The second hole at Midland, the Road Hole, has an interesting, and somewhat cloudy, history. Raynor modeled it after one of the most famous golf holes in all of golf, the 17th at the Old Course at St. Andrews. It’s important to remember that Raynor never traveled to the UK or Scotland himself to see where CB Macdonald got his inspirations for “Ideals or Templates,” but instead studied his notes, drawings, and work they completed together. When Raynor saw the land that the then 17th at Midland laid upon, it’s hard not to imagine he was excited.
From the drawing below, you can see a few key aspects of a Road Hole. First, on the tee, you have the option to bite off the inside corner of the dogleg. At the inception of Midland, the land to the right of the hole was still a farm. The club Board minutes state that they were considering compensating the farmer because of balls landing in his field, and eventually tried to purchase the land outright, but it was sold to a developer. Over the years, as the Oak trees have matured and protected the homes to the right, the tee has made its way up the hill to its current location, taking out some of the original strategy Raynor intended. But in 1921, if a player was to cut the corner with an aggressive line of play, there was a bunker waiting on the left side of the fairway. Notice its location below.
Below is the 17th at St. Andrews. Notice the tee location (lower right corner), a tee shot that is hit over the corner of the St. Andrew’s Hotel, and the left fairway bunker, known as The Scholars bunker. Also notice the shape and angle of the green, bending around a pot bunker, with a road behind the green.
Below is a another view of the Road Hole that highlights the left fairway Scholars bunker, with Fescue lining the entire left side of the dogleg, giving caution to hitting it long and left off the tee.
Below is the earliest aerial that we have, from the late 1930’s. Notice there’s no fairway bunker on the left, but instead its on the right side. By studying the Board minutes, we know that there were many member-made changes to the golf course, and it’s more than likely the fairway bunker was moved from the left to the right. It’s easy to imagine that when it was easier to cut the corner of the dogleg, it was assumed it would be more strategic to have the bunker on the right side. That bunker on the right disappeared during 1940’s, more than likely during the war, and subsequently, as the Oak trees matured on the dog leg, it became impossible to see. Raynor wanted you to see the Scholars bunker off the tee, he was taught by CB that the bunker was the aiming point.
Fast forward 99 years, and non-native Spruce trees have become the aiming point. As you can see below, we have restored more width to the fairway. The expansion on the right side, will carry an overly aggressive struck tee ball on the right half of the fairway, further off line to the right, as the rough kept the ball in the ideal corridor. The fairway expansion on the left side, gives the shorter player a chance to gain yardage once the ball hits the ground, bounces and rolls down the left landform.
However, the expansion on the left side also keeps the longer hitter’s ball rolling, and makes room for the original Scholars bunker to be restored. But how do we know that the bunker on the left was actually built? That is where Jim Urbina’s expertise comes into play. Jim looked at where the Spruce trees were planted on the left side of the hole, and could see that there was a deserted landform with grass growing over the top.
Jim painted out an area for Hartman Construction to remove the sod, and had shaper Zach Varty carefully peel away soil to explore if his “experienced hunch” was correct. Correct he was, as after Zach had dug down only a few feet, he found the original bunker sand from 1921. A very exciting archeological finding, as well as the first time that the map had proven to be correct.
The Scholars bunker restored below, with the fairway grassing line mown very close, to capture the long hitter’s shot.
If you look back at the original drawing, you’ll notice there were no green-side bunkers. Maybe Raynor decided that most of the shots being hit into the green would be blind, or maybe because he never saw the Road hole in person, he didn’t understand the significance of the bunkering or the road behind the green. Regardless, Jim chose to institute the Road Hole bunkering. But the existing bunkering did not fit the principles of the Template strategies, and the green itself needed to be adjusted in order to maximize the strategy that come with a Road Hole.
The bunker on the right side of the green was pulled back so it’s position was more behind the green. A bunker behind the green to mimic the road was often built when a road was not present. The location and depth of the bunker that would be built front left of the green took a good amount of deliberation. This bunker, called the Road Hole Bunker, is to create significant problems for balls being hit into the green from the left hand side.
The green itself had mounding around the back side that was removed, and converted to putting green surface. The backside of the Road Hole Bunker had to seamlessly tie into the green and approach, in order for it to work properly. Not only did Zach deliver on that challenge, but the rest of the shaping of the green complex shaping was brilliant. The result is one of the most dramatic changes to a green site, with the least amount of soil moved.
One aspect of the project you’ll never see is the re-irrigating of all the features that were rebuilt. Mark Ries worked closely with Hartman’s irrigation division to ensure greens, bunkers, and tees were re-piped and wired – no easy task. Hundreds of wires, and hundreds of feet of pipe were managed, organized, and checked, to make sure things were working post-construction.
Below is what we call finish-grading. From the shaper and drainage excavators, to the irrigation pipe pullers, to all of the heavy equipment that drives over the construction zone, the surfaces are left in shambles. Most of the areas need to be hand-worked with rakes, shovels, and old-fashioned elbow grease to get the areas prepared for sodding. Angles of shaping need to be checked to make sure greens, approach, bunker and surround mowers can actually mow the turf safely, and effectively.
The picture below shows how the bunker was pulled from the front corner of the green to behind the green, mimicking the “Road.”
Here you can see how much more pinable areas of the green was created, removing the “backstop” mounding, which also brings the back bunker into play.
A significant green expansion up the right hand side of the green occurred. Its difficult to see in this picture, but the right hand side of the green was tilted inward, allowing players to run their balls onto the surface and keep them on.
This hole will now play like a Road Hole, maybe even more so than it’s opening day. Whether Raynor envisioned it to play this way, we’ll never know, but historical hints and the history of the original Road Hole point us to the fact that we’re certain that it will be more strategic, and fun to play, for all skill levels of players in its current form. You’ll notice the transformation below – notice the width of the approach, the front right of the green being constructed over the existing bunker, and now that curving effect of a true Road Hole green surface.
The final step of the restoration was to remove the Spruce trees left of the new Scholars fairway bunker, which will now be your aiming point off the (blue/black) tee. For all of the big hitters, Fescue was planted left and past that fairway bunker, which will still give you a chance to advance your ball, but with a half-stroke penalty attached to it, and a bunker front left and back right to contend with.
If you’re interested in more information on Road Holes, check out the link by Andy Johnson https://thefriedegg.com/road-template-hole/