The Fallacy of "Long" Courses
By mjaber on 1/7/13
There has been a lot of talk about the length of golf courses lately. With guys like Bubba and Rory consistently driving the ball 325+, which making par 5s into par 4s, the idea that the only way to protect par from the pros is to make courses longer.
I say, let them. Why does it matter to me how long the course is played when the pros play it? If it's built right, there will be a set of tees that I can play from and enjoy the round. More than likely, I'm never going to get to play any of the courses the pros play anyway.
But let's get into this a little deeper. Let's say you're a top level amateur. Your handicap is within range to attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open. Your average driving distance is probably somewhere in the 280-300 yard range, and your fairly accurate with your irons from 150 yards and in. That means that in order for a par 5 to be beyond your reach for a GIR, it would need to be at least 600 yards (280 yard drive + 170 yard layup). A par 4 would need to be over 450 yards for you to have a reasonable chance at par (either GIR or scramble). Assuming an average of 175 yards for the par 3s, you have a course that is 7600 yards. This number assumes that all of the holes are at the maximum yardage shown above (4 x 600 yard par 5, 4 x 175 yard par 3, 10 x 450 yard par 4). Adding 400 yards to make an 8000 yard course, over 18 holes is not inconceivable, and it's only an extra 22 yards per hole. To me, that's a lot (it's two clubs), but to the top level amateur, or the aspiring pro, it shouldn't be. And with a lot of those measurements being bloated by doglegs, the actual playing distance versus the scorecard distance can be significantly lower.
Now, let's look at it another way. You're a single walking onto a course and you get grouped with three guys who are at that top level, and your ego won't let you say "I'm not good enough, long enough, or straight enough to play from back there." Well, I have a solution for you. If you are like me, and you're reasonable driving distance is in the 200-220 range, forget GIR on any of the par 4s. In order to get to a par 4 at 450 yards, you need to hit 3 shots of 150 yards. For me, that would be 7-iron, 7-iron, 7-iron. Now I can get out with bogey, and not completely embarrass myself, or if I make the putt, par. 600 yard par 5, similar situation, but you might actually have a shot at GIR. 220 yard drive leaves you with 380 yards. If you've got a long iron, fairway wood, or hybrid that you can hit close to 200 yards, you've got a theoretical shot at GIR. If not, I can hit 8-iron, 8-iron, and leave myself a 100-yard shot to be on the green in 4 with a reasonable chance at par.
I'm not promoting playing from the back tees all the time, regardless of skill level. I typically play courses between 5700 and 6200 yards because that's where I'm most comfortable. I have played from a set of tees that I felt was beyond my ability once. I applied the principals I laid out above, and was able to come out of the round having really enjoyed myself and with what I felt was a respectable score.
The bottom line I'm trying to get to here is that the total length of a course should not scare you away. The length of any one hole shouldn't intimidate you. I realize that there are other factors that will limit your abilities to apply the math above in every situation. There will be forced carries that will have you pulling a longer club for your layup, or doglegs that might force you to pull a shorter one. If you break down the hole and plan you shots right, you CAN play those longer courses. It doesn't mean you necessarily should. Using this approach isn't always as glamorous as bombing your driver on every hole, but the scorecard doesn't care how long your drive was, it only cares about how many swings you took to get the ball in the hole.
This was written by Mike Jaber, a reader/follower/fellow oober and the opinions are 100% his and do not reflect those of oobgolf in anyway. Enjoy! I'm sure he's ready for your feedback.
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Image via Flickr, Dan Perry
[ comments ]
Playing from tees that are beyond your realistic range does happen a lot. It's a guy thing. NOT heard on the first tee -- "Hey, let's be reasonable and play the front tees today!" Like you say, re-thinking your approach/course mgmnt is a way to make it work when playing a hole that's beyond your length. That's fine, except the persistent increasing length together with golf courses wanting (needing) to market at "going" lengths means this is going to happen more + more. It's a model that promotes relentless escalation - the inexorable lengthening of golf courses; ALL golf courses. So average joes end up scrambling all the time. No problem, I like scrambling, BUT why weren't golf courses designed that way in the first place? Why were they designed to put you 150 or so out on most of the par 4's? That historic convention is being changed by the lengthening. Plus, endless course redesign costs a lot of $ and that increase is paid by users. Me n you. (But benefits equipment makers, Big Time.)
"With guys like Bubba and Rory consistently driving the ball 325+, which making par 5s into par 4s, the idea that the only way to protect par from the pros is to make courses longer." - I disagree with this statement. There are MANY ways to make courses harder other than making them longer. Length CAN make courses difficult however look at the "drivable" par 4 at last years US Open. It played very difficult and it wasn't 520 yards! Rough, bunker placement, firmness and speed of greens, etc. can make more of a difference than length.
Well written mjaber!!!
Interesting subject and well written. Thanks!
I rarely attempt to play any set of tees over 6,700 yards and typically try to be around 6,200-6,300. I am vain and prefer a score that beats my handicap over having the knowledge I survived a 7,500 yarder with a "97".
@bkuehn1952... I played a 6700 yard course this year. It really is too long for me. I felt the 113 I shot was about as good as I could have hoped for at this point. 2-3 years ago, I think I might have been able to get close to double digits, but with my number of rounds trending way down, I was happy with the score.
I play tees up to but never exceeding 6,700 yards. That's based off my driving distance. Some courses have their tees based off of handicaps, in which case I'll find the appropriate one for me. It's not fun when you're hitting woods into long par 3's and long irons into every par 4.
Cool idea. Ironically I think it would take some balls to play like this. I think it requires too much focus and commitment for most ppl, too much departing from the norm makes ppl uncomfortable but for those who manage to pull it off I say hazzah. I've played in a similar way when I'm traveling and playing with borrowed clubs, only instead of 7's and 8i's off the tee I'd use 3 or 4i. I can attest though that when you hit only the irons off tees it makes it all the easier to get into a ball striking groove.
Duke of Hazards says:
nice article, Mike Jaber. now stop assembling swing sets and get your ass on the course.
Part 1 - The distance PGA pro's hit their drivers is "two parts skill" and "one part myth." There is no doubt the players of today are working out and have the time to work on their swing and hone their skills. That alone gives them an advantage we don't have. Add to that that they have equipment made to their best specifications and you create players that in the public eyes are athletes we could never emulate. To that, I say bogus! I did a little snooping around to prove my claim. Before I give you some facts let me say this. I am a pretty long hitter when I am on my game. One or two drives 290+ per round, I have hit 300+ enough times that I am no longer surprised. But lets say you only hit it 250 tops what would that drive be if you got an extra 50 yards of roll? 300 yards right there. Someone may think, "you can't get 50 yards of roll" and I would agree with you. Some of the places I play the fairway are like a "shag carpet" and I suspect where most of you play the fairway isn't much better….
Part 2 - But guess who gets 50+ yards of roll? PGA tour players that's who. Have you ever noticed that most of their tee's are elevated tee's which adds to their distance? Add rock hard fairways and most of us would see an increase in our driving by at least 40 yards, so that 240 is now 280. I have played Memorial park in Houston which is 7300+ yards and I shot an 87. I have also played Tierra Santa in Weslaco, TX 7100 + yards and shot a 78. What those two course had in common where fast fairways. I am telling you part of the distance on the PGA tour is myth. To solve the problem of having to make courses longer is let the fairway grow thicker and cut back on some of that roll. Don't believe me check out the link below.
A lot of y'all have made good statements. I agree with bducharm make the courses harder not longer. I'm a top level player ( 0.5 hcp ) and I don't drive it 290-300 yds. A good drive for me is 260 and that's catching it. I normally play 6400 yds par 71. Like frank said it's no fun hitting woods into par 3s. When I played in the state am I played 7233 and it was awful. The fairways werent hard ( rained all week ) I'm hitting driver 3 wood and dude I'm playing with who bombs 320 hits a 6 iron. And like golfsmith I don't play courses with hard fairways that roll out 50+ yds. But I have played course where the fws rolled and believe me when you crank one out there and you measure it 300+ it's freaking awesome. But make the courses harder not longer.
I agree with Golfsmith here.. Now, that doesn't mean that i don't acknowledge that Bubba is stupid long, and that doesn't take away from him hitting 130 yd long, 40yd turning wedges. But GS7 is correct when he talks about the fairways that pros hit to. They are like parking lots. When i went to the AT&T national, i made it a point to step a couple yards off the "beaten path" when crossing the fairway and feel the ground. It was actually harder than where everyone was walking and packing it down. Tight fairways add a lot of roll and allow the ball to retain and rebound with more of it's energy. That being said, they do routinely carry the ball 300 yards. But equipment helps that one. Hitting it consistently on the sweet spot does help too, or so i hear.
Bryan K says:
I play a lot of golf. And my biggest pet peeve in the entire game is when I hit a very good drive and still have 200 yards to go to get to the green. I won't play those tees no matter how much I'm chided. Just Saturday, for instance, the group I was playing with was heckling me because I was playing the middle tees while hitting my drive 250+ right down the middle all round long. The most fun shot in the game to me is the approach for a GIR. If I don't have that shot on any given hole, then I've wasted that hole.
MJaber - thanks for the article. I too occasionally have knowingly played too long of tees in the interest of being social. Despite trying as you said, to play the long holes patiently, I often find that I put too much pressure on my short game and end up not enjoying the day as I should. I hope to remember your advice next time.
Matt McGee says:
I play weekly with a group that includes several players with far lower handicaps than mine. I have, in the past, played whatever tees they were on, for the purpose of the social game. My brother and I decided that, in 2013, we're going to play the tees that are appropriate for the game we play, rather than the 4-handicappers in the group. I've walked away from some very nice golf courses disappointed, for no other reason than that I'm playing from too far back on the tee box.
I've often wondered if I would score better by using more of a methodical "old man" approach on the course. I've been meaning for a long time to try to get through a round by hitting driver from the tee and then nothing longer than a seven iron. Using the same logic from the article, if I come to an average par 4 of about 400 yards and hit my drive 210, I need to resist the urge to pull out my three wood or even long hybrid to try to get to the green in two. If I can just force myself to try to hit my second shot 150 with my seven iron, I can be in good shape to reach the green in three and hopefully end up with no worse than a bogie.
This is a strategy I started using earlier in the summer and saw my scores going down. I need to remind myself to get back to it next time I'm on the course ... whenever that might be.
@SteveMM... some of my best rounds have come from playing safe. I took some good-natured ribbing from my group during the round. After the round, I was able to return the favor, as my mid-90 round trumped their 1XX scores.
The scorecard doesn't care where your strokes came from, it just sees a number.
Torleif Sorenson says:
Mike, thanks for an excellent and completely worthwhile article. While my score would balloon if I tried to play, for example, Purgatory in Noblesville IN, I could probably make my score less embarrassing by taking the safe, high-percentage approach to my shots.
And yes, Purgatory *is* on my personal golf bucket list. www.oobgolf.com/courses/course/6050/Purgatory_Go
@Duke of Hazzards... the swingset is done, though a friend of my wife's has another one that I may add on to our current structure this spring/summer. Snow/cold are keeping me off the course now.
Duke of Hazards says:
@mjaber oh yeah.... there's that.
joe jones says:
mjaber. I would like to thank you for the article. It lends credence to some of the statements I put forth in my Long Ball article. Oobers chimed in from both sides of my argument which was my main intent. I would suggest that everyone interested in this subject read two articles in this months Golf Digest. Jerry Tarde on page 6 States that "governing bodies are about to fight the battle to control distance off the driver in anticipation of the U S Open retuning to Merion which many feel has been outmoded by modern equipment.In that article Tom Watson also concedes that " bifurcation " may be necessary.He has been very traditional in the past.
On page 52 Ron Whitten has a article on water conservation and it's effect on golf course cost of maintenance. This should be must reads for all.
joe jones says:
I would like to go on the record that I am not against the ability to hit the long ball. In my youth I was considered to be a bomber even if I really didn't know what I was doing.In my declining years I have a hard time reaching some holes in regulation. I don't mind it when I don,t strike the ball well but when I hit it as far and as straight as I can and still can't get home it is frustrating. That is why I am a proponent of Play It Forward. The one thing that comforts me is the fact that age will effect most everyone else that can bomb it now. Most, if not all will understand my frustration in the future.
joe jones says:
My x business partner never hit a wood off the tees. He could hit a 2 iron about 230 and played to the 150 marker all day so he could hit a 8 iron second and whatever he needed for his third on par fives. He was so damn deadly with that 7 or 8 iron it was boring but boy he could score.One day to prove a point he divided each hole using the following formula. Par threes the correct stick for the yardage, par fours divided by three, par fives divided by four.He relied on his short game to shoot 80.The formula works especially well with beginners. Faced with a 300 yad hole they panic. Tell them all they have to do is hit three 100 yard shots takes a lot of the pressure off.
@GolfSmith7 You are absolutely right. Many tour fairways are as hard as aiport runways. The roll created is ridiculous.
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