Great Par 3s: #13 at Carrick Knowe
A par 3 that refuses to accept the modern game.
With advancement in tech, the modern swing has removed a lot of the challenge of many historic golf courses. Strategies like the strokes-gained approach have shown that, on most courses, the best approach is getting the ball as far and as high as possible. Hitting it far and landing in the rough far outweighs the benefits of specific shot-making and control.
Unique wind conditions are, arguably, the only hazard that can thwart this approach. There's one specific hole – #13 at Carrick Knowe Golf Course in Edinburgh, Scotland – that I want to celebrate here. What makes this hole special is that it's effectively sculpted the wind to create conditions inhospitable to the modern swing.
The hole is only 149 yards, par 3, into a well protected, narrow green. The area around the green generally slopes a bit left-to-right, so missing the green will add significant challenges to getting close via recovery. There are also trees on both sides, leaving a window to shoot through, but the trees don’t extend to the green. On its face, it appears to be a fairly trivial hole, if a bit penal by design. However, the scorecard and map here ignore the most relevant factor: the prevailing winds.
These prevailing winds match up perfectly into the trees. Here, I’ve projected these wind directions onto the map of this hole. Notice that, no matter what the time of year, the prevailing winds are pointed straight into the gap.
Beyond this, notice that the opening forms a wedge. This wedge compresses the wind as it moves through, and the wedge shrinks almost to a point, right at the narrowest section of the gap in the trees. This compression of the prevailing wind causes an extremely strong burst wind, only at this exact point. There is so much pressure that builds up, I believe it even creates an updraft.
The effect stuns players who haven’t played it before. Even when there isn’t a breeze on the tee, and the flag is barely moving, locals playing in your group may try to warn you. If you simply add an extra club of distance, you’ll still be in trouble. The wind doesn’t act like a headwind – it actually changes the trajectory of the ball in the air. If you look at the illustration below:
Black Line: standard shot without wind.
Yellow Line: expected result in a headwind.
Red Line: actual result.
Here, I’ve tried to illustrate both how the wind speed and direction pushes up at the pinch point, and how the expected result will never reach the green. You can actually watch as the wind blows and the ball jumps up when it reaches this pinch point. The higher the lofted shot, the more the wind will stop the ball. Modern shots, high-flying 9-irons meant to play to 140 yards, are useless. The more height the ball has, the more the shot will be affected, which adds risk and unpredictability.
The options the player has are two fold. First, they can take the traditional, high, approach, but they will likely need to club up two or three clubs, depending on launch angle. Alternatively, the player could play the shot low, avoiding most of the wind all together, and running up onto the green.
Red Line: standard shot actual result
Upper Green Line: risky stronger club approach (at least two clubs stronger)
Lower Green Line: risky running shot approach (6 or 5-iron low-shot/punch)
Both shots have their risks. The high shot leaves everything to the wind. The distance can usually be well gauged, if you understand the unique effect here. However, any left or right spin will be amplified greatly, and any other movement from the wind is effectively random. The green is only 12 yards wide at its widest, and only 8 yards wide at its narrowest, and any miss will likely end up in a bunker. There’s not much room for error at all.
The low shot has its own risks. Firstly, the lead-up to the hole isn’t entirely flat, so the shot maker needs to guide the ball in, along an imperfect trajectory. While the green is 30 yards long, allowing plenty of room for error, it pinches in the center, so it may be safer to aim for the front, which is a problematic approach for a back pin. Each shot strategy has its advantages, but they are each unique, and both require a non-standard approach.
To me, the hole is incredibly interesting. It hinders modern golf-tech in a way that is unique, and reminiscent of a bygone era. If I were to suggest anything to improve or make the hole more interesting, it would be to add a small biarritz swale to the pinch-point of the green. A biarritz hole has a valley separating the front-section from the rear-section of a green, requiring more skill and giving players the thrill of watching their ball disappear while running across the green, only to reappear near the back pin. Proper drainage may not permit this, but it would add to the advantages and fun of the low, running shot. Here, there is a rare opportunity to re-introduce this lost template, to be played the way it was meant to be played.
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