Par for the Course

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Frank,
 
First, thanks for all you do for golf. I love reading your weekly Q&A.
 
I wanted to do a comparison of today's golf courses to yesteryear's courses. With all the advances in equipment, I'd like to know how a hole that is 440 yards is a par 5 on some courses and a par 4 on others. What was it when they had hickory shafts? ( I wonder what the average par-4 length was compared to today?)
 
Thanks again for all your help to grow the game.
 
' John

 
John,
 
Thank you for your kind comments. We appreciate all the support that our Frankly Friends have given us by purchasing our books or Frankly Frog putters over the years to help fund our free services.
 
The 'par' for a particular hole is based on a recommended distance range ' e.g.. a par 5 would be between 471 and 690 yards long. This is a suggested guideline by the USGA. Here is how the ranges have changed over time
 
191119172009
Par 3Up to 225Up to 250Up to 250
Par 4226 to 425251 to 445251 to 470
Par 5426 to 600446 to 600471 to 690
Par 6600+600+691+

 
A hole from 426 to 600 yards in 1911 (almost 100 years ago) was considered a par 5. Unfortunately for 99 percent of us, this is still a par 5, even though the recommended distance range has changed and is now 471 to 690 yards. The par rating is what a scratch golfer would be expected to score and this has changed (see table above) over time based on the performance of the elite golfer.
 
We know that the average drive of those of us who shoot between 90 and 94 is less than 200 yards, so we dont have a chance of reaching the long par-4s in regulation today; in 1911 we had an even lesser chance.
 
Par is a number which has more of a psychological influence on us than anything else in golf. It is amazing how at the recent men's U.S. Open, hole No. 7 at Bethpage Black ' a 525-yard par 4 ' had a stroke average of 4.365 and was thus considered a difficult hole. If, however, those in charge of the U.S. Open had left it as a par 5 ' in name only but still with a 4.365 stroke average ' it would've been considered one of the easiest holes in the event. Similarly, if the par-5 fourth hole (517 yards), which played to a stroke average of 4.75, was whimsically changed to a par 4 it would've been considered the most difficult hole on the course, not one of the least difficult.
 
I dont understand how by changing the par of a hole ' only a name ' it changes the difficulty.
 
Par is not important, it is your score which is important. Unless you are in a Stableford or par competition, you can change the par of any hole to whatever you want. In fact, it is suggested that if you consider some of the long par-4s as par-5s, this will help you relax and enjoy your round more.
 
Your handicap ' an indicator of your skill level ' is not based on par but on the course rating, which could be several strokes different than par.
 
John, thank you for your question. Since I was in charge of directing the development of the GHIN handicap system in 1979, I feel very qualified to answer your question. You also helped me take quite a load off my shoulders in the process.
 
Frank
 
Frank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf. Thomas is chief technical advisor to GolfChannel.com. He served as technical director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN system and introduced the Stimpmeter. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email letsbefrank@franklygolf.com
 
Frank Thomas