Does Size Really Matter ????

Maybe the title got your attention

Just talking golf holes here - mainly the short-ish ones… especially the 4’s under 340 yards and the 3’s under 120 yards. And when I think of some of the best I’ve played… and a few that I’ve designed… it’s these shorter ones that always seem to be the most adaptable – and they have all the most distinct personality and playing qualities.  Why? Maybe because they are so seemingly benign on the scorecard… or visually attackable from the tee.  They may seem easy enough for sure, but the best short holes have options… and options produce the most enticing, memorable, sometimes most unpredictable golf experiences!

Royal Troon's "Postage Stamp" is 123 yards of pure hell.
Most of the greatest golf courses have em’.  Think Riviera’s 10th, Royal Troon’s 8th, the 7th at Pebble Beach, the 18th at Inverness and Oakmont’s 17th.  And how about the 12th at St. Andrews, the 10th at Merion or #9 at Cypress Point? Those are just a few of the holes that most are likely to identify with… but the one thing that screams out to me is this: ANYBODY can score on a short hole … but under pressure, these holes can cause the VERY BEST players to come completely unglued.

The short par-4 4th at St. Georges Hill - 277 yards and a seemingly simple test? In my work, I see thousands of golf holes and work with plenty of guiding committees.  We spend a good bit of time assessing how to make holes better and more enjoyable to play.  What amazes me though, is the number of short holes that, over time, have been modified on courses for the purpose of adding length.  Call it ego, call it selfishness of a few, call it competition among clubs… whatever the reason - it’s narrow-minded and a shame.  Instead of stretching out long holes to be slightly longer, all too often the decision is made is to gain length by modifying the short holes.  Not only does this approach often produce a poor fit of a hole (due to terrain, green size, etc.) but there is also the loss of the strategic short test that otherwise provided variety and demanded a different approach.

When we consider that most of the great architects of the Golden Age believed so strongly in variety and in purposely designing short holes, then why have so many of them disappeared?  I visited a course recently, designed by a noted architect back in the 1920’s.  Today, the shortest par-4 hole on the course is 370 yards!  When I looked back at the old aerial photos, there were two holes that were originally under 330 yards.  I was told that those holes were lengthened in the ‘70’s to make the course more challenging and then again in the ‘90’s as the club was vying to host a state amateur event. 

Let’s be clear… the total length on the scorecard is entirely irrelevant unless the course is too long.  Some won’t want to hear that – but it’s their ego that is doing the talking. The most strategic and potentially dangerous holes are many times the shortest ones – the holes with the most options… AND, potentially, the most treachery.  For the good golfers, length rarely makes a hole more difficult… it’s more often the subtleties and the cup location!!  And if the length of the hole is such that it forces players to make critical club choices, or if they are in-between clubs… ALL THE BETTER.

So, the next time you see a short hole on the card and begin salivating about the birdie you’re about to make, be sure to take a second look before hitting your tee shot.  There might be a whole lot more to consider than you think.  Just watch the pros this weekend at Riviera!  A mere 315 yards of brain drain for the best golfers in the world.  They have more than a few options from the tee, but the green is devilish because of its size & depth and how it is angled against the line of play.  And as I like to point out, the difficulty in that hole is what happens to the ball when it’s on the ground.

Here's what the pros face on the 315 yard 10th at Riviera What gets so many here is the tiny, shallow green Pete Dye has always claimed that once you give a good player options to consider, it’s way too much to think about… and then you’ve got ‘em!

So be sure to make time to watch the best in the world try to tackle Riviera's 10th during the Northern Trust Open - that will surely entertain.

This was a very interesting article. I guess I have always thought the longest holes were the most challenging, but what you have just explained makes perfect sense!
Comment by liz rogers - posted on 03/11/2016 07:10 pm

Search blog posts


9 Hole Course A.W. Tillinghast Adjusting Course Length Affordable Golf Alister Mackenzie Architectural Study Tour ASGCA Audubon Country Club Augusta Country Club Augusta National Golf Club Australia Golf Courses Baltusrol - Lower Course Bandon Dunes Bandon Preserve Bandon Trails Bethpage - Black Course Bill Coore Billy Payne Bobby Jones Bunker Renovation Bunkers Burnham & Berrow C.B. Macdonald C.H. Alison Canal Shores Champions Golf Club Charles Banks Chicago Golf Club Chicago golf courses Classic Courses Clifford Roberts Community Golf Country Club of North Carolina Course Design Course length Course Rankings Cypress Point Daniel Burnham Design Elements Devereux Emmet Donald Ross Donald Trump Doral Drainage Innovations Drew Rogers Enjoyable Golf Environmental Golf European Courses Family Golf First Links Florida Golf Courses GCSAA Geoff Shackelford George Thomas Gil Hanse Golden Age of Golf Architecture Golf Golf & Natural Disasters Golf & Travel Golf and Fishing Golf and the Landscape Golf and the Prairie Style Movement Golf Business Models Golf Course Architecture Golf course Architecture Magazine Golf Course Communities Golf Course Design Trends Golf Course Development Golf Course Improvements Golf Course Maintenance Golf Course Marketing and Publicity Golf in Brazil Golf in Houston Golf in Portugal Golf in Toledo, Ohio Golf Magazines and Books Golf on Long Island Golf Technology Golfing Destinations Grass Conversions Greens speeds Growing the Game H.S. Colt Hazards in golf Heather and gorse Heathland Golf Herbert Fowler Huntercombe Hurricane Irma Impacts of weather on golf Inverness Club Jackie Burke, Jr. James Braid James Foulis Jason Way JDR Jens Jensen John Low Kerry Haigh - PGA Kids Golf Lake Zurich Golf Club Links Golf Lowes Island Club Machu Pichu Maidstone Club Making Golf More Fun March Madness Matt Adams, PGA Tour Radio Max Behr Merion Mike Davis Mike Keiser Miromar Lakes Golf Club My Process National Golf Links of America Newport National Golf Club Non-Traditional Golf North American Courses Oitavos Dunes Old Course - St. Andrews Old Elm Club Old MacDonald Old Tom Morris Pacific Dunes Par 3 Courses Pebble Beach Perry Maxwell Pete Dye PGA Tour Pinehurst #2 poa annua greens Practice Facilities Public Golf Quail West Golf & Country Club R & A Renovation and Restoration Resort Golf Riviera Country Club Robert Hunter Royal Cinque Ports Royal North Devon Royal St. Georges Royal Troon Seminole Golf Club Short Courses Short Par Fours Short Par Threes SNAG Golf Social Side of Golf Speed of Play St. Enodoc St. Georges Hill Stimpmeter Stoke Poges Strategic golf Strategic Options Streamsong Streamsong Sunningdale Surrey Swinley Forest Sylvania Country Club T.J. Auclair, Tee It Forward Template Holes The Berkshire The Masters Tom Dunn Tom Simpson Tournament Golf Trump Golf Trump National Golf Club - Washington, D.C. Turf conversion ultradwarf bermudagrass USGA Walter Travis Walton Heath Water and Turf Management Wethered & Simpson Why Golf is Fun Width and golf William Flynn Willie Park, Jr. winter kill