Thursday 16 May 2013

Is Par Relevant?

The concept of par is a great tool for tracking the progress of a professional or amateur golf tournament.  Tune in on any given weekend and the PGA Tour leaderboard shows players scores in relation to par (over/under).  Spectators, players and viewers alike, can all quickly grasp how the tournament is unfolding, even with players spread out over many holes, owing to the fixed par assigned to each hole.  

When discussing the merits of an individual hole or less so, an entire course, par is often a part of the conversation.  To many, a golf course whose par is less than 72 is deemed inferior (see  When it comes to individual holes, the word unfair is often brought up due to the par value attributed to the hole in question.  The concept of golf is rather simple; get the ball from the tee into the hole in as few strokes as possible.  Good golf architecture should allow for a variety of routes to the hole, and it is the responsibility of the golfer to choose a route that best matches their ability, to say nothing of actual execution.  The concept of par should not weigh into the discussion, but a lack of viable alternatives for non-scratch players must when assessing the quality of individual golf holes.  

No. 16 at Cypress Point, should the fact the hole is a par 3 influence which club you pull from the bag?
The above photo is one of the most recognizable in golf, the 16th hole at Alister Mackenzie's Cypress Point in Monterrey, California.  The hole requires a 210 yard carry to reach the green, and is often buffeted by strong winds coming off the Pacific Ocean.  The hole has been assigned a par value of 3, but does this mean everyone should try and hit the green in regulation?  Setting our egos aside, the most prudent play for a lot of players and an even greater number in strong winds, would be to play an iron safely to the left.  Mackenzie left an ample fairway here for just this purpose, and playing along this route would yield a lot of 4's, but much fewer 5's, 6's or worse for those attempting the direct line.  

Mackenzie left a wide fairway for those unable to make the carry on the direct line, an option that yields less pars, but fewer doubles, triples or higher.  (Photo: Google Earth)
Golf holes that are very difficult are often deemed so because of the par value assigned to the hole.  For example, the famous 17th hole at St. Andrews (Old) - also known as the Road hole - is a long par 4, playing 495 yards from the championship tee.  The drive plays blind over the corner of a hotel, and the long approach is played to a shallow green that is guarded by a fearsomely deep bunker front middle while a road and stone wall flank the back side of the green!!  This hole has been the site of some epic British Open collapses (Tommy Nakajima & David Duval), and has spoiled many a good round for locals and travelling golfers.  Below, we can see a safer route to play the hole which limits the chances of hitting out-of-bounds right off the tee, and finding the dreaded Road Hole bunker or stone wall on the approach shot into the green.  The fact that par is shown as 4 on the scorecard has likely caused many players to play more aggressively than they should, at great detriment to their final score.  If the par listed on the scorecard read 5 instead of 4, and no other changes were made to the hole, it would be interesting to see how the golfing public would change their approach to tackling the hole, and I doubt we would hear the dreaded term "unfair".  

The Road Hole at St. Andrews demands two superlative shots to reach the green in regulation, but for most golfers, conceding at the tee the need to take three (see yellow line) to get home is a more prudent option. (Photo: Google Earth)
The very same logic can be applied to short par fours and fives that tempt players into reaching the green in less than regulation figures to secure a two-putt birdie or even an eagle.  If the hole is properly designed, a significant penalty awaits those whose attempts fail, turning a seemingly easy birdie into a painful bogey or worse. 

If golf is about getting the ball into the hole in the fewest number of strokes and understanding your limitations, ignoring par is a good idea.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tyler,

    My name is Adam Stanley, I'm a golf journalist doing a story on golf real estate communities across the country for Golf Canada Magazine.

    I'm hoping we can chat about golf in Manitoba at some point today.

    Please send me an email at Really looking forward to chatting.