Capilano's opening hole
I wrote yesterday about Rye Golf Club in England being a par 68. Rye is probably one of the most underrated courses in the world primarily because people have a tough time dealing with the unconventional par. Why has par become so important that most new courses are built to a par of 72 because it’s an assumed standard? I can only imagine how many layouts have been compromised or even ruined with an architect trying to find one or two extra par fives to ensure their course adds up to 72.
How many courses feature inferior holes because a course can’t let go of a number? People are still fairly tolerant of a par 71 but any mention of going to a par 70 makes them bristle because this is assumed to be inferior. It’s funny that most US Open venues are now played at par 70, because this is the only way to defend par. I have a club with a very short par five that in today’s game plays as a strong par four. The club is so concerned with maintaining the current par, that they are willing to entertain many costly changes just to maintain the par five. A change on the card would incur no extra cost. It makes my head spin some times.
There was a lot of criticism of Capilano’s recent decision to change the par on the first and tenth holes to four, which reflected the way they played. The members par remained as it always was. For perspective if you’re not familiar with the holes, I’m not long, but I had a nine iron into the first and a six iron into the tenth when I played there last time. The change in par reflected today’s game, and the change cost the club nothing, but there were a vocal group who felt this was a bad decision. Why, the course stayed exactly the same, only the number of strokes required was changed. One way to deal with technology isn’t it? You think historical clubs don’t do this – what if I told you that the Road hole at St. Andrew’s was once a par five. This has been going on for a long time and some of our greatest par and a half holes have come from this process.
Capilano's approach to the 10th green
So as I like to do – let’s take this a step further. Why can’t I design a par 69 or 68 right out of the gate? It would take less land and be faster to play. Since all par fives are either reachable, or become so long that they make horrible holes that eat large acreages of land, why not build far fewer. I know, I know - the answer is convention, and the risk is players will refuse to play a course that has a par in the 60’s. Truth is that this is too big a risk to take that chance.
Let’s look at another possibility, - what if the scorecard had no par listed anywhere and offered a final par only in the total? Would this bother you, or would it release you to simply play the hole as it comes? I still think one solution to fight technology is to lower par. At least we would stop rebuilding classic courses and stop increasing the acreage required for new courses. Makes you wonder, is a course as old as Rye the future rather than a break with convention.