November 1, 2019

The Best Form of Flattery

Why the Range Should Mirror the Course

By: Scott Kramer

When you first arrive on the practice range at the brand new Sage Run Golf Course in Harris, Michigan, you don’t see anything unusual. There are 10-15 tee boxes, depending how it’s configured, set on a couple of different terraces. The typical targets rest out in the distance with bright target greens contrasting the surrounding deep-toned turf. It’s nice, peaceful and private.

But after you play the course, even just once, and return to the range your eyes will suddenly widen. That’s the moment you realize the range mimics the actual course, with respect to slopes, grass, bounces, playing conditions and even the setting. It’s all deliberate.

“It helps golfers get used to the course much more easily and quickly,” says Tony Mancilla, General Manager of Sage Run. “It’s designed to be identical to hitting off of the course’s fairways and tees. The grass is the same, it has the same subtle rolls, and it helps prepare golfers for a better on-course experience. Just like our tee boxes on the course, the range has uneven lies.

“So Paul Albanese, the course architect, built the range’s tees to be exactly like the course’s tee boxes – they’re rolling. He put it all together at the same time and it was the master plan for the range to mimic the course. It didn’t have to be huge, it just had to be nice. The comments we’ve heard have been pretty positive.”

In the eyes of Albanese, who along with his design partner Chris Lutzke has done the same at other courses including PGA Tour venues, golfers want to sharpen their skills before a round on the identical turf that will also be out on the course. Otherwise, “it makes no sense,” says Albanese. “It’s important to match range tee turf with what’s on the course. The idea is to prepare for the real thing. And if grasses differ, then habits and techniques golfers hone on the range will become irrelevant – maybe even detrimental – when out on the course.

“Sage Run is a warm-up range so we wanted people to get a flavor of what they’re about to experience in their round. The tee boxes are not level, just like on the course. The approach shots look the same, too. And then there’s the grass: If you have a hitting surface that’s different than on the course, like mats, it makes no sense at all.”

The same goes for the practice greens. Albanese likes them to be consistent with the course with respect to grass type, speed and undulation. “I’m just trying to create a similar, harmonious experience.”