Friday, October 21, 2011

Par for the course.

The restored par-four 11th hole at Victoria Golf Club.
There was a bit of controversy this week over my recommendation to fill in a section of bunker protecting the front right corner of the 445-yard 17th hole at Victoria Golf Club. This portion of this greenside bunker was added during the 1980s - relatively recently, considering golf's been played at VGC since 1893.

The main issue relative to recommending this part of the bunker be removed is drainage. The green was surface draining water directly into this section of the bunker. Sand would wash down the bunker face during frequent rain events in the Pacific Northwest, and was constantly wet. So, form follows function. A fix is in order, right?

The controversy stems from the fact that some think VGC's 17th will be too easy if this sand hazard is removed. A 445-yard hole too easy? Well, yes, when it's labeled a par-five. I've learned that this bunker was extended to front the right half of the 17th green about the same time the club decided to convert this hole from par-four to par-five. (During a 1968 Shell's Wonderful World of Golf match, between Al Geiberger and George Knudsen, at VGC, #17 played as a par-four.)

There's a simple way to make the 17th hole more challenging, I suggest. That's simply restoring the hole to a par-four on the scorecard. However, then the issue becomes par for the course. VGC would become par 69 if #17 was labeled a par-four. But, is this really an issue? There are a number of great courses throughout the world that play to a total par of 69, including Swinley Forest (84th on GOLF magazine's ranking of the top-100 courses in the world) and Donald Ross' Wannamoisett, in Rhode Island, which annually hosts the prestigious Northeast Amateur championship.

Scratch golfers have always been the measure of par. And, scratch golfers have long played 445-yard holes as "two shot holes" (par-fours), not par-fives. In fact, there's not a great course in the world (though Capilano, in Vancouver - #10 - now comes to mind) featuring a 445-yard par-five hole.

While this is a somewhat interesting conversation piece (for golf minds), it's not a big deal. I say, label holes however you wish. Whether a par-two or a par-six, every golfer is simply trying to make the lowest score possible. Par is actually irrelevant. And, it's never been a factor in judging the ultimate quality of a course. Quality is about great (read: interesting and attractive) holes, which VGC has in abundance.

Our ambition, as golf architects, is simply to create the very best holes possible over any given property, no matter what the math (or rightfully varying opinions) may suggest total par should be.

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