News & ToursAugust 13, 2011

Atlanta Athletic Club: Bunkers, water, and more bunkers

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- Okay, forget Tiger's woes and Rory's wrist for just a moment; here's what has really been going on here at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

On the first hole, the players are asked to hit their balls between bunkers on either side of the fairway.

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Rory McIlroy walks down the first fairway. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

On the second hole, the players are asked to hit their balls between the bunkers on either side of the fairway.

On the first par-3, the 4th, there is a large lake directly in front of the green.

On the first par-5, the 5th, the players are asked to hit their balls between the bunkers on either side of the fairway.

On the 6th hole, some variety is introduced - but don't get too excited - the players are asked to hit their balls between the water hazard on the left and the bunkers on the right.

On the eighth hole, the players are asked to hit their balls between the water hazard on the left and the bunkers on the right.

On the ninth hole, normal service is resumed; the players are asked to hit their balls between the bunkers on either side of the fairway.

I could go on. And on.  And on. And on (both par-3s on the back-nine ask the players to hit over water hazards). But the story would be the same: success in this 93rd PGA Championship is all about execution, or, if you like, an ability to kick field goals from the tee. Any semblance of lateral thought, imagination or flair has been almost completely eliminated. Thank goodness Seve isn't alive to see this - the poor man suffered enough in the last years of his too-brief life.

Boy, am I bored.

*(Related: Take a virtual tour of Atlanta Athletic Club)*

               Surely this can't be what golf at the highest level has to be about. Surely there has to be something more cerebral about the game when played by the very best. If the most important five inches in golf really are between the ears, why then has such a vital aspect of the greatest sport of all been pushed aside?

Boy, I'm perplexed. And I haven't even mentioned the fact that there is way too much sand in the bunkers and that how to play the 18th hole is an unfathomable enigma wrapped in mystery. As Phil Mickelson said after the opening round: "Moving the tee up doesn't mean you can hit the ball further down the fairway because there is no fairway to hit to."

I'm not alone in my befuddlement, of course. Mickelson was also notably outspoken on both the general lack of strategic merit on the Highlands course here at the Atlanta Athletic Club and the effect such "design" has on the likes of you and me.

"I don't know if past experience is going to make a difference or not," he sighed. "I just think you've got to hit the shots and make some putts. It's pretty obvious how you have to play the holes. There are no options that allow you to play holes different ways. You just have to execute. And there's some guys out there executing and making some birdies.

"I also think if you look at the four par-3s, it's a perfect example of how modern architecture is killing the game. These holes are unplayable for the member. You have water in front and you have a bunker behind, so the player has no avenue to run a shot up. That's a great example of how modern architecture is killing participation in golf. The average guy just can't play it."

"Lefty" is right, of course. To this observer at least, it is a mystery why a course that is boring for the best and too difficult for the rest is deemed suitable for a major championship. One can only wonder what the casual golf fan makes of it all. Is he or she out there thinking, 'boy I'd love to play there and lose lots of balls'?

I don't think so.

-- John Huggan

Do you agree with Huggan's take? Join the conversation on our partner site, GolfWRX.com.

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