October 20, 2021
Imagine a course that would be home to the world’s best women golfers, a state-of-the-art facility that would be to the LPGA Tour what TPC Sawgrass is to the PGA Tour.
Like Sawgrass, it would be open to the public for a high-end fee. It would also host an annual marquee event, something of a Players Championship, that would showcase the talents of the top female players in an unprecedented way as, for the first time, every inch of the grounds would be specially designed with their games in mind.
It does Brandel Chamblee.
The tour professional who became a broadcaster and golf course architect tells GOLF.com so much that he has initiated plans for just such a place. The location, he says, would be Harlingen, Texas, a growing metropolis on the southern tip of the state, just across the Mexican border.
Chamblee says that the city administration in Harlingen is on board with the idea. He says he also discussed the project with LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan and she sounded “excited”.
An LPGA representative told GOLF.com it was “too early to give an answer”.
While the concept is not yet fully in shape, construction could begin within the next six months and be completed within the next two years, says Chamblee. The design would be a collaboration between Chamblee and the Mexican-born architect Agustín Pizá, Chamblee’s partner in a newly founded design office.
Chamblee and Pizá have already been engaged for another project in Harlingen, the redesign of a golf course called Treasure Hills Golf Club. Chamblee says the women’s course would be funded by the same real estate company as behind Treasure Hills and would be on a neighboring lot within the same development.
“We are still in the early stages of defining shot values and specifics,” says Piza. “But we guarantee [the course] will offer a carousel of emotions for the best female golfers in the world. “
After working on more than 50 projects on three continents, he had long known that most courses gave women’s football a low priority, but that he “never did any real analysis” until he listened carefully to Chamblee.
For most of a decade, Chamblee has been vocal on this issue in print, on the air, and in the Twitter sphere, highlighting what it believes are problematic designs and attitudes for women.
In almost every way – hole length, fairway width, rough height, bunker depth, etc. – he thinks the venues are unsuitable. Far from getting the most out of women’s games, they often discriminate against women.
Back in 2012, Chamblee put this perspective in a nutshell in a column in GOLF Magazine, in which the average scores on the LPGA and PGA tours were compared. Season after season, he wrote, with a litany of statistics as a backup, those numbers were higher for the women. For Chamblee, the discrepancy had nothing to do with skill (the women were just as skilled as their male counterparts, they just weren’t as strong) and it had to do with the courses they played.
Walk a golf course with designer Gil Hanse and you will see the game differently
That imbalance had ripple effects, argued Chamblee, resulting in higher scores, but also lower ratings.
“In a world with short attention spans and less and less newspaper space, all sports compete for an audience,” he wrote. “Scoreboards should bleed red to get the most interest, and the LPGA has created a tourniquet for over-the-top routes.”
In the 10 years since this piece was published, pretty much nothing has changed in Chamblee’s eyes. The women still get higher averages than the men while playing courses that are too long for their games. Current LPGA setups have an average length of about 6,400 yards. Extrapolated from the shot data, Chamblee says the range should be closer to 6,100.
Distance alone isn’t the only problem, however. The crux of the problem, Chamblee says, is that courses are geared toward men from the start, with adjustments made after the fact to accommodate women. Pushing the tees forward is a standard tactic. But, says Chamblee, that’s not really a solution. If anything, it triggers a negative chain reaction that creates layouts with awkward landing areas, odd angles in greens, and hazards in spots that obscure strategic options. You get the essentials.
Every aspect of the design would draw from available performance data such as average driving distances, firing trajectories, and scattering patterns.
The cumulative effect is to prevent women from going deeper while depriving them of the chance to dazzle the crowd with their skills in shooting and daring. It’s hard to look heroic on a lay-up par-5 or have a ball dance around the trophy when you hit your approach with a hybrid rather than a wedge, as is so often required with elite female players.
As a current example of this topic, Chamblee points to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur 2021, not an LPGA event but still an elite competition. On the 18th hole of the last day, two of the top three, Karen Fredgaard and the eventual winner Tsubasa Kajitani, found the first fairway bunker to the left of the tee. Fredgaard caught the lip on its approach and failed to reach the green, while Kajitani didn’t even try to get regulated. She hung up.
Compare that to an iconic moment from the Masters.
“Most of us have no problem conjuring up the memory of Sandy Lyle flipping a 7 iron from the same bunker to 10 feet and birdie to win the green jacket,” says Chamblee. “Is that because Sandy Lyle is more skilled than the best players in the world? No. That’s because he’s stronger and can get the ball higher and faster with a higher club. “
The course Chamblee is aiming for would essentially aim to create a level playing field. Although he and Pizá don’t have to come up with a detailed blueprint just yet, Chamblee says he can envision the concept clearly. From the tournament tees, the course would extend approximately 6,200 yards, with room for the future (like the men’s game, the women’s game is constantly evolving). Every aspect of the design would draw from available performance data such as average driving distances, firing trajectories, and scattering patterns.
If Brandel Chamblee were the PGA Tour Commissioner, he would change that rule first
“That means bunkers of the right length, the right width across the fairways, the right height of the rough, and so on,” says Chamblee. “We want approaches that enable women to get the ball on the green and spin, and that offer the same excitement as men.”
Its goals include delivering risk-return which he believes are often lacking in current LPGA setups, with drivable par-4s and achievable par-5s that create voltages similar to those produced by electrifying holes like the 12th at Sawgrass and the 13th at. are produced Augusta.
Not that the course is only for women. Its dimensions, Chamblee says, would also suit recreational players, most of whom hit the ball no further (and often shorter) than top female players. He wants a busy tee for all year round in public.
Chamblee is aware that some critics could accuse him and Pizá of the architectural equivalent of “mansplaining” – just a few guys getting their views on how things should be. But women, according to Chamblee, are also involved in the project. One of Pizá’s long-term design partners is a woman named Avril Ortiz. She will have input. Chamblee says a former LPGA star and World Golf Hall of Famer also agreed to attend, but it’s too early to reveal their name.
Although courses for women have already been built, including a short-lived nine-hole course in Shinnecock Hills that opened for play in 1893, male-female collaborations outside of Pete and Alice Dye’s husband-wife tandem were rare. One of the rare examples in modern times is Amy Alcott’s involvement with Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner on the highly regarded Olympic course in Rio de Janeiro, the venue for the men’s and women’s competitions at the 2016 Summer Games.
“This is the age of reflection and it certainly feels like a time for women’s golf.”
Alcott says Chamblee’s analysis is spot on, and that broader social and cultural change has made the moment ripe for change.
“This is the age of reflection, and it certainly feels like a time for women’s golf,” says Alcott. “It’s an idea I’ve been trying to get out of – that if you just throw out t-shirts and call them women’s t-shirts, your course is going to be worse for it. But beyond that, from a marketing perspective, think about how courses, especially resorts, are missed. “
The Texas project, should it come to that, would not be Chamblee and Pizá’s first jump into a women’s course. Their first collaboration, called “The Butterfly Effect,” now running in Desertica, Mexico, is a 24-hole resort layout made up of four six-hole loops, one of which is specifically designed for women.
“We have had good experiences,” says Chamblee.
Chamblee hopes the Texas course will inspire top female players to move to Harlingen, just as many PGA Tour members have drawn to the Ponte Vedra, Florida area. He also wants to attract emerging talent. To this end, Chamblee envisions an elite junior golf school on the premises, a kind of national academy similar to what there is for girls in Sweden and South Korea.
He and Pizá dream big dreams.
For all of this to happen, a few things have to be right. But Chamblee is optimistic about the outlook, and he and Pizá intend to move the design forward whether or not the LPGA is behind it.
He also adds: “We will continue to push for an LPGA event there indefinitely.”
A better fit for women, better late than never.
“The whole idea is to make a positive contribution to women’s football,” says Chamblee. “I think that would be a good start in this direction.”
Josh Sens, a golf, food and travel writer, has been with GOLF Magazine since 2004 and now contributes to all GOLF platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also co-author with Sammy Hagar of Are We Have Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.