9/27/16

The Templates: Alps

A history and analysis of C. B. Macdonald's Alps template hole

by

History

The Alps hole originated in Scotland at the birthplace of the Open Championship, Prestwick Golf Club. Designed by C.B. Macdonald’s mentor, Old Tom Morris, Prestwick’s current day 17th hole is the first version of the Alps hole, but was originally the 2nd hole.

Characteristics

The Alps hole is one of the most polarizing of C.B. Macdonald’s templates because it puts a feeling of uncertainty in players’ minds with its blind or semi-blind approach shot. Players that like to have the challenge visible in front of them hate the Alps hole while players who can put aside the blind shot and trust their yardage love the hole. The Alps par-4 design typically ranges from 400-430 yards in length and is defined by its blind second shot, usually over a hill. Guarding the green will be cross-bunkering short which the player is unable to see from the fairway.  Players are given some relief with the use of the punchbowl green complex which allows shots slightly offline to funnel back to the green. Over the years, many of the frontal bunkers were filled in by uneducated greens committees who felt the bunkers were too unfair and penal.

Strategy

One of the most fun holes to play, the first critical mission for a player on an Alps hole is to find the fairway. The approach shot is a difficult one because of its blind nature, so having full control of your shot is very important. A good tee shot will leave a mid-iron approach where long is better than short. The punchbowl green will funnel a slightly long shot back to the green, while one that comes up short will find the treacherous front sahara bunkering.

Prestwick Golf Club – 17th – 394 yards – par 4

The original Alps, the 17th at Prestwick, is the only hole remaining from the first Open Championship layout, thus making it the oldest championship golf hole in the world. Macdonald got his inspiration for the Alps template hole from this beauty which plays all of its 394 yards. A good drive leaves the blind approach to a heavily protected green. The front sahara bunker that can’t be seen by players on their second shot will penalize any shot that comes up short, while a good shot will most likely be helped by the punchbowl green complex which funnels balls to the center of the green and near pin positions. With today’s technology, some of the 17th’s teeth have dulled, but it still requires a good deal of strategy from a player especially when the wind kicks up.

The tee shot at Prestwick's 17th hole - Photo Credit: Bryan Izatt

Missing short in the sahara bunker at Prestwick's 17th is not recommended - Photo Credit: Bryan Izatt.

National Golf Links of America – 3rd – 426 yards – par 4

The most famed version of the Alps template in America is National Golf Links’s 3rd hole. From the start, a player is thrown off with the diagonal fairway that is heavily bunkered short and long making a precise tee shot a must. A tee shot to the left will shorten the hole but make the 2nd shot approach more severely uphill, while a tee shot down the right side will leave a less severe approach over the Alps hill and a peek at the green. From there, a player is faced with a blind approach to the subtle punchbowl green that is guarded by deep sahara bunkering.

The 3rd tee shot - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

The further left the more obstructed your approach view - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

A look at the massive green complex, sahara bunker and surrounds of NGLA's 3rd green - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

From behind the 3rd green - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

Fishers Island Club– 4th – 397 yards – par 4

The 4th hole at Fishers Island is arguably the greatest hole on Seth Raynor’s masterpiece. Favoring the right side of the fairway yields the best approach but also brings the risk of the shore into play. On the blind approach, players must judge the pin position off of the flagpole in the distance. The punchbowl green is one of the largest in the Raynor/Macdonald portfolio. It features a subtle spine on the back half, which makes almost every pin a bit more challenging.

The intimidating tee shot at Fishers Island's 4th - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

One of the largest of Macdonald and Raynor's punchbowls is the 4th at Fishers. Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

The look at the punchbowl green at Fishers Island's 4th - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

Greenbrier Resort – Old White – 13th – 492 yards – par 4

One of the tougher holes at the Greenbrier Classic is the long par four 13th. This is where Macdonald employed the Alps template. The 13th moves gently to the right. Tee shots that favor the left side gain the advantage of seeing the green complex. Tee shots down the right will shorten the approach shot, but will lead to a blind shot in. Macdonald used the deep bunker to obstruct visibility on this tough test.

A look at the approach from the left side of the fairway - Photo Credit: Zac Blair

A look at the green complex, bunkering and mounding - Photo Credit: Zac Blair

A look from behind the 13th green - Photo Credit: Zac Blair

St. Louis Country Club – 18th – 412 yards – par 4

The 412 yard finisher at Macdonald’s St. Louis Country Club makes closing out a good round very difficult. The 18th is dubbed “Oasis” but the hole has all of the key characteristics of an Alps hole, starting with the uphill tee shot that needs to find the fairway in order to have a good shot into the blind green. Fronting the green is an extremely deep sahara bunker that will swallow any shots not hit far enough. Once on the green, players are faced with a hard sloping green from right to left.

The tee shot at the 18th at St. Louis Country Club - Photo Credit: Kyle Truax

The view from the fairway - Photo Credit: Kyle Truax

The hidden sahara bunker that guards the front of the 18th green - Photo Credit: Kyle Truax

A look from behind St. Louis C.C.'s 18th green - Photo Credit: Kyle Truax

The Course at Yale – 12th – 400 yards – par 4

Seth Raynor created a phenomenal rendition of the Alps at the Course at Yale, one of his best designs. The completely blind second shot has to carry the front sahara bunkers and land the correct distance to give a player a good look at birdie.

Camargo Club – 7th – 427 yards – par 4

The Raynor design in Cincinnati has a great Alps hole – its 427 yard 7th plays up a large hill. The blind second shot at Camargo to a punchbowl green still has the hidden sahara bunkers to snag any poorly struck mid-iron approach shots.

The approach to Camargo's 7th

The obstructed view from in front of the green

A look at the sahara bunkers that guard the front of Camargo's 7th green

Lookout Mountain Golf Club – 11th – 418 yards – par 4

Some remark that the Alps at Seth Raynor’s Lookout Mountain could rival NGLA as the best American rendition. While I wouldn’t go that far, the 11th is a beauty. The 418 yard par 4 requires a strong tee shot to set up a good approach to the blind green that is flanked on the right side by a deep sahara bunker.

Morris County Golf Club – 7th – 455 yards – par 4

Dubbed “Big Ben,” the 7th is the signature hole at Seth Raynor’s great New Jersey layout, Morris County. Last year, Morris County restored the 7th to its original glory by bringing back its great punchbowl green complex. The bunkering behind the 7th makes players wary of going long.

The approach into Morris County's stout Alps template is dubbed "Big Ben" - Photo Credit: Spencer Waresk

Short right of the newly restored punchbowl green - Photo Credit: Spencer Waresk

The green, with bunkers and fescue waiting to punish wayward shots - Photo Credit: Spencer Waresk

Blue Mound Golf and Country Club – 4th – 388 yards – par 4

A subtle version of the Alps is at Seth Raynor’s Blue Mound outside of Milwaukee. Raynor wasn’t blessed with the best piece of land at Blue Mound but he made some terrific template holes, including the Alps. With today’s technology, a good tee shot will leave a wedge approach to the 4th, but just enough uncertainty is created by the semi-blind shot in. Unlike most Alps holes which use a hill or sand dune to obstruct a player’s view of the green, here, Raynor used two large sahara bunkers.

Blue Mound's 4th from the tee.

The approach over Raynor's cross bunkers

A look at the subtle punchbowl green

Forsgate C.C. – 5th – 417 yards – par 4

At Charles Banks’s terrific New Jersey track, Forsgate, the 5th hole is an excellent example of a natural Alps hole. Here, Banks forces players to play to the left side of the fairway because of the fairway bunker, leaving a blind second shot to the punchbowl green. Unfortunately, Forsgate lacks the sahara bunkering that most Alps holes have.

The tee shot on Forsgate's 5th hole - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com

The obstructed view from the fairway - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com

The look from short front of the green - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com

Behind the punchbowl green - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com

North Shore Country Club (NY) – 2nd – 311 yards – par 4

At Seth Raynor’s North Shore C.C. long hitters will salivate at the drivable 2nd. This rendition of the Alps has a semi-blind pin and forces a decision from the tee, go for it or play safe. The bunkering and mounding that obstructs players is 220 yards from the tee. To carry the mounding requires a 245 yard shot which will run downhill towards the green.

The 2nd tee shot at North Shore C.C. - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com

The approach from the right side of the fairway - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com

A look over the mounding which runs to the green - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com

Looking back at from North Shore's second green - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com

Old Macdonald – 16th – 455 yards – par 4

At Tom Doak and Jim Urbina’s Bandon Dunes tribute to C.B. Macdonald, Old Macdonald, the 16th mirrors National Golf Links of America’s Alps hole much more than Prestwick’s. One difference you’ll notice with Doak and Urbina’s rendition of the Alps is that they left space on one side for a player to run the ball up to the green. This adds some playability to the design for the less skilled golfer allowing them an opportunity to avoid the deep sahara bunker.

A look from above the 16th at Old Macdonald - Photo Credit: Bandon Dunes Golf Resort & Timothy Scahill.

Behind the green gives a good look at the enormity of the hill on the 16th at Old Macdonald - Photo Credit: Bandon Dunes Golf Resort & Timothy Scahill.

Flossmoor C.C. – 12th – 417 yards – par 4

The strong Herbert Tweedie design south of Chicago has a classic Alps hole. A good tee shot is necessary to setup the blind approach to the punchbowl green that slopes front to back. When firm and fast, the green that runs away makes the approach extremely difficult to hit the correct distance.

Flossmoor C.C.'s 12th tee shot.

The blind 2nd shot approach providing players with mystery and thrills

The green at Flossmoor's 12 slopes away but is built up into a subtle punchbowl.

Applebrook G.C. – 3rd – 310 yards – par 4

A modern twist on the Alps template lies at Applebrook Golf Club, a Gil Hanse design in Malvern, PA. The 3rd hole at Applebrook is a drivable par-4 that features a blind shot from the tee. If a player lays up, they will be faced with another blind approach to the green. From the tee, the goal is to carry the sahara bunker which lies about 265 yards out. If executed, a good shot will then funnel into the giant punchbowl complex. Chips from around the green are very challenging due to the severity of the depressed punchbowl.

The blind tee shot at Applebrook's 3rd.

The view from just above the sahara bunker short of the green.

A look back at the punchbowl green complex.

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