Seth Raynor’s Formidable Reverse Redan

A Case Study of the 11th Hole at the Country Club of Charleston


The 11th hole is providing a stern test for the U.S. Women's Amateur field, just as it has for decades. (USGA/Fred Vuich)
By Dunlop White III
August 9, 2013

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Every contestant at this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship has been required to battle hole No. 11, the demanding 171-yard, “Reverse Redan,” which has tantalized all too many golfers since its creation in 1925 by course architect Seth Raynor.

Over the years, No. 11 has proven a hotbed of misfortune and triumph. Club historian Dr. John Boatwright shares the story of Sam Snead finishing third at the 1937 Tournament of the Gardens Open after having led the field the first day.

“But for a 13 he carded on the 11th,” Boatwright says, “Snead probably would have won that event.”

In 1960, at the 15th Azalea Invitational Golf Tournament, a prestigious men’s amateur event, Tim Veach carded a 10 on the diabolical hole, and did it by holing a shot from the front bunker. According to Charleston’s Post and Courier, the high mark on the par 3 that day was a 15.

Ben Hogan once quipped that there were 17 great holes at Charleston. Not lost in his praise was the implication that No. 11 was not one of them. Purportedly, Snead once mentioned in jest that two sticks of dynamite would most improve the hole.

Some golfers believe the best way to play the 11th is to lay up short of the green. The late Henry Picard, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and an early club professional at Charleston, thought tournament contenders should play for a chip and a possible two-putt bogey, only going for the elevated putting surface if they were playing catch-up.

As Charles Blair Macdonald’s construction engineer, Raynor practiced the art of imitation by taking distinctive design features from famous holes of the British Isles and reproducing them on American soil. Raynor continued to employ this tactic on a variety of his solo designs.

One of Macdonald and Raynor’s most famous hole replications was the Redan, which is fittingly defined as “a fortification or a well-guarded fortress.” Spawning from the par-3 15th hole at North Berwick Golf Club in Scotland, most Redans are characterized by the following design principles:

 • An elongated putting surface oriented at a 45-degree angle from the tee and positioned on a natural tableland, so it cannot be fully seen from the tee;

 • A putting surface that is boldly pitched from front right to back left, away from the tee;

 • Deep bunkers guarding the front and rear of the green;

 • A high shoulder along the outer edge of the green that serves to deflect balls toward the center.

The mirror image of a Redan is suitably called a Reverse Redan, which contains all the design components of a Redan except that the green cants and tilts in the opposite direction – from front left to back right. Some famous Reverse Redan adaptations include No. 8 at The Creek (Locust Valley, N.Y.), No. 6 at Fox Chapel (Pittsburgh, Pa.), and No. 7 at Sleepy Hollow (Scarborough, N.Y.). But none has proven more tactical than Hole 11 at Charleston.

Here, the tee box is positioned on top of an old Confederate battery means that was used during the Civil War to forewarn of approaching enemies.

“Hole 11 always demands a thorough examination of the best way to play the hole,” says Boatwright. “The options change with every shift of the wind from Wappoo Waterway. The Azalea champions are always the golfers who play hole 11 the smartest.”

The most heroic playing option is to take dead aim at the green and challenge both the front bunker (which is 11 feet deep) and the rear bunker (which is 7 feet deep). Golfers historically have tallied enormous scores on the hole by proceeding to either leave their next shot(s) in the bunker or blasting it back and forth between bunkers.

Golfers may instead choose to utilize the high shoulder contour on the left portion of the green to funnel shots diagonally toward the hole location. There’s also a ground-game option that encompasses the left portion of the putting surface.

Tommy Ford, a former club president, occasionally bunts a driver or hoods a 3-iron to utilize the ground contours, but cautions that these options are not devoid of peril.

“Overcooked shots may skirt through the embankment into the rear bunker, while a mis-hit may circle back down the false front some 35 yards into the fairway,” says Ford.

In golf historian George Bahto’s book, “The Evangelist of Golf,” Macdonald describes his first Redan at the National Golf Links of America (Southampton, N.Y.) and its intended challenges: “Some people think it [the Redan] is too difficult altogether... There is no compromise about it. Whichever of the various methods of attack is chosen, the stroke must be bold, cleanly hit and deadly accurate.”

Raynor’s adaptation at the Country Club of Charleston certainly fits this billing.

In 2006, restoration specialist Brian Silva returned Charleston’s 11th hole to its original identity, using vintage photos to adjust the hole in three appreciable areas:

• The putting surface was lowered 2 feet to its original elevation, following decades of topdressing build-up and a couple of modern renovations.

• Green expansion reclaimed 10 feet of putting surface between the bunkers that was lost over the years, partly through mowing patterns.

• The shoulder escarpment was recaptured in size, scale and orientation to help deflect shots diagonally to the right.

“The restored version has taken the 9s and 10s out of the equation,” says Ford. “The hole is still plenty tough, but we’ve eliminated the large numbers which historically sent golfers to their cars.”

Ford also acknowledges that today’s golfers are approaching the green with much more loft, and 60-degree lob wedges aid in recovery shots from the bunkers.

The 11th hole will undoubtedly play a significant role in determining the winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur. “It still serves as one of the most pivotal holes on the course,” says Ford. “It can make or break your round.”

To review additional material on the Country Club of Charleston, including aerial images, course photos and architectural drawings, please register with the USGA Architecture Archive website. Once you have been assigned a user name and password via e-mail, you may log in and navigate to the South Carolina sub-folder.

Dunlop White III is a member of the USGA Museum Committee and a representative of the USGA Architecture Archive. Email questions or comments to dwhiteiii@triad.rr.com. 

 

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