I don’t think ‘fun’ necessarily means easy. Hard golf courses can be fun, in their own way. I always took a massive amount of satisfaction from playing US Open venues like Oakmont.
However that could be because I knew that sort of course and that sort of set-up was the way that particular event is; that’s what it is supposed to be like, rather than the golf course being fun.
Because you also get events where the golf course is back and forward, back and forward, and you are wearing out your long-to-mid irons trying to hit greens, and it’s hard and it’s a good test – but the best courses are the ones that make you think.
The 18th on the Blue Monster at Doral perhaps sums up what I am saying. It is hard, but it asks you questions – and I am all in on that. That’s fun to me. Something that really makes you think, because the fairway pinches in and asks you to hit a drive on a very particular line.
If you take on the challenge and deliver, that’s when you feel the most satisfaction and exhilaration when you are a professional… and also possibly as an amateur too.
“Because of advances in club technology, I can get close to every green on normal courses. But there’s no fun in taking a six-iron off every tee so I admit it, I just hit driver!”
Wentworth is a brilliant tournament course again, but a lot of amateurs would come off and not enjoy the fact they have been beaten up by it. The West is designed as a tournament course, not for the average golfer. I’m hitting a five-iron into some greens… it’s a hard shot. It’s a harder shot if you are hitting three wood – and that’s if you are a good amateur. If you are a 20-handicapper I don’t think you can get up on many holes. They are par 5s, which is like playing a different hole.
So I think I get a lot more fun from it than a normal golfer, even if the green complexes on the West are now more fun too.
There are other Tour venues that can be fun. Harbour Town is. It engages me mentally because you don’t just stand there and always hit driver.
Lots of aspects of Augusta, are fun, which I find more fascinating to play more than any other course. Take the 10th, having to turn a three wood so much round that corner, the kind of shot that’s almost becoming a lost art.
If you were a real artist back in the day, the more skilled you were the more you could use the slopes to your advantage. That’s why Tiger was and is so good, and Faldo before him. Changing trajectory and spin rates… that is fun. Now it is all about how high and hard you can hit it.
One of the other things I love about Augusta is that it goes beyond my level of creativity.
I’ve got a good creative mind but it was only when I went there and went round with a local caddie before the tournament that I realised what creativity was.
The 6th would be a great example of that. The green has a shelf and that day the flag was front left, miles away from that shelf. He said to me, “If you miss it left, how do you play it?” I said, “Well you have to hit a dead weight shot so it just gets to the top and then creeps down.” But you could actually hit the chip right up the back of the green and then let it feed all the way back down. Because the green is so quick and there is so much undulation, my mind couldn’t initially see that.
Kingsbarns is another that is right there for me. Links golf as a whole does it for me because every single day it is fun and every single day it is different, even if it’s the exact same pin positions and tees – because it changes so much with the weather.
If you don’t have that weather variable, that’s when variety is so key for a golf course to be fun. I like to see myself having to work my your way through your golf bag; that’s a strong sign a course has variety.
So a mix of par 4s that you can drive but also ones where you have to hit a long iron into the green. Ones where you can take it on and it might be an eagle waiting for you but also a big score.
Par 5s that you can try to reach like 13 at Augusta; they have that risk-reward element which is crucial for me. And I want par 3s where you can blow up, like 12 at Augusta or 17 at Sawgrass, or the Postage Stamp. They are short but you know there is a big score waiting to happen if you get it wrong. Mentally that’s the challenge.
I’m a member at Formby so I’ve played Formby Ladies many times. It’s brilliant and has some of the best par 3s you’ll ever play. They are arguably every bit as good as those on main course there, and that’s saying something.
I grew up learning the game on Formby Ladies; my dad used to take me quite a lot because the length of the holes was perfect, so I got to feel what an adult would get to feel playing a standard-length course.
I could reach par 4s in two and use the same kind of clubs as they did, so I wasn’t just hitting woods into every hole. Which is possibly a lesson for higher handicappers to heed…
The irony is that now because of advances in club technology, when I play most men’s courses, if I hit driver on every hole I’m just wearing out my wedges or driving the green, so I’m not getting the most out of it. And there’s no fun in taking a six-iron off every tee so I admit it, I just hit driver!
“The Old Course is misunderstood. People think you can hit it anywhere; you can, but you won’t beat me. Because I know the angles you need to approach each green.”
Probably most creativity is now around the greens. Kingsbarns has these little compartments to the greens and of course the Old Course does.
The Old Course is misunderstood like that. People think you can hit it anywhere; you can, but you won’t beat me. Because I know the angles you need to approach each green.
And it all adds up, because if you take it down the harder driving lines with the bunkers on the right, you have so much more chance to get it close, especially if the flags are in tricky spots.
There’s a fun course for you – the Old. And I know it like the back of my hand because it is a course you love to learn. If you put me on any green and gave me any putt I could tell you what it will do in a second. One of my strengths was being able to work out what I needed to do – less of a strength was being able to execute it!
NCG’s Top 100 Fun Golf Courses in GB&I
- How we compiled our Top 100 fun ranking
- What do tour pros consider ‘fun’? We asked them
- ‘Quirkiness and unfairness’ – architect Frank Pont’s fun essentials
- What makes our fun course? Our Top 100 panel explain