Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why a Par 72?

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.


Anonymous said...


i had the opportunity to play prestwick st. nicholas (http://www.prestwickstnicholas.com/) 9 years ago while visiting in the ayrshire region of scotland. it wasn't until i looked at the card at the end that i realized the par was only 69. it's a wonderful test of golf, every hole was interesting (especially to someone who had never played a course like that before).

i like your idea of not putting a par on each hole. just play the hole. doesn't matter what you are 'supposed' to have for a score. it's what YOU have that counts. maybe golfers would look at the game differently (better?) if that were the case.

as for a par of 70, the club i played at when i was in ottawa was a par 70 which had 2 benefits - there was less waiting for the green to clear on par 5's so that golfers could play the 'hero' second shot, and it was easier to shoot in the 60's!.

olympia, wa.

Anonymous said...

Another great example of a par 68 is West Sussex Golf Club in Pulborough, England. A top 50 club in the UK with a seemingly endless string of great par 4's and a few long par 3's but just one par 5 (played as a par 4 in medal competition). A perfect heathlands course where par truly is irrelevant - especially since nearly all play is match play.

Guy said...

My only hesitation with some of the lower-par courses is not to do with losing the convention of the par 72 -- it's losing the variety that par fives bring. Still, if you add just one extra par three and take away just one par five, you suddenly have par 70, and there's nothing wrong with that.

gary slatter said...

one of my favorite courses is also a par 68 - Villa d'este in Italy. they've played the Italian Open there, great par 3 holes, fantastic location!

Tim Nugent - ASGCA said...

Ian, buy me a beer some day and we can have a loooong conversation about the Anti-Christ of golf, PAR.
Guy, that still leaves you with 3-5's with 5-3's, which works but leaves the nines "inbalanced" which is a dissusion in it;s own right. I did this with my course, which is only 9-holes. However, at par 34, it was considered by the golfing public as an "executive" course. While we have an above average # of rounds played per year, the price that can be charged per round was less than other venues. With a new tee complex one of the 4's is now the 2nd par 5. It still has 3-3's but that doesn't seem to affect anyones sensibilities. I guess after you've paid $500 for that new "super ball crunching space age driver" you feel cheated if you don't get to grip it & rip it. Personally (although I've never built one) I like 3-3-3's. That way you can create a short, medium and long 3,4,& 5 for the ultimate in variety.

Gary said...

My name is Gary buskin and I am the president of the Houghton Golf Club in johannesburg South Africa. Our course closed at the end of june 2007 as it is to be rebuilt as a Jack Nicklaus Signature course. i was presented with the layout last week which consisted of a par 72 course with 3 par 5's and three par threes on the front nine and two par threes and two par fives on the back nine, the balance of the holes are obviously par fours. I was really excited about the routing that I saw but am getting slammed by my committee members because of the unconventionality of the layout.Anybody got ant comments

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