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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why Not a Par 67 Course?

I’m feeling contentious today, so I’m going to voice one of my pet peeves:

The PGA Tour complains that a lot of classic courses are no longer usable for tournament play. Why? Because they’re too short for modern tour players. The young guys hit it so hard and so far that they would just make a mockery of par.

But does par really mean anything? Let’s look at the facts:

There are two primary uses for “Par.” Number one, if you’re playing by yourself, it provides an imaginary opponent. “Hey, I took a 3 on that hole, and you took a 4, Par old boy. Up yours!” (I’m sorry, but I never liked that Par guy in the first place. He cheats. I mean, there’s just no way he could rack up some of those scores he posts!)

And number two, his more useful purpose is to help level the playing field between good players and bad players―that is, he helps determine your handicap. Even in this noble endeavor he is sadly wanting, as he needs the help of his good buddy Slope to make sure your 72 means the same as my 72 when we play on different courses.

So why should the PGA even care what par is for a given course? Is there a rule somewhere that par must be 72?

We all know the answer to that question: A big fat resounding NO! The Tour routinely plays courses at par 70 and 71, even an occasional 73, as well as the “standard” par of 72.

So why not expand the definition a bit and include some of those older courses… with par adjusted to the ability of the players? Nobody says a course has to have even one par 5 on it; so why not turn two, three, or even all four into par 4s? Then shorten a couple of the shorter par 4s to 3s as well. I think this would make a lot of classic courses useable again.

Take the Cherry Hills Golf Course, where Arnold Palmer and Andy North both won U.S. Opens (1960 and 1978, respectively). The Tour hasn’t been back since the 1985 PGA, and in the last 15 years the LPGA is the only pro tour to play there (2005 U.S. Women’s Open). Playing at a paltry 7,160 yards made even shorter by the altitude, maybe this par 72 course isn’t a real challenge for the big boys these days. But don’t you think even Tiger would find it a challenge to shoot 67 there every day just to make par? After all, nobody takes any real notice of the actual number of strokes taken; most fans register -5, not 67. And maybe the guys would try harder if that easy little course showed their 68 as +1 instead of -4.

I rest my case. We don’t need longer courses, we need smaller pars. And who knows―with less ground to cover, maybe slow play wouldn’t be such a problem.

Are you listening, PGA Tour???


  1. Interesting notion to get some of these "old school" courses back on the tour. Theoretically, it should work - but I doubt it would psychologically. Bastardizing these courses to make them fit the bill would tarnish both the course and tour image - think about it - would Tiger really want to play a quasi-executive course on tour? Beside, the last thing we weekend hacks would want to see is a farther separation between pros and joe's - Par is now 67 for the pros? I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

  2. I'm not sure it would be tarnishing the course's image; as it stands, we're saying they're not good enough for the pros at all, and that modern pros would make mincemeat out of them. I would say it's a better solution than the suggestion some have made -- that the Tour create a special ball that doesn't fly as far for use in competition. And if this technique were used to make some classic courses available for use in the U.S. Open and PGA -- the only two majors that would be considering it -- the fact that the Tour had found a way to return to some of the great old courses might have promotional value that even Tiger could appreciate. New courses are being built long enough to keep par at 72; an occasional major at 67 on a classic course might be a nice change of pace... not unlike the occasional match play tourney.

    As for the gap between pros and joes... almost everybody expects the pros to birdie the par 5s with a two-putt. Doesn't that mean they're already playing a par 68... and we all accept it? With a reduced par, we'd still see the numbers we expect when we looked at the actual stroke scores; and the relative scores would show that the course is challenging them.

    But all this simply proves my basic point: Par is meaningless in today's game. Par for the pros is already different from par for the joes. Once we acknowledge that, we can admit that setting up the game to measure their skill might take different forms than just building longer and longer courses.

  3. Equipment keeps getter better - and when you have high-end equipment with well-conditioned athletes, you're going to get 375-yard drives. Courses need to adapt to the equipment and the conditioning in golf these days. Adjusting the par on old-school courses seems like a band-aid to me rather than a solution. A more viable option would be to start curbing equipment technology out there - the technology needs to slowdown otherwise we'll run out of real estate for courses.

  4. Wow...
    Pretty scary how great minds do in fact think alike.

    Until about a dozen years ago, I always thought it was the individual country clubs not wanting players to embarrass their course by shooting 16 under that lengthened and strengthened the layout. Come to find out it is the handful of 3.0 - 5.0 USGA index bowtie guys from Far Hills, NJ that decide on 525 yard par fours.

    Let's see what the new grooves do next year. Hell, Merion in 2013 might be TOO LONG...