Friendly confines: Is there a place for tree-lined golf?

After an entertaining Honda Classic at PGA National's Champion Course, the world's best golfers had better sharpen their focus even further for the next two weeks of play.

This week's WGC - Mexico Championship host Club de Golf Chapultepec is not a long course, but it is narrow, and plays even tighter than it looks due to the longer distances shots will travel at over 7,800 feet of elevation in Mexico City.

Next week, Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course will be another layout where players who keep it on the straight and narrow are going to have the most success.

When I think of courses of this type, I can't help but envision Sahalee Country Club, where Vijay Singh won his first major at the 1998 PGA Championship. As one of the straightest hitters of his era, it's no surprise that Singh prevailed at the course where Douglas firs tower over every tee, fairway and green. The duel between Brooke Henderson and Lydia Ko two years ago in the Women's PGA Championship renewed golf fans' affinity for the distinctive-looking Pacific Northwest course.

Brittany Lincicome plays her second shot from the fourth fairway during the final round of the 2016 KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

In an era where the prevailing philosophy of golf course design overwhelmingly favors layouts with wide fairways and multiple potential routes from tee to green on many holes, these courses seem like a throwback. When trees line landing areas, golf tends to become more of a test of pure execution than tactics. This broad philosophy prevailed through much of the latter half of the 20th century.

As popular opinion about course design turns away from these sorts of courses — Oakmont Country Club, for example, has skyrocketed in the rankings thanks to the removal of thousands of trees from between its holes — it begs the question: is there still a place for narrow, tree-lined golf? Can these courses still be fun and interesting, or do we take Paul Bunyan for a patron saint of sorts?

I subscribe to a big-tent view of golf course design. Most golfers play different courses, so I embrace the wide variety of styles of golf courses available to us. I've found compelling, interesting courses with narrow fairways, wide fairways and everything in between. With that in mind, I would tend not to discount a narrow course on its face. New-age golf purists may scoff, but I believe trees have their place on many courses, provided they exist in a sensible context. To be sure, there are courses where bowling alley-like landing areas get repetitive and overly punishing, but done right, these types of courses can be fun tests of one's recovery and shot shaping abilities.

Here are some notable narrow courses for your own consideration:

Two narrow but beloved PGA Tour venues

The par-4 third hole at Harbour Town is a dogleg left.

The par-4 third hole at Harbour Town is a dogleg left. (Brandon Tucker/Golf Advisor)

Like Sahalee, its counterpart lear across the country, Harbour Town Golf Links is a poster-child for this sort of design, and may be the strongest example public and resort golfers have of a narrow course that nonetheless serves up enjoyable golf. The Pete Dye design, where Jack Nicklaus had his first major involvement in course architecture, has been a proud PGA Tour host since it opened nearly a half-century ago. Bomb-and-gouge play simply will not do at Harbour Town, as players need to hit their tee shots not only straight, but the right distance on many holes. The ability to fade and draw the ball on command also comes in handy. When the tour returns the week after the Masters, it should be a great week for paying attention to TopTracer ball flights during the TV broadcasts.

"It will test every aspect of your game, placing a premium on ball striking, accuracy, and short game. The fairways are narrow, surround by beautiful low-country trees." - Review of Harbour Town by Golf Advisor user Anthony9184196

The aforementioned crowning achievement of Larry Packard's course design career, Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course stands up year after year to the tour's best players, and it consistently ranks as one of the most popular tour venues. A number of holes at Copperhead force a decision between any of a couple clubs off many tees, and if you don't commit 100% to your choice, you're often headed for trouble. A knee-jerk reactionary might dismiss the Copperhead as a one-dimensional test, but there is a surprising amount of subtlety and strategy, bolstered by the rolling, un-Florida-like terrain on which the course sits.

Three tight Trent Jones tests

Martin Kaymer tees off on the 4th hole, said to be Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s most challenging and expensive hole ever built at the time.

Martin Kaymer tees off at Valderrama's 4th hole, said to be Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s most challenging and expensive hole ever built at the time. (Richard Heathcoate/Getty Images)

The Western Open is one of amateur golf's most sought-after titles, and for nearly 40 years it had a permanent home at Point O'Woods Golf & Country Club in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Western Am winners at Point O'Woods include Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, who all conquered the heavily forested layout with large but characteristically well-bunkered greens. Long an exclusive private club, Point O'Woods does take stay-and-play visits from golfers who arrange to stay overnight in any of the cottages on property.

Another exclusive RTJ-designed course with limited non-member opportunities (€350-370) is 1997 Ryder Cup host Real Club Valderrama in Spain. Known as the "Augusta National of Europe," Valderrama's corridors are corset-tight, with cork trees ready to swallow up any off-line shots. When Andrew "Beef" Johnston won the European Tour's 2016 Open De Espana, held at Valderrama, he shot 1-over par for the week.

"...the cork trees (lining the fairways) are 90% wood (not air, as is mostly the case everywhere else)..." - Review of Valderrama by Golf Advisor user schweiz

Golf course architecture being a family business in many cases, it's not so surprising that Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s own courses have been heavily influenced by his father. One such course is Sugarloaf Golf Club & Resort in Carrabassett Valley, Maine. The thin air and dense mountain forest through which the course plays puts even more of a premium on straight driving than usual, but good swings off the tee can be handsomely rewarded. The first six holes of the back nine all involve the rocky Carrabassett River as a gorgeous hazard.

More notable narrows

The par-4 fifth hole requires a shot through trees to the green at Tokatee Golf Club. (Brandon Tucker/Golf Advisor)

- Tokatee Golf Club - Blue River, Ore.

Architect: Ted Robinson, Sr. (1966)

- Green Mountain National - Killington, Vt.

Architect: Gene Bates (1996)

- The Shattuck - Jaffrey, N.H.

Architect: Brian Silva (1991)

- Northwood Golf Club - Monte Rio, Calif.

Architects: Alister Mackenzie & Robert Hunter (1928)

"This is the best 9 hole course in northern cal. The redwood trees, ferns everywhere, the wine country. This place is magical" - Review of Northwood by Golf Advisor user soliddriver

- Port Ludlow Golf Resort - Port Ludlow, Wash.

Architect: Robert Muir Graves (1975)

- Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club - Pawleys Island, S.C.

Architect: Jack Nicklaus (1988)

- Ko'olau Golf Club - Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii

Architect: Dick Nugent (1992)

- Old Brockway Golf Course - Kings Beach, Calif.

Architect: John Duncan Dunn (1926)

What's the narrowest golf course you've ever played? What do you think of the demands these types of courses place on golfers? Please share your thoughts and nominations with us below!

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor and the Managing Editor of the Golf Vacation Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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