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Course Enhancements | The Pros and Cons of Pine Straw…And How To Successfully Play From It

Every year, when the gates of Augusta National Golf Club open for The Masters, avid golfers and enthusiastic golf fans all around the world are provided a fresh glimpse at the pristine and beautiful grounds that make up that exclusive club. Our eyes are always drawn to the carpet of long-needle pine straw that stretches out underneath those towering Georgia Pines. It provides a striking contrast to the emerald grasses that make up the fairways and rough.

We took inspiration from that scene to enhance the visual appeal of nine of our own golf holes at Willowbend. First, we cleared out all of the underbrush in the heavily wooded areas along The Bay course and then shipped in truckloads of long-needle pine straw from a farm in the Carolinas, laying it down under those pines. The result is a bold and beautiful dynamic, as the corridors of each hole are strikingly framed and the borders between the grassed turf and the groves of trees are better delineated.

Hard edge of the turf meeting pine straw on Bay 1.

More Than Meets the Eye

The benefits that these enhancements offer go beyond mere aesthetics, too. Most significantly, balls hit offline on The Bay course are now more likely to be found. So when one of your drives or approach shots go awry—don’t worry, it happens to us all—you can breathe a little easier knowing that you’ll have a less difficult time finding your ball. Chances are, you’ll have a cleaner lie from which to play your next shot, too.

Pine straw close up.

Cleaner lies on a bed of high-quality, long-needled pine straw may offer some advantages, but they also introduce their own set of distinct challenges. To help you navigate this new terrain on The Bay, Michael Carroll, Willowbend’s Head Golf Professional, recommends thinking of these recoveries as if they’re a blend of fairway bunker and greenside bunker shots.

“It requires clean contact,” he explains, “so you’re trying to pick the ball off of the surface.”

To do that, position the ball a little forward in your stance, like you would if you’re hitting out of a fairway bunker.

Traction Control

The greenside bunker analogy comes into play in how you take your stance and set your feet. Carroll advocates twisting your feet from side to side to dig your grip into the pine straw. “It’s not a terribly stable surface to swing on,” he says of the pillow-like layer of pine straw. “It can get slippery, so it requires you to have a steady base.”

By taking your stance like you would in a greenside bunker, and swinging as if you’re hitting out of a fairway bunker, you’ll give yourself the best odds of making clean contact and hitting a successful recovery shot. And as Carroll points out, that’s what the vast majority of shots hit off of the pine straw are—they’re recoveries. As such, he advises players to pick a club that’s going to get them back into play and on more stable ground. Heroic attempts are likely to end in tragedy.

“Very rarely are you going to have a full swing to the green on pine straw. But pine straw isn’t going to slow the club down as much as long grass or sand. It tees the ball up a little bit, so a mishit will generally go a little farther.” – Michael Carroll, Head Golf Professional

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