The first and only completed course in my illustrious design career was built for wiffle-ball golf. I was 10 and used trees in my neighborhood’s yards as pins. My friend and I would zigzag up the street, tearing up front lawns in search of low numbers. (Sorry, Mrs. Heintzelman!)
Not long after that misadventure, my grandfather introduced me to architecture on a bigger—and much better—scale. He was a member at the Seth Raynor–designed Shoreacres in Chicago and would take me to play a few times each summer. Those formative rounds as a wide-eyed kid ingrained quality design into my ideal vision of golf. Later, my years playing the amateur golf circuit and my discovery of design-obsessed golfclubatlas.com cemented my passion. When I launched The Fried Egg in 2015, my editorial mission quickly evolved into showing golfers the benefits and joys of superior course design.
Being an architecture critic came easily to me, but I’ve always wanted to try my hand at actually designing holes. Turns out my hand was the problem: It’s sad to admit that the biggest reason I never put any concepts to paper was because I am a truly dismal artist. But my travels allowed me to develop a relationship with gifted designer Mike Cocking (the second “C” in course design firm Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking & Mead), and he offered his help. It was time.
So I entered this year’s Lido Prize competition. Held annually by the Alister MacKenzie Society in remembrance of the great architect, the competition asks any armchair or aspiring architect to submit an original par-4 design. This is my entry:
For nearly a year, I couldn’t get a green idea out of my mind. It centered around the double plateau, my favorite template green. Used regularly by Raynor and C.B. Macdonald, this massive green complex is divided into three distinct sections: one at ground level and two elevated plateaus. I love the variety of tests it poses to players of all levels; by moving the pin from one segment to another, the hole’s strategy dramatically changes.
I wanted to do something more radical: What if two punchbowl complexes replaced the plateaus? The punchbowl is another green complex made popular by Raynor and Macdonald and it’s exactly as it sounds: a bowled area that funnels all shots toward the center. The view of the green is usually obstructed from the fairway, which leads to the exciting uncertainty of learning just how close your ball funneled to the hole.
I explained it all to fellow architecture buff and PGA Tour professional Zac Blair. He loved it, sketched a quick mockup and even helped me with a name: the Double Platbowl.
With the green settled, I decided quickly that the Double Platbowl would be most fun as a short par 4 that was reachable from the tee. Unlike real-world architects, who have to deal with whatever challenges the land gives them, entrants for the Lido Prize are allowed to choose their own topography. I set mine on dramatic sand dunes; this provided further potential for big numbers, but also the chance to find and play wayward shots.
One of MacKenzie’s sayings has always stuck with me: “A hazard placed in the exact position where a player would naturally go is frequently the most interesting situation, as a special effort is then needed to get over it or avoid it.” So I drew a line from the tee box directly to the green, figuring this was the position a player would naturally go. Then I created a centerline bunker along that line, dividing the fairway in two.
This allowed me to utilize possibly the most important factor in golf architecture: width. Width in the fairway and playing corridor allows players to create different angles to attack the hole. This variety increases strategy—some angles are beneficial; others are difficult—and creates no shortage of routes to take.
Option 1: Go for it
From the back tee, it’s 280 yards to cover the fairway bunkers. A precise shot will catapult toward the green and find one of its three sections, with the front-left punchbowl the most welcoming. This pin will yield the most eagles and birdies to the bombers who can control their drive. The green contours allow for a boomerang effect, where a shot running up the left side of the green could rollercoaster around the edge and down to the back right.
The rewards for finding the green are great, but shots that miss will find a difficult up-and-down. The greenside bunker nestled between the front-left and back-right segments is treacherously deep and will gobble overaggressive shots. Missing left guarantees a pitch shot into a green that runs away. Coming up just short is a good miss for the front-left and back-left locations, but could spell disaster on the back right. A big miss finds the sand dunes, where lies are uncertain and par becomes a great score.
Option 2: Lay up
Laying up means challenging the potentially nasty centerline bunkers. Players can play to the right, left or short of the bunkers, with each decision carrying drawbacks and benefits.
The smaller of the two fairways is up the right, which is a mere 25 yards wide but has better angles into each green segment. The green tilts from left to right, and playing from the right fairway creates contours that aid and corral approach shots. The right side is particularly great for an approach to the back-left punchbowl. But a loose swing could result in finding the sand dunes right or the deep bunkers on the left.
Going left of the centerline bunkers is a much safer decision, offering about 50 yards of fairway to hit. But it can lead to death by angle. The ideal play here is as close to the bunker as possible; every yard farther away from the bunker edge yields a worse angle into the green. The left pins will force those who bail to play over the left greenside bunker to a green that runs away. Thanks to the poor angle, the back-right punchbowl becomes a miniscule target that also slopes away.
The safest of the layup options is to simply play short of the centerline bunkers. That leads to an excellent approach angle, but a much longer shot to the green’s small targets.
Each year there are thousands of entries into the Lido Prize contest, and I must report that the Double Platbowl did not win. With such strong competition, I was not surprised. But I’m proud of it. The hole is packed full of everything I value in design: strategic options, testing execution and decision- making. It can yield birdies, eagles, doubles and triples. There are no trees or cart paths! Most importantly, this exercise has furthered my desire to create new things as well as comment on what others have built. So now it’s back to the Design Desk.
Andy Johnson is a Chicago-based golf writer and competitive amateur golfer. His website and newsletter, The Fried Egg, provides coverage on course architecture, and professional and amateur golf.