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Jim Nugent

Q from a neophyte: explain the ground game and its nuances
« on: November 29, 2005, 04:24:22 AM »
Until I started reading, I was barely aware of the ground game.  It was something I almost never did, and almost never saw the pro's do either.  Fly the ball onto the green with the right trajectory and spin to stop it where you want.  That is how I learned the game.  It probably covered 98% or more of the approaches I faced.  (On the admittedly pretty pedestrian courses I mostly played.)  The exceptions were usually when my drive strayed under trees and the only chance was a punch shot, not due to instrinsic design choices.  

I'd like to know more about the ground game.  Can you control your shots as well with it?  Will a top player get as close to the pins, will he score as well on courses that demand the ground game?  Does it shorten the course?  My guess is that due to the effect of the green, you have to practice it on the course more than the range.  No?

The ground game gets lots of applause here on  Why?  Should more golf courses stress the ground game -- are there some great ones that are exclusively or almost exclusively "ground game" venues?


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Re:Q from a neophyte: explain the ground game and its nuances
« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2005, 05:30:23 AM »

From my perspective the ground game is important as an option.  I use this option quite a bit when I am close to greens, but most very good wedge players (which I am not) would prefer to bang a wedge in with any variety of spin rather than take their chances along the ground.  I think they prefer the aerial route because it is generally easier to pull off.  

The ground game is also important for longer shots.  If a guy can't hit a towering 180 yard 7 iron to a back right pin, it is great to have the option to run one in using the contours.  I am not nearly good enough to pull this shot off with any consistency because it is a difficult shot to hit, but for most, this is the only way thay can hope to get close to the hole.

These scenarios require the right architercture and fast conditions.  Usually the faster the course (especially with some wind), the more opportunity for the ground game.  This is why TOC was a fantastic venue for The Open in July.  Even the big boys were choosing the ground game for some shots.  It was a lot of fun to watch the shotmaking despite the lack of competition for Tiger.  The Open on fast courses is easily the most entertaining tourney to watch.

You are right in one respect.  Often the ground game is used because a player is out of position.  Even many pros will bump and run when in trouble rather than take on the Phil flop.  

There are quite a few old time amateurs of some considerable skill in the UK who play along the ground.  True, the GG is dying out because these flat bellies take full advantage of superior clubs, balls and often times slow courses.

I think more courses should be built with the ground game more in mind because it is a fun way to play golf.  Some time ago somebody posted a thread stating that the longer a shot took to come to rest the more exciting the shot is.  There is nothing like watching a ball run like a stabbed rat, disappear, reappear, turn, bump and fizzle to 10 feet for a birdie chance.  


New plays planned for 2024: Fraserburgh, Hankley Common, Ashridge, Gog Magog Old & Cruden Bay St Olaf

Philip Gawith

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Re:Q from a neophyte: explain the ground game and its nuances
« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2005, 06:47:16 AM »
Jim - if you were exposed more to links, or links-style, courses, you would probably find it easier to understand the rationale for the ground game. Often the courses are hard and firm, so are the greens, and the slopes on the greens mean that balls run off them easily. In these circumstances, hitting the ball in the air and hoping to get it close quickly feels impossible - you just KNOW that you will lose control. So the ground game is a necessary response to courses where you find these conditions.

And when you think about conditions and the ground game, think WIND - the ground game is in significant part a response to the prevalence of strong wind at links course, where putting the ball in the air is a hazard.

Certainly courses where the ground game is a live issue will often play shorter, simply because the balls runs so far. So the main challenge becomes one of control, not of power.

Part of the reason this site esteems the ground game is because it is felt to be more in tune with the origins and traditions of the game. As such, it is seen as the antithesis of target golf - heavily watered, yardage driven, grip and rip it, corporatised, commercialised, commoditised etc etc golf.

Another reason is that it requires more imagination - you can't just say you are putting your 9 o'clock swing on your 60 degree wedge and therefore ball travels 46 yards. You might say that it appeals more to art than to science - in terms of how you execute shots. So I think the answer is that it is probably more difficult to control shots with the ground game - but it is that very uncertainty which is the challenge you should welcome.

A further factor why people might like the ground game is that while (in terms of approach shots) it does not exclude the aerial route, it allows people to hit it along the ground if they choose. So it offers a choice. By contrast, if there is water or a big bunker in front of a green - there is no choice, you have to carry the hazard. So there is less thought involved in the type of shot you might hit - and this type of hole may be very difficult for weaker golfers.

To your final point - it is probably not true to say that any course is "exclusively" a ground game venue, but it certainly is the case that when a links course is firm and running, a golfer unfamiliar with the ground game is going to have a very hard time!


Re:Q from a neophyte: explain the ground game and its nuances
« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2005, 07:12:31 AM »
Philip, Great Stuff!

Best description of the "ground game" that I have yet read.

Others, who are curious and open minded.

Read this, compare and contrast. :)


Re:Q from a neophyte: explain the ground game and its nuances
« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2005, 08:09:26 AM »

That sure is a good and comprehensive description of the ground game.

An excellent example of a set-up in a major tournament that was as much geared to the ground game as one is likely to see today was the recent Open at St Georges. If one really paid attention to the approach shots very few of the players attempted to fly the ball all the way to the green surfaces as that shot invariably went over the green. That was certainly an example of the ground game in effect in a major these days, as the typical highly skilled player's aerial shot to fly the ball to a target on a green and basically stop it or suck it back didn't exist due to the firmness of the course through-out.

« Last Edit: November 29, 2005, 08:11:20 AM by TEPaul »


Re:Q from a neophyte: explain the ground game and its nuances
« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2005, 08:14:24 AM »
Excellent perspective, Philip.  Some American designers transitioned the way the game was played including aerial demands on some holes in addition to aerial and ground options on others.  These architects, including among others Crump, Wilson and Flynn, thought along with the ground game they would provide shot testing of a wider range of demands including aerial shots.  It works better on non-links style American courses and transitioned the Old World game into an American game.  It is a fascinating evolution.
« Last Edit: November 29, 2005, 08:15:07 AM by Wayne Morrison »


Re:Q from a neophyte: explain the ground game and its nuances
« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2005, 08:33:00 AM »

In this country (America) the ground game or the ground game option has become a subject of pretty in-depth discussion recently in various circles and at various golf courses.

The reason it has become that is a pretty good and increasing number of clubs and courses are trying to figure out how to re-establish ground game effectiveness. This is perhaps turning out to be not quite as easy or quick to do in some cases as some might've hoped because grass and turf that's essentially been over-irrigated (and chemical dependent) for years and years and has become conditioned to that process needs time to transition to consistently firmer conditions.

That's one part of it and the other part obviously has to do with the type of soil and drainage conditions various courses have and that can vary tremendously from course to course and region to region.

To transition a course's turf to low irrigation and lack of dependency on chemicals the course is probably going to get into a certain transition period (a few years) of some percentage of turf loss per year. This is simply the weaker irrigation and chemical dependent strains dying out while the stronger strains have the time and chance to take their place. Some are beginning to refer to this transition process and the "hardening off" (as HVGC's Scott Anderson says) of the remaining strains as "Darwinianism" (survival of the fittest).
« Last Edit: November 29, 2005, 09:16:31 AM by TEPaul »

Philip Gawith

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Re:Q from a neophyte: explain the ground game and its nuances
« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2005, 09:20:11 AM »
Thanks for kind words.

Particularly interesting to hear Wayne and Tom re the US experience - the original attempts to "transition" to a US style, and the challenges of clubs today trying to make a transition. I am looking forward one day to experiencing Flynn, Wilson et al first hand. ;)

I come to this topic with three perspectives.

First, growing up in South Africa where, give or take, I think the average player has a similar golfing experience to his US counterparts (with fewer buggies :)), in large part due to the weather. The "green is good" mentality is nicely underscored if you think back to the 2003 Presidents Cup at the Fancourt Links. It is a links course a la Whistling Straits,with lots of manufactured dunes etc, but it is heavily watered and very green, which sort of gives the game away.

Second, being lucky to play lots of links golf in the UK. On reflection, if you have NOT played much links golf, the "ground game" might sound like an intellectual construct, a "nice to have" option. But the reality is that it is as much a survival mechanism as anything else - the only way to get the damned pill to stop on those flat, windswept surfaces!

Snr Goodale will confirm that down-wind approaches to the 7th or 15th at Dornoch are good examples of why the ground game is a grim necessity. :)

Third, having Huntercombe as a home club It is a nice hybrid inasmuch as it is inland, but has links features - both visually and in terms of favouring the ground game. The 17th - a driveable par 4 with necklace bunkers protecting an elevated green - is the only hole on the course where you cannot approach on the ground. For the rest, even better players will use the ground as the best approach to many of the holes - while older members are grateful that the option is always open to them.

Mike Hendren

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Re:Q from a neophyte: explain the ground game and its nuances
« Reply #8 on: November 29, 2005, 09:45:13 AM »
In the states the ground game is like Santa Claus:  We wax poetically about it, really love it, but in reality only practice it once annually when the ground is hard and frozen.


Two Corinthians walk into a bar ....


Re:Q from a neophyte: explain the ground game and its nuances
« Reply #9 on: November 29, 2005, 09:52:31 AM »

You ask about the nuances of the ground game.

I've come to believe as we continue to think about and discuss the re-establishment of the ground game on some American courses that the term itself will need to be specifically defined as to degree.

First of all, it seems that the term "firm and fast" and the "ground game" are sometimes being used on here synonymously. To a large extent they probably are but not entirely, in my opinion.

I think it's always a good idea when discussing this subject of firm and fast (ground game) to make the distinction between "through the green" and the green surfaces themselves. If you don't do that people tend to think you're only talking about the greens.

Secondly, what degree of ground game is one trying to establish or even talk about? "Through the green" it pretty much comes down to the bounce and rollout of the golf ball. Obviously a low bounce and a rollout of ten yards "through the green" is technically "ground game" but in play it's basically nothing much like a bounce of five feet in the air and a roll-out of 50 or more yards on the ground.

So that needs to be explained and understood if the ground game is to be a goal on courses such as American ones.

Also the term "firm" on the green surfaces as opposed to "fast" on the green surfaces needs to be better understood and defined, in my opinion. The term "firm" on green surfaces basically only has to do with the varying "playbabilites" of approach shots into greens, while "fast" on green surfaces basically has more to do with the playabilities of chipping around greens and putting on green surfaces.

In my opinion, the degree of "firmness" of green surfaces is a most important factor in the entire spectrum of the ground game and the aerial game on a golf course because essentially the green surfaces's "firmness" is what will end up creating a certain balance or equilibrium between the choices of types of shots various players will decide to attempt.

The pitch mark itself can be very central to this and very identifiable as to the ideal amount of firmness depending on who the course is set up for.

With very good players only a light dent of the green surface to something like a well struck 9-iron from the fairway is ideal as it's a condition where and when good players feel they cannot rely on their aerial approaches all day long. The reason for that is a very light dent does not allow them to control the stop of the ball very well and it certainly will not allow them to suck it back (maximum aerial approach control). This basically forces them to at least look almost defensively for various ground game options vs straight aerial options.

So, what you're basically trying to do with all this is create a situation on the course where the CHOICES between the aerial option and some form of ground game option into greens (and the rest of "through the green" areas) is in a form of "balance" or "equilibrium". In my opinion, this is the absolute best some of our classic courses can play. In this type of set-up or condition they are simply so much more challenging, interesting and thoughtful to play. A golfer, even a very good one, just needs to study the course and almost "feel" it so much more than if the course is set-up exclusively for only aerial shots with no effective ground game option. With highly reliable aerial shots that just stop on landing all any golfer needs is the particular distance the ball needs to fly. With the ground game in effect all this is out the window and the course becomes one of "feel" and "feel" takes far more concentration and observation of the course as to what the ball will do and where it will eventually end up.

If you give good players green surfaces where the pitch-mark to a well struck 9-iron from the fairway makes a deep dent in the green, breaks the surface and pulls up dirt or grass this is a condition of lack of firmness or softness where good players will use their aerial game and aerial option exclusively at the expense of the ground game opinon.

Green surface "firmness" is all to do with approach shots obviously and there's a lot of nuance in all this. I call it the MM (Maintenance Meld) or if it's an ideal combination of firmness and speed both "through the green" and on the green surfaces the IMM (Ideal Maintanance Meld).

The term is intended to explain and describe maintenance practices that "meld" ideally into certain types and styles of golf architecture and bring all the architectural options of various types and styles into an effective balance. This serves to highlight all that the architecture of various courses can do for the thought processes of various golfers, and the point is, architecturally courses can be very different as to their effective architectural options.

The fact is that in practice it can make an absolutely huge difference in how certain golf courses can play to various levels of golfers.

As to the question of how a course plays---eg the degree of "easier or harder" I feel there is so much more in the MM concept than most have heretofore realized in America.

The other day our new head pro said that when we set our course up with the IMM of firm and fast both "through the green" and on the greens our course is at least five shots harder for him, and that's saying a lot!

« Last Edit: November 29, 2005, 10:15:56 AM by TEPaul »


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Re:Q from a neophyte: explain the ground game and its nuances
« Reply #10 on: November 29, 2005, 01:14:08 PM »
Think of it this way. If the ground is firm and fast what better way to get to the hole? Imagine you are on a green some forty or fifty yards long, would you take your lob wedge and loft it to the pin? No way, you would play it along the ground.
To me the beauty of playing the Old Course is the ground game option.

Of course, anyway who has played with Neil Regan knows that this approach can reach insane levels from time to time.

John Kavanaugh

Re:Q from a neophyte: explain the ground game and its nuances
« Reply #11 on: November 29, 2005, 01:41:36 PM »
I always resort to the ground game when under pressure...I find that when my hands start to tremble I need to use less loft and get the ball on the ground as soon as possible.


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