What is the world's greatest match play venue?



When I asked Pete Dye for his thoughts on what makes a great match play venue, the admiral of modern architecture was direct: "I have no idea."

Dye told me he has never consciously built a course specifically for match play and yet his portfolio of 81 courses -- offering risks if the golfer so desires, rewards if the golfer executes the necessary shots, and a variety of other strategic choices throughout the round -- are usually ideal for the mano a mano format.

Guy Yocom, my former colleague at Golf Digest, once told me the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island (a Dye design) is the ultimate match play venue. The risks start on the first tee and -- other than the 19th hole -- I've yet to enjoy any of the Ocean's "rewards." But regardless of my mediocrity, it belongs on my bracket below, where the field of 16 is loaded with a mix of old and new classics.

Jim Urbina -- who worked for Pete Dye and Tom Doak, and who studies the "Golden Age" of architects -- pointed out that the finishing holes are a discernible difference between what was built then and now, especially as it relates to match play.

"Architects during the Golden Age didn't always care about creating a crescendo finish to a course the way modern architects do," Urbina said.

Think Sawgrass, another Pete Dye design, which ends with three of the most dramatic holes in golf, compared to Bethpage Black, designed by A.W. Tillinghast (and Joe Burbeck) where significant drama starts building at the turn and fizzles out on the 18th tee.

The "Golden age of golf architecture" (1910-1937) was also a time when most golf was in fact match play.

"By the 17th or 18th holes, most matches are over and the players might've walked in," Urbina said. "So a big finish wasn't a priority." (See the Old Course at St. Andrews and Cypress Point.)

Even though the professional game is almost entirely stroke play, several modified versions of match play are still popular with the avid amateurs.

Geoff Shackelford, who has built courses and written books on architects and architecture, likes it when a course has so much strategy and variety that it acts as a third party in a match play scenario. And like architect Gil Hanse, who's building the Olympic Course in Rio, Shackelford appreciates the concept of a "half par." The 13th at Augusta National, listed as a par 5, is the ultimate par 4 and a half. The fourth and fifth holes at Pinehurst No. 2 are both considered a par 4 and a half and yet the fourth hole is listed as a par 5 and the fifth hole is listed as a par 4. This ultimately speaks to their strategic intrigue and emphasis on execution.

So Mr. Dye, it now seems clear, a good match play venue has a mix of variety, risks, rewards, and half pars. Although a crescendo finish is appreciated, it's not a priority. Prestige and history can only help but they're not necessary.

Video: Watch Ginella explain his bracket selections on Morning Drive

Vote for the #UltimateMatchPlayVenue

And that being said, Augusta National and the Old Course have emerged as finalists in this exercise to identify the #UltimateMatchPlayVenue. If you were to try and get the best of your golf buddy in one round of match play, which would it be? No risks in voting below!

(Be sure to tune into Friday's Morning Drive (7 a.m.-9 a.m. EST) for my pick and final results of the poll.)

Feb 20, 2014



Related Links


Matt Ginella

Special Contributor

Matt Ginella is Golf Channel's resident travel insider. He writes for GolfChannel.com and appears weekly on "Morning Drive." Before Golf Channel, Ginella was senior travel editor for Golf Digest and Golf World from 2007-2012 and covered courses, resorts and the avid amateur golfer's annual buddies trips to over 60 destinations around the country. Ginella graduated from St. Mary's College (Calif.) in 1995 and earned a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University in 2003. Follow Matt on Twitter at @mattginellagc and on Instagram at @Matt_Ginella.