Alternate Realities

Two holes are combined into one at the U.S. Open. We have some (impractical) ideas for more

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The Country Club's radical composite of two holes got the amateur architects in us thinking

June 18, 2022

BROOKLINE, Mass. — Golf course architecture is a tough field to crack, but most golfers are overflowing with opinions of how they’d put this bunker here or cut down that tree there. And that’s just the courses they frequent on a regular basis. Factor in some of the game’s iconic venues and you can waste an afternoon or three conceiving ways you’d breathe new life into familiar routings.

Which brings us to The Country Club, which has taken the bold step this week of combining two holes from its Primrose course, the first and second, to create a new par-4 13th for the U.S. Open. By golf standards, this is some Frankenstein-level patchwork, and it raises a logical next question: Why aren't we doing this more?

Well, for starters, simply borrowing from an idle set of holes on property is a luxury most clubs don’t have. And even if they did, remember, most great courses are great for a reason: They don’t need to be re-thought.

But that’s not as fun. So if you put aside all the practical considerations of the how-would-it-work, what-would-it-replace, why-the-hell-would-you-mess-with-that variety, an amusing exercise is to brainstorm new composite holes from courses we already know and love.

By the way, not all of this is fantasy. The Old Course has long employed a backwards routing that most notably features a tee shot from the first tee to the green of the Road Hole 17th (our Jamie Kennedy gave that course a crack here).

The Reverse Old Course is a special option offered during the year at St. Andrews, but other courses have tinkered with at least the idea of reconfiguring its layout using parts of other holes. Ahead of the second U.S. Open at Bethpage Black in 2009, for instance, the USGA’s Mike Davis was enamored with the idea of creating a more dynamic 18th hole by having golfers tee off from the existing 18th of the Black course, play across the first fairway of the adjacent Red Course, and finishing at the green of the Red’s 18th. It would have looked something like this:

Alas, as Davis told Golf Digest’s Ron Whitten, the USGA opted against the idea for fairly logical reasons: as a truly public course, Bethpage wanted to ensure golfers who played the course on a regular basis would face precisely the same test that the best in the world faced in a major championship.

“They can't do that when you piece together a golf hole,” Davis said.

So at Bethpage, pragmatism prevailed. Without that as a hindrance, though, you can get weird in a hurry. Start with the course you’ve likely watched on TV most of all: Augusta National. Maybe you wouldn’t change anything from Alister MacKenzie and Bob Jones’ masterwork. But if you could, what about creating a long par 3 or a drivable par 4 from the first tee to the second green?

Or if you want to add some teeth to the back nine, how about transforming the diabolical 11th into a risk-reward par 5 by having golfers play instead to the existing 12th green? This was an alternate reality conceived by Golf Digest architecture Derek Duncan, who contends this newly formed 615-yard par 5 would "present a second shot that more truly represents the 'momentous decision' that the 13th no longer poses."

Since distance seems to be a concern in golf these days, there are some creative ways you can add length elsewhere. Why not take advantage of Oakmont’s vast, treeless landscape by spicing up the finish and putting the 18th tee where the 14th tee is now?

Blasphemy? We’re not stopping there. The most iconic short par 3 in golf is probably Pebble Beach’s devilish seventh. During the 2019 U.S. Open, it measured 109 yards, which isn’t much for today’s Goliath pros. Less insulting would be another epic par 5 in which players start from the sixth tee, are forced to navigate a second shot over the cliffs to a landing area short of the green, before hitting back down again to 7 green.

Then again, simply adding length isn’t always a solution. The par-5 16th tee at TPC Sawgrass is a fun risk-reward hole as it is, but wouldn’t it be cool if players made a hard right to the island 17th green? A nervy tee shot now becomes an even nervier second shot.

It almost makes sense … until you have to start thinking about what to do with the other holes as well. We’ll let that be someone else’s problem.

Every Hole At The Country Club