Monday, December 5, 2011

Perceived standards.

The 15th at Cypress Point (courtesy of Geo. Waters).
It continues to amaze me how many golfers think that a total par of 72 is some kind of standard. The same people find it very odd when I say that, as golf course designers, we rarely think about par. We simply try to create the most interesting holes. However the scorecard adds up in the end, so be it.

Many of the world's best courses play to par 71. Most championship layouts are par 70 these days. Two of my favourite courses - the National Golf Links of America and Garden City, on Long Island, New York - are par 73. And, Harry Colt's sublime 1910 layout at Swinley Forest near London, England, is par 69.

Over the past year alone, I've recommended changing the par of individual holes at three clubs where I consult - so-called par 5s, which measure less than 500 yards, to par 4s. At another club where we're planning to completely redesign an existing layout, our scheme results in three par 3s on the front nine and just one short hole on the back. Total par would be 34-36--70. In each case, recommending simple adjustment to the scorecard has resulted in more questions and concerns than physical alterations to the course.

It's not obligatory to have two par 3s and two par 5s per nine. Cypress Point, which ranks 2nd on GOLF magazine's list of the top-100 courses in the world, not only features those world famous oceanside par 3s at holes 15 and 16 but back-to-back par 5s at the 5th and 6th holes, too. Total par at Cypress Point is 35-37--72. At Stanley Thompson's Cape Breton Highlands Links (ranked 6th best course in Canada by SCOREGolf magazine), golfers encounter consecutive par 5s at the 6th and 7th holes then again at 15 and 16. More recently, Tom Doak incorporated back-to-back par 3s into his design of Pacific Dunes, at Bandon, Oregon, which at #19 is the highest ranked course built in the modern era, according to GOLF magazine.  

Cypress Point, Highlands Links and Pacific Dunes don't return to the clubhouse after nines holes, either. Come to think of it, neither do National Golf Links, Garden City and Swinley Forest. Hmmm... so much for perceived standards it seems. Clearly, there are no standards in golf course architecture. In an ideal world, where preconception is not forced upon a golf architect, the goal is to simply create the most interesting holes possible, no matter how the scorecard math figures... or where the course returns to the clubhouse.

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