Monday 16 December 2013

1/2 Par Holes

I often find the most intriguing and compelling golf holes are those that do not fit neatly into most golfers preconceived notions of par and relative distance.  Hole lengths that lie just outside the traditional spectrum provide enticing options for scratch golfers and hope for higher handicaps to outwit better players.

Good golfers may often refer to a 245-yard par 3 or 285-yard par 4 as par 3 1/2's.  It is striking how focused golfers are on par, to the point that they feel content making 4 on a very long par 3, but walk away disappointed with the same score on a short par 4.  In the former situation, golfers feel compelled to reach the green in one shot (a difficult task owing to the length) because of the par assigned to the hole.  In the latter scenario, the assigned hole par allows them two strokes to cover a relatively short distance, and golfers feel they should be able to make up a stroke on "old man par".  Golf is a mental game, and the value of half-par holes is to accentuate the mental nature of the sport, leading golfers into making poor decisions and often, poorer outcomes.  These negative outcomes tend to stick with golfers for the remainder of their round and can lead some to compound errors by trying to get back what was lost.  

The 14th hole at Dormie Club in West End, North Carolina is a 296-yard par 4.  Ideal placement from the tee must fight the terrain and is more important than length.
An approach from the right side of the fairway must contend with a carry over the green side bunker and...
hold a shallow target.  The orientation of the green to the heavily frequented right side of the fairway is the real genius of the design.  With length not providing an obstacle, higher handicaps can better scratch players who attempt to drive the green and miss right. 
Half-par holes are also important in that they provide the opportunity for bogey golfers to outsmart scratch players.  Holes that are short in distance in relation to par allow higher handicap golfers to reach the green in regulation, giving them the chance to match or better scratch players who pressed for birdie but didn't successfully execute their plan of attack.  On the other end of the spectrum are holes which are long in relation to par.  These holes enable bogey golfers to match or better scratch players through course management.  They may need to sacrifice a stroke to reach the green safely, but that is often good enough against strong competitors who feel compelled to try and reach the green in regulation and fail to meet the difficult test presented to them by the golf course architect.  Again, good golfers are often hesitant to lay-up and attempt low percentage shots because they are focused on the par of the hole rather than completing the course in the fewest number of strokes.

Dormie Club's 14th hole is an effective 1/2 par hole because Coore & Crenshaw provided plenty of width to make driving the green or laying up a real option for long hitters.  This hole isn't a card-wrecker, but will yield plenty of bogies without hitting a truly bad shot. (Photo: Google Earth)   
The 233-yard par 3 at Cypress Point in Pebble Beach, California requires a 205-yard carry over the Pacific Ocean.  Higher handicap golfers are better served by playing a 175-yard shot to the wide fairway short & left of the green, a strategy that may yield lower scores than scratch opponents, especially into the wind.(Photo: Google Earth)  

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