Mmmm…doughnuts. Seriously, who doesn’t love ’em?
For me, there’s actually a close association between doughnuts and golf: early weekend spring and fall mornings spent driving 90 minutes away to tee it up in a junior golf tournament somewhere around New England, often with a quick stop at a local doughnut shop on the way. (Dunkin’ is a good backup, but the local doughnut spots in the northeast are the best – the dingier the floor, the better) Many’s the opening tee shot I’ve hit with crumbs still on my lips.
As for the type of doughnuts that appear as greens on golf courses like TPC San Antonio’s Oaks Course…not so much affection.
The concept of a bunker in the middle of the green does have roots in one of the greatest classic courses west of the Mississippi, but latter-day copies do not live up to George Thomas’ original: the par-3 6th at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.
Five bunkers guard the green of the par-3 16th at TPC San Antonio-Oaks, the annual host of the Valero Texas Open: three diagonally across the front-left, one on the right that pinches the front portion into a corner and one smack-dab in the middle of the triangular putting surface. The rear wings of the green sit higher than the front.
So, what is Greg Norman and Sergio Garcia’s doughnut green missing?
In a word: contour.
The 6th at Riviera may have inspired the latter-day doughnut greens, but the modern versions tend to forsake the clever undulations that make the original functional. In almost all cases, a player who finds his or her ball on the green but stymied by the hole’s small central pot bunker can use any of several banking slopes to direct a putt to the section of the green where the cup is cut. This practically negates the possibility of a player hitting a wedge shot from the green surface, creating a potential maintenance headache.
Conversely, it is relatively common to see players pitch from the 16th green at TPC San Antonio, because even while the green has some slopes, they do not encourage the sort of imaginative putting that no. 6 at Riviera does. And since TPC San Antonio is a resort-golf facility, you can be sure that the green sees its share of divots from overzealous amateur golfers attempting pitch shots from opposite ends of the surface. Far from ideal from a maintenance perspective.
I have encountered these holes on occasion in the wild, and my reactions to them are mixed. Last year, I (unsuccessfully) tried to qualify for the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Shadow Ridge Country Club in Omaha, Neb. The course’s bunkering was renovated by the very talented firm of Jackson-Kahn a few years ago, and to their credit, they managed to add intrigue to an otherwise fairly forgettable suburban layout routed through McMansions.
The downhill par-3 13th plays over a pond to a doughnut green that has some nice subtle features, with two large flanking bunkers providing some nice contrast to the central one. Ultimately it’s a fun hole to look at, but I think a little more contour on the green and a smaller expanse of fringe surrounding the middle bunker would help it function better. I can imagine members and guests taking divots out of the front-right part of the green in pursuit of a rear-left hole location.
Banyan Cay Resort is a Jack Nicklaus redo of the former President Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. Its par-4 12th green sports a bunker in the middle of it. I played it shortly after it reopened, and, while I appreciate the rest of the course’s restrained bunkering – much of it with stacked artificial sod faces – I thought the pot in the middle of the 12th green was a feature too bold for that hole.
Rather than tying in with the green, it more or less turns one already small putting surface into two tiny ones. That said, it did provide some novelty in the form of a fun Instagram moment courtesy of my caddie. Of course, what the camera doesn’t show was me chunking my first shot from that bunker…
There used to be one in the middle of the Norman’s par-3 12th green at Trump International Golf Links Ireland (aka. Doonbeg), but the resort hired Martin Hawtree to remove it and retool the links after a damaging winter storm in 2014. There is another one on the bonus par-3 19th hole that wraps up the round at Forest Dunes’ original Tom Weiskopf design in northern Michigan. It makes the 117-yard wedge shot more intimidating than it should be.
I believe the cheekiness and riskiness of doughnut greens pairs better with the casual, anything-goes vibe of short courses. One clever use of this feature that I have seen is at Mountain Shadows, an adventurous par-3 course at the center of a midcentury-modern resort in Paradise Valley, Ariz. There, architect Forrest Richardson placed a bunker at the junction of a large double-green shared by the 13th and 14th holes, in effect using the hazard to handle an awkward spot in the routing. In this case, the bunker is mainly a greenside one, with a twist. This application makes more sense to me because it is integrated within a massive expanse of green that might otherwise look too big for its environs.
Andy Staples plopped a bunker in the center of the 9th green at The Staple at PGA National Resort; in the context of the wild putting surfaces there, it makes total sense.
While I’m not ready to completely dismiss the concept of doughnut greens, outside of my desire to see the original at Riviera, I’m not entirely sold on their status as much more than a novelty feature, though I’m willing to give them more leeway when they appear on short courses.
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