The return of the Punchbowl

The nervous anticipation that fills the walk to a Punchbowl green after a crisp approach shot is one of the most unique feelings in golf. Most shots in golf are visible, where moments after the strike, it’s known whether the shot is good or bad. Blind shots change this, and a Punchbowl green also adds the element of chance.

A Punchbowl green is how it sounds, a massive bowl or hollow that funnels shots towards the center. The edges of the green corral shots a little off-line and bring them back to the putting surface. They vary in size, shape and distance but provide a unique and different playing experience to a golf course. In a game where variety is king, Punchbowl greens reign supreme at adding uniqueness to a design.

The history of Punchbowls

Punchbowl greens were a staple of early golf course design in UK and American golf. Hollows made for easy and interesting natural green sites. On sandy links sites, these Punchbowls didn't have trouble draining with the water quickly moving through the permeable soil.

 3rd at Royal Cinque Ports. Photo credit:  Simon Haines

3rd at Royal Cinque Ports. Photo credit: Simon Haines

When golf moved inland and to heavier clay soils, drainage problems came with the Punchbowl. Water would pool in the center of the greens and stunt grass growth and ideal playing conditions. It deterred some architects from using them, but certain architects such as Seth Raynor and C.B. MacDonald continued to employ the green but understood the need for drainage points. The duo's distinct Punchbowls almost always have a clear passage for water out of the low part of the green.

The punchbowl 12th at Chicago Golf Club drains out of the right side.

After the Great Depression and World War II, Punchbowls’ popularity waned. Golfers and architects viewed them as unfair due to their blind nature and didn't appreciate the rub of the green that came with it. It lead to the destruction of many Punchbowls and associated a taboo with including them in new designs.

The new era

Thankfully, the winds in golf course architecture have shifted, and Punchbowls are on the comeback trail. The distinct green sites are being included at many new designs around the world such as 18th at Old Macdonald, the 17th at Sand Valley, the 5th at Kingsley Club, and the 9th at Streamsong Black to name a few. Older courses that lost their Punchbowls over the years are restoring them, such as the 5th at St. Louis C.C. and the 7th at Morris County.

In a game that 99% of the population plays for fun, it's good to have one of the most fun design features back en vogue.