shallow green-that's nearlyas touchy as the boldest drive. The direct route over the hazard to thetongue of safety short of the green varies from 220- to 250-yards but evenif the green isn't quite made the pitch is straightforward. This is theessence of the risk/reward hole.

If a course possessing a daring short par-4 has been played thesense of anticipation for that hole often starts to build almost as soon asthe first tee ball is struck; the eagerness for glory, however, thattempting chance to get it all back with one swing, can often be a fatalmalfunction of judgment. Certain short fours are designed expressly forthat.

No. 8 at  Cherokee RunAt Cherokee Run Golf Club, a Palmer Course Design layout in Conyers,Georgia, the eighth hole measures a mere 287 to 301 yards, and this from asignificantly elevated tee. Worry in the form of a stream cutting tightagainst the front of the green causes most players to exercise common senseand back off the driver, but for others the sight of the beckoning greenseemingly so close down below lures players into trying on their big swingsat a hole where there's absolutely no room to miss.

Perhaps no architect in the South has consistently demonstrated the knackfor designing interesting short par-4s as much as BobbyWeed has. Fornearly every course he's designed, redesigned, or restored he's included orimproved upon at least one drivable par-4, and sometimes more.

"We love to design a short par four," Weed said in a 2001 interview with theauthor. "We still like the.short par four that has a lot of options andwhere there's a lot of additional risk and reward involved in thedecision-making. It's also very exciting to play from a set of tees wherethere is an opportunity to drive a par four."

Some of Weed's better original work in this mode includes the 316-yard 12that The Golf Club at Fleming Island, a hole that may recall the 11that Sunningdale Old to some, and the 14th at The Slammer & The Squireat World Golf Village. He's also re-energized some short fours of otherarchitects' design, including Donald Ross' downhill 17th at The University of Florida Golf Course in Gainesville and severalof Pete Dye's original holes at Amelia IslandPlantation (specifically the 296-yard opening hole on the Ocean Linkscourse and the 307-yard 10th at Oak Marsh).

Architects such as Weed and the former team of TomWeiskopf and JayMorrishhave found a place for the short par-4, but of late it seemsarchitects of all influence have rediscovered their charm and powerful,tantalizing possibilities. We can only hope that the unique and dare we saydeviant psychological proclivities that Mr. Hunter described continue to betitillated by this thrilling style of hole.

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in TravelGolf.com, FloridaGolf.com, OrlandoGolf.com, GulfCoastGolf.com, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.


 
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