Thursday 1 November 2012

Standards of Par & Yardage

Somewhere over the course of golf architecture's history, the notion that golf courses needed to present a par of 72, preferably spread out in equal nine hole increments of 36, took hold.  The perfect mix being two par 3's and 5's on each side with the remainder left for par 4's.  Look at the marketing machines that produce advertising material for the "next great golf course" and you'll see in plain black and white the merits of it's design, expressed in par and yardage totals of 72 and 7,000 respectively.  This is not a good starting point when it comes to assessing quality golf architecture.  

When did this obsession with length and par begin?  Was it Augusta National with it's unique palindromic front and back nine par sequences (454 343 454 = 36  443 545 344 = 36) but all too often repeated two par 3's and 5's per side?  The golf course receives immense exposure as annual host of The Masters, and influences the opinions of golfers more than any other golf course.  It is well established that the immaculate agronomic conditions they achieve are the bane of many golf course superintendents whose members and green committees demand similar standards without understanding the construction standards, maintenance procedures and costs involved (The Augusta Syndrome).  This is not a critique of the design or routing of Augusta National, however, it is foolhardy to follow that mould and craft a course thinking any deviation from this general standard is a knock on the finished product.  

A golf course architect should strive to design the best collection of eighteen holes a property can offer.  We are always mindful of yardage, trying to achieve maximum interaction between golfers and certain landforms to attain strategic interest means understanding the lengths various classes of golfers hit the ball.  We are always looking for spots to insert for example, a short par 4 or long par 3, in an effort to provide design variety, present options to golfers and a challenging, fun experience.  Overall par and yardage are a long way down the list of concerns when trying to find a routing that works with the site and requires the least amount of disturbance to the site.  The goal is finding the best holes, and if that means par for the course works out to 37-34=71, then so be it.  Extending a par 4 to achieve the vaunted par of 72 can has a domino effect on a routing, potentially causing serious problems that negatively affect the overall quality of the golf course.  Moving tee and green locations to add more length can lead to greater construction costs and a less natural looking design.  While there are comparatively similar quantities of par 3 and par 5 holes, there exist dramatically fewer great par 5's owing to the difficulty in designing the latter, making one wonder how many designs have been compromised by trying to reach a par 72 when anything other than 72 would have produced a superior golf course.  The same can be said for trying to reach 7,000 yards or any other standard for that matter.  Longer golf courses present fewer opportunities to include short holes of any par, and those are often the most exciting, tempting scratch players to risk it all, and allowing bogey golfers a more realistic chance at par and besting those that risked and failed.  Another benefit to a sub-72 overall par, insignificant as it may seem, is the added stroke or two it allows for golfers to break 80, 90, 100 or any other personal mark and leave the course a more satisfied customer.

Let's not write off a golf course after glancing at the scorecard and deeming it too short or not a proper challenge because it doesn't meet some pre-conceived numerical notion of good golf.  This type of standardization would eliminate 9 of the top 10 classical golf courses in the United States (Golfweek 2012 classical list) from the discussion, and to discount the architectural lessons to be gleaned from Fishers Island, Cypress Point, Merion and Crystal Downs would be a real shame.



  1. Lately I have been trying out many different Las Vegas golf courses. I have to agree with your points here, there shouldn't be set standards that define if the course is good or not. There are many other variables that factor into the challenge and enjoyment of a hole and a course in general. If they all start becoming the same thing you lose much of the fun

    1. I've always felt it is the responsibility of a golf course architect to find the best holes on a property, and when you actively seek to find a set number of par 3's and 5's, you are limiting the potential for the golf course.

      I've never been to Las Vegas golf, so I'm not particularly familiar with the best golfing options. Which courses have you found the most enjoyable? If I had to pick an itinerary based on the architects and my limited knowledge of the area, I'de try and see Shadow Creek, Wynn G & CC, the Paiute Resort and Bali Hai.

      Thanks for reading.