Welcome to the first in my series of golf course architecture blogs. During these features, I will analyse the architecture behind the design of a chosen golf hole. We begin with the aesthetically stunning and architecturally stimulating 312 yard Par 4 eighth hole at Royal Cromer on the North Norfolk coast.
Designed by Old Tom Morris and opened for play in 1895, this short par 4 hole was part of the original 18 at this Royal venue. With Easterly views along the coast, the North Sea to the golfers left, and a natural plateau for a green site, it is easy to see why Morris pictured this hole as a feature.
Let us consider its architectural merits.
Play begins from an elevated tee beside the punchbowl 7th green.
A weakness of the current routing is that golfers approach the tee from the front thus creating wear on a steeply sloped piece of ground and having their backs to the stunning vista of the hole. This is due to be rectified over the next couple of winters with a path created along the right of the 7th green allowing golfers the wow moment of their walk to the 8th tee from behind.
From the tee, the ground falls away to a generous fairway. Old Tom built a large cross bunker 120 yards or so from the tee, but this has been filled in to reduce the carry required and allow low flighted tee shots to gain yardage to the bottom of the slope.
Although the fairway is wide, the penalty for a miss is significant, particularly to the left, where uneven rough and bracken covered ground waits to swallow your ball. Interestingly, in the original 1895 design, there would have been an even wider target to aim for, with another two holes to the seaward side of the current design.
These holes were taken out of play in the late 1970’s following a series of cliff falls.
Generous targets from the tee were a feature of Old Tom Morris designs, but as we will see with the approach shot, the angle of attack to the green will become important.
To the right of the fairway are a series of 3 pot bunkers, narrowing in towards the green. With the fairway sloping from left to right, the gravitational pull of these traps is strong. The obvious strategy from the tee is a 200 yard shot to the flat spot on the fairway, also being between the first and second bunkers and therefore giving slightly more margin for error to the right.
In the last couple of years the area to the left of the putting surface from around 50 yards short of the green has been softened and made wider with fairway height grass.
This has introduced the option for longer hitters to attempt to drive the green knowing that they have a small bail out area to the left that will leave a straightforward pitch shot.
If the target from the tee was wide, the opposite applies to the second shot. With a steep rise to the small putting surface making a running shot impossible, another steep drop-off to the right of the green and a firm target, both distance control and accuracy are at a premium.
Any approach landing short will run back down the hill and often into the pot bunker short right of the green. This trap is also a common resting place for the ambitious tee shot that was just a few yards from being perfect.
From this bunker, the difficulty tariff is high, where just hitting the green is a decent result.
The approach shot is made much easier to judge from the flat spot at the centre of the fairway. Although the green may be reached from the rough on either the left or right of the fairway, the difficulty is increased tenfold.
With the green being so small and firm, the pin position should be largely ignored, particularly if it is on the front or right side of the green near to the steep run-offs. These are sucker pin positions. Golfers should aim for the centre of the surface, knowing that if they are successful, a make-able birdie putt awaits.
A small bail out area to the left of the green is available for the approach shot, although this leaves a chip shot with an intimidating infinity style drop-off beyond the hole, often psychologically affecting the player to leave the chip shot short of the hole.
Once on the green, the challenges relate more to speed than slope. Situated on an exposed high spot and baked by the sun, this surface runs fast and true. Subtle borrows do exist however, and combined with the speed can make short putts tricky.
It is natural that the 8th hole at Royal Cromer can be overshadowed by the lighthouse 14th or the downhill par 3 9th in the pecking order of a golfers favourite holes or instagram worthy snaps.
Delve a bit deeper into the course architecture however, and you can see that it includes all of the ingredients of a perfect short Par 4.
From the stunning elevated tee position, golfers are presented with options for their opening shot – lay back to the wide flat spot on the fairway or gamble and try to drive the green.
The angle of the approach shot is crucial to hold the firm green – any shot from anywhere but the middle of the fairway stands a great chance of running off the surface to one side or the other.
With intimidating closely mown fall offs to front and right of the green, the short approach shot must be judged to perfection to have a chance for birdie.
Ultimately this is a well designed fun golf hole that offers chances for a birdie or a bogey depending upon fine margins. It retains the principles of the Old Tom Morris design but has been improved in recent years by opening up further options from the tee. The next couple of years will see further development of the teeing area to improve the routing from the previous hole and further enhance the golfers journey.