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Redux: Harbour Town A Shotmaker's Course?

A year ago I suggested that Harbour Town wasn't the shotmaking masterpiece the CBS gang and now the PGA Tour players suggest it is, and now I'm happy to say that Tom Dunne has joined the debate.

Ask yourself this: Would "fun" be among the first adjectives you’d use to describe Harbour Town? Not to this observer. This isn’t meant as a value judgment—Dye’s modus operandi with most of his designs is to take golfers out of their comfort zones, using all kinds of stratagems to ratchet up the intimidation level. They weren’t necessarily designed to be "fun," though of course many golfers enjoy the thrills and stark do-or-die challenges that they offer.

Here’s the larger, more important question, though: Is Harbour Town a great strategic golf course? I would argue it is not, because despite the creativity of Dye’s greens and hazards, the course is a tactical nightmare.

It acquired a reputation as a shotmaker’s course, but in defining it in opposition to the "7,200-yard championship designs" of the Trent Jones era, it’s possible that problematic or imprecise language was used. The issue is that at Harbour Town, the nature of those shots are frequently dictated to the player, and that far too often the demand is to hit it dead straight, or else. Does a true shotmaker’s course limit the player’s options? Sure, in the course of every round the player will probably have to manufacture at least a couple of wild, thirty-yard hooks or slices around trees. That’s shotmaking, all right, but it’s of the forced variety rather than the imaginative.

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Reader Comments (26)

Somewhat agree and I think to a certain extent the trees have grown up too much and have become a factor and I am not a fan of that. I also think that the "vibe" of the island gives the golf course maybe a better ranking than it deserves, kind of the whole "experience" thing. It's a cool place that is unique and the players like that. Eventually, like lots of the older classics, the tree issue will have to be addressed. I am not happy that length was added to the course. Sometimes these courses need to be left alone, especially if they are popular venues. Don't chase the players away and stop already with "protecting" the course. If the entire field shoots 63 or 64 then we might have a problem. If a handful of guys shoot some low numbers each day it's fine. They are the best players in the world after all.
04.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarter K
Can it not be considered a shotmaker's course even though the variety of shots required are prescribed? Bubba's shot in The Masters playoff was prescribed, and nobody doubts that wasn't a great shot by one of- if not the- best shotmaker playing the game today. I ask this even though my favorite courses are the links of Ireland and Scotland.

The champions identified by a particular course says a lot to me, and this is a pretty impressive list.

Among The Heritage Champions from 1969 - 2011:
Brandt Snedeker
Jim Furyk
Aaron Baddeley
Stewart Cink (2)
Davis Love III (5)
Justin Leonard
Nick Price
Bob Tway
Hale Irwin (3)
Payne Stewart
Greg Norman
Fuzzy Zoeller (2)
Bernhard Langer
Nick Faldo
Tom Watson (2)
Bill Rogers
Hubert Green (2)
Graham Marsh
Jack Nicklaus
Bob Goalby
Arnold Palmer
04.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Matre
I hate the golf course after playing it 4 times. It is typical Dye crap. The only PGA Tour course that I have played and dislike more is Doral. Both of them seem like they are trying to remove any sort of fun from golf. Just atrocious in every way.

Why have I played it 4 times if I hate it so much? Because I was guest of a local who is a good friend. Every time I visit he wants to play there and I just grit my teeth and smile because it means a lot to him.
04.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterJW
I play it in the simulators, and there are way to many trees and water hazards to be fun.
04.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark
Tom Dunne nails it. (Dunne is very good, btw.)

HT is An unfun course. I've always assumed it got its reputation only because it was built at a time when there were so many much worse courses being built.

Golf architecture has come a long way since the late 60's. Play HT if you must for historical reasons. But if you don't care about such things, skip it.
04.14.2012 | Unregistered Commenterotey
What fatties are you guys smoking? Harbor town is one of the best courses on Tour as well as a great shot makers course. Every hole requires a specific shot and precise shot to be successful. It requires precision over strength. It forces you to use every club in your bag and maneuver the ball both ways and different trajectories.
Anyone who can't see this is inept at the game of golf.
04.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobbie
Every time I have played it I have had to hit "shots". Unlike most courses, there are times that I was in the fairway and wished I was on the other side of the fairway. I think that a shotmaker will shoot a better score than a non shotmaker.....every day.
Part of what makes a Dye design great is that he keeps you guessing. If you can't improvise and adapt, you might as well quit playing the game.
04.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterJason
The houses jammed along many of the FWs are also a lovely touch. *rolling my eyes* Seriously, I may be inept but I have played golf in a lot of different places in the world and at a lot of different courses (more than 400 the last time I counted) and here's what I can say with absolute certainty: "If all golf courses sucked as bad as HT does I wouldn't play golf at all." It would suck if every course were that boring and had no fun attached to it at all. I'll not insult anyone here due to their opinions unlike some of the other commenters though. If you enjoy the course, great. There are many people that do and I have no issue with that at all. I promise you won't have trouble making a tee time because of me. Everything in that article feels correct to me. Contrived would be a compliment to that POS.
04.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterJW
Ye gods, JW. Having played so many courses in your lifetime, I would have guessed you would have come to appreciate the differences that different golf courses present. Is Harbour Town pretending to be anything but what it is? No. It is very much a Pete Dye course. You are presented with few options off the tee. If you don't meet those demands your next shot must curve, go low, go high, even run along the ground if that's the only option to set up your next shot. If you can't be having fun at Harbour Town with its unique challenges, I can't imagine how many of those 400 courses you've played where you did have fun. And yes, there are houses along the fairways. But they are largely unobtrusive and barely noticeable unless you're trying to over emote your criticism. I've played well over 300 courses in my lifetime (I keep a list). I've enjoyed every one from dog track to the Old Course. There's not one of them I'd choose to play with you.
04.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterTroglodyte
Too many trees
04.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Spachler
Child please!
04.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobbie
@RM You left off Boo Weekley, 2x winner. You're right, it is an impressive list of past winners. I remember in the late 70's when they used to name all the sandwiches in the grill after past winners. Cool stuff for a wide eyed 14 year old.
04.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarter K
I think the better a player you are, the more you'll appreciate Harbour Town. I can't wait to play it again, personally. I wouldn't take a bogey golfer there, though, if I could help it.
04.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterTim Gavrich
You guys with the personal insults are quite humorous. Feel free to continue to do so but I'll not insult anyone here for their choice to like that course or any other. The same goes for any course you hate or any other. My index is 4.2 so while I'm hardly what anyone would call a great player I'm more than able to judge the course. The last time I played there I shot 77 from the Dye tees or whatever they are around 6600 yards. I can't complain because it is too hard. Admittedly the first time I played I shot 88 which is well above my norm but once I figured out the tricked up design it wasn't too hard to lower that considerably. Oh well, I realize I won't change anyone's mind and honestly I'm not sure I would want to. If you guys enjoy then please continue to do so. I will not comment any more on this unless someone has a specific question that I can help clarify.
04.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterJW
To decide if it's a shotmakers course you first have to define shotmaking. Anybody??
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterFester
I'll start it off - a good shotmaker should be somebody with great control of his ball once it hits the ground. Is the ability to do this important at Harbour Town?
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterFester
Seems as if the course requires more strategy than a normal course, but that doesn't mean it is a shotmaker's course.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterGolfin Dolphin
So what are the shot-makers courses that the pros play and what separates them from HT?
I also thought shot-makers courses were ones that encourage you to play every shot in your repertoire rather than just bomb it and fire straight at the pins.
On the current PGA rosta I would asses places like Riviera, Torrey Pines, HT, Quail Hollow, Muirfield etc... as being the shot-makers courses.
In my limited knowledge HT seems in a similar style to Valderamma. Another course that demands you plot your way round but if you are out of position still gives you a chance to shape shots to greens.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterTroublelove
JW. Didn't mean to get personal. Based on how many of the guys doing well this week are fat( pettersen, Knost, boo) you're probably pretty fit. I'm fat so I must love the place. Which I do.
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobbie
JW, what are yout 10 most favourite courses?
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBuffett
JW, what are yout 10 most favourite courses?
04.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBuffett
Hard question because it might change depending on the day you ask me but I think if I had to name my 10 favorites then I would probably go with (in no particular order):
1. Royal County Down
2. The Old Course
3. Lahinch
4. Royal Melbourne-West
5. National Golf Links
6. Old MacDonald
7. Old Head (even though I know it isn't a links course, still love it)
8. New South Wales
9. Stone Canyon Club
10. Spyglass Hill

That list only contains courses that I have played more than once. I left off a few courses that I loved but have only been fortunate enough to play one time because I don't feel like I can provide a truly fair perspective in one round. Too many other factors can play into on that day if you only play it once (score, weather, playing partners, etc).

Many people I know think Old Head is a crap fake links course but I love it nonetheless. Stone Canyon Club is another one that would bring the ire of many raters and traditionalists but again, I don't care because I think it is great.
04.16.2012 | Unregistered CommenterJW
I've never played HT, so I can't make a personal judgement, but T. Dunne's analysis makes sense to me. The lack of width is what keeps it from being a true shotmakers course. On a side note, I really enjoyed the "Dylan goes electric" and Sun Tzu references.
04.16.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike T.
There is no rule that says everyone must like the same courses. Who cares if JW doesn't like HT? I certainly don't. That 10 favorite list just made me laugh and move on.
04.16.2012 | Unregistered CommenterPress Agent
I have played HTGL more than 30 times and it is absolutely terrific! You can hit the (wrong part of the) fairway on every hole out there except 18 and have to shape the ball to get it onto the putting surface. To me that's fun. Also, are the tour players so brainwashed or completely incapable of individual thought that they continually rate it so highly amongst tour golf courses? Sorry, I'm not buying it. I would play it ahead of almost every other regular PGA Tour course if given the option. Geoff - how many times have you played there?
04.17.2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Rice

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