Anyone getting their course ready for a big event must eventually confront the very tempting aspiration to make it as hard as possible. Whether it’s a club event, a member-guest, a sectional PGA championship or a state amateur, you’d think that would be the right time to let the fangs out and the blood run and let golfers pay their penance for challenging your course.
All too often, this is the mentality of certain sadists on the green committee or the single-digit handicappers at a club who equate quality with difficulty and are shamed if one out of 91 starters breaks par. The fact is, you’d serve the players well if you took up a bit of slack and did not make every hole out there a torture chamber.
We’ve all seen it. Greens at 13 on the Stimpmeter. Tees way back. Flags tucked into corners of greens or perched just above those nasty false fronts that propel the ball back down into the fronting water hazard. It might be a good way to satisfy the egomaniac you answer to. But it’s not a good way to create a good impression. Nor is it necessarily the best way to identify the finest golfer. One thing is for sure – it will lead to slow play, a lot of (justified) grumbling and end up being a lost opportunity to showcase your property.
Ever notice that at every stroke play qualifier, members and regular players at the course are always four shots higher than normal and a half-hour slower? That’s because golfers forced to count every stroke under the actual rules of golf (as opposed to the casual rules they normally play) find themselves sweating out 4-foot return putts — which, by the way, has a dramatic impact on their 40-foot putts, because they suddenly have to worry about where their first putt will wind up, knowing there’s no such thing as a gimme that day. And you want to make the course harder for them?
The dirty little secret of major championship setups — and here I am referring to arrangements at the highest level, by the USGA, the PGA of America and, most certainly, the PGA Tour — is to back off from extremes and provide variety in the presentation.
For one thing, all of these associations are trying to get their star players around in less than six hours. They are also usually smart enough to know that a golf course set up on the edge of doom might just go over the deep end if wind conditions change or the ground gets extremely dry.
No one should ever put out 18 extreme hole locations. Mix it up. I always advise what I call 6-6-6, which means six showcase locations, six moderate ones and six fairly accessible ones. Notice whenever a golf course is listed at, say, 7,800 yards, it is usually set up at 7,450, and this is for the world’s elite players. Overall length is what might be thought of as reserve yardage. One day a hole plays 480, then the next day 425. The same flex goes for par 3s, drivable par 4s and all par 5s.
The drama and challenge for most players in an event is that every stroke they play counts. If you really must put the course on the edge of extreme overkill, save it for the final two-person match following the stroke-play qualifier and the first few rounds of single-elimination match play. Otherwise, the best way to showcase your course and your talents is to focus on smoothness of greens, tightness and firmness of approaches, and pushing the mowing lines around bunkers so there is as little buffer of rough around them and the ball can roll into the sand, not just fly into them. That’s the way to engage the ground elements of the layout in an active, emotionally compelling way without consigning the bulk of your players that day to a hellishly slow and torturous round.
I once arrived at a course consult at a reputable central Ohio private club and was told that one of their goals for the 6,400-yard, par-71 historic layout was to get more yardage out of the tract. On the way to the first tee, I made a diversionary trip around the pro shop to scout out a handwritten scoreboard from a recent three-round, men’s stroke play club championship. The winning score was 13-over par. “I just found your extra yardage,” I told them.
So much for the deep secrets of course setup. They’re just about the same as the common sense ones that prevail for everyday play.