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Going the distance: Breakdown of course size

John Renslow
Golf Columnist

Size matters. This holds true when it comes to identifying golf courses and establishing par. With most golf courses in these United States calculated in yards, there are some general guidelines for using these measurements.

For men, generally speaking, a golf hole that is fewer than 250 yards is designated as a par 3. Traditionally, this means that the advanced player will make one swing to get the ball on the putting green and then hit two putts to get the ball in the hole.

If the player can accomplish this, it is known as “hitting a green in regulation.” Golf holes with a distance of more than 250 yards but fewer than 450 yards are designated as par 4s, and if the distance is greater than 450 yards, it is known as a par 5.

These definitions are not absolute, but you won’t see too many outside these guidelines. Also, on occasion, a course/committee may decide to give a par-6 moniker to the golf hole that has a length more than 600 yards (look up Lake Chabot Golf Course in Oakland). However, even when the measurement is this long, most courses stay with the traditional par 5.

For most properties, the total of these holes is an 18-hole, par -72. This breaks down to 10 par-4 holes, four par-3 holes and four par-5 holes. This is a type of “regulation golf course.” A regulation golf course is any nine-hole or 18-hole golf course that includes a variety of par-3, par-4 and par-5 holes. A nine-hole golf course must be 2,600 yards in length with an aggregate par of at least 33, and an 18-hole course must be at least 5,200 yards in length and have a par of at least 66.

Now, a person could make a golf course in his own backyard. Some people do. Just ask Willie Nelson. A course can be any shape, size, whatever. Nevertheless, to be recognized as “regulation,” it must meet the parameters described.

Here are some more terms that will help you talk like a veteran and impress your friends.

Par-3 course — This is a golf course that is made up solely of par-3 holes. Don’t confuse this with being easy. Although the mainstream par-3 course will be ideal for beginners and/or juniors, there are some par-3 courses (i.e. the Cliffs at Olympic Club in San Francisco) that will be a test for all skill levels.

Executive course — This type of course will have some par 4s or maybe even a par 5 added into the mix. It offers more variety but generally falls short of the length and par guidelines to be a regulation course. On the surface, it might seem that this property has the “distance-challenged” golfer in mind, but it might just be that the geography/topography only allowed a course of this size. In these days with tight budgets and tight schedules, a well-manicured executive course may be just the ticket.

Championship course — Although more of an embodiment than a definition, this golf course is ready for competition. It has been designed by a reputable architect, is well manicured and is likely to have an overall length of 6,600 yards or more.

Links course — This designation has nothing to do with yardage or par or types of holes. This is simply all about location. Many people use this term generically to describe a golf course that might resemble coastal property, often seen as sand dunes or barren, undulating land.

The real links course is literally situated on the coast. Remember that the Scots were the world’s first official golfers. Players and animals (sheep, goats, rabbits) would share land that could not accept crops.

We’re told that the Scots called this land “links” because it is where the land was linked with the sea.

No matter the size or the shape or the par, just get out there and play. It will link you to fun and friends.

John Renslow is general manager and director of golf at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at jrenslow@pga.com.


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