June 25, 2007

Golf is most fun when it's made

All golf holes should play downhill. My ideal golf course would start at the top of the Jungfrau and end on a beach somewhere around Interlaken, preferably near a cozy restaurant where they serve raclette cheese and nobody yodels or does an accordion thing.

There is no such thing as a good uphill hole. An uphill hole means blind shots. It means trudging. It means the cart is out of juice. It means nobody can reach the green in regulation but Godzilla or John Daly.

Besides all that, when you get to the top of the uphill hole, is it Granada you see or merely Asbury Park? Neither. It's condos.

Uphill holes sometimes have cute nicknames that are meant to alleviate the golfer's pain and suffering. Fun things like Cardiac Hill, Heartbreak Ridge, Suicide Mountain.

Most of my nicknames for an uphill hole are unprintable, except perhaps for Custer's Last Double Bogey.

Architects will argue that in most cases the uphill hole is unavoidable. Often it's the only way to get from Point A to Point B, they contend. To this, I say what's wrong with a small nuclear device that could blow away the hill and leave only enough radiation to contaminate, say, okra, carrot cake and handicap thieves?

The recreational golfer who gives it careful thought will conclude that the favorite golf hole in his life played downhill, gradually or severely, and normally was downwind as well.

I've been fortunate, largely because of the profession I chose, to have played all the usual suspects — Augusta National, Pine Valley, Merion, Cypress Point and other legendary tracks that offer take-home golf holes — but my favorite is still No. 14 at Goat Hills.

This 301-yard, downhill par 4 was the preferred golf hole of my youth and early adult life. It offered a welcome relief from the four holes leading up to it on the back nine. Which were three consecutive par 4s with tight out-of-bounds on the left, meaning a narrow residential street and front lawns waiting to gobble up the slightest hook off the tee, and then a 225-yard par 3 with a green the size of a dinner plate — a hole you could count on to par at least once a year.

Ah, but next came the delicious 14th, which always made life worth living and golf worth playing, usually.

Teenagers who sneaked on without paying green fees could drive the green. So could arthritic geezers. In fact, everybody could drive the glorious 14th, except the slow-playing fat ladies in long skirts and bonnets.

All of us Goat Hills regulars spoke of the 14th in reverent tones, proposed to it, tried to take it out on dates. It even had the convenience of a creek that ran behind the green in which you could drown your clubs if you failed to make a birdie.

There are a few other peeves I have about golf course destinations.

Take wastelands, please. Especially those that cross the fairways daring you to clear them, and those deeper and wider ones that intimidate you off the tee, suggesting that if your drive doesn't have enough carry, your golf ball will wind up in China.

Wastelands were for trench warfare in World War I when people were singing "Sister Susie's sewing shirts for soldiers" and "I'd like to see the Kaiser with a lily on his chest."

I'm sure that's where wastelands were the happiest.

Finally, I wish course designers would keep in mind that all putts should break to the left. There ought to be an easy way to do this, modern turf and drainage and bulldozers being what they are.

Nobody can make a putt that breaks to the right. It's unnatural. Unless you're left-handed, of course.

Standing over a putt that breaks to the right can actually make you dizzy. I've long thought that right-breaking putts are a major contributor to mental and physical ill health.

All I'm saying here is, let's make golf fun again.

For more from Golf Digest's Dan Jenkins, click here.