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  • Alistair Tait

The death of par 5s?

Are par 5s obsolete? Perhaps not to you or I, but what about at the highest level of the game? Seems so according to Golf Digest’s Jerry Tarde.

Tarde pens an interesting article in which he identifies just one par 5 on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses that has not been reached in two. He refers to a list called “the untouchables” architect Tom Doak created in 1982 featuring par 5s that hadn’t been reached in two. According to Tarde, the current list contains just one entry. Tarde writes:

“In researching Golf Digest’s ranking of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses today, we’ve found only one untouchable left—the 675-yard 16th at Olympic’s Lake Course.”

The same goes for par 5s on the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour. The untouchables lists for those two circuits each contains just one entry.

“On all of the PGA Tour last year, ShotLink data shows one par 5 wasn’t reached in two (the 623-yard fourth at Sea Island Resort’s Plantation course)—that’s 0.6 percent of all the par 5s played—and on two-thirds of the par 5s, at least half the field “went for the green.” The longest hole in tournament golf today is TPC Colorado’s 773-yard 13th hole on the Korn Ferry Tour, which even at Denver-area elevation has not been reached. Yet.”

Notice the inclusion of the word "yet." Perhaps Bryson DeChambeau hasn’t played either of those courses. Or Matthew Wolff, or Cameron Champ, or Dustin Johnston and a host of other long bombers.

I’d love to give you similar data for the European and European Challenge Tours but I’m struggling to find such detailed statistics. As for elite players reaching par-5 holes in two on a regular basis, that’s nothing new in age when tour pros are hitting the ball greater distances. Paul Lawrie’s parting shot after retiring from the European Tour following the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open was extremely relevant to the distance debate.

“Technology has been unbelievable. The driver heads have gotten bigger and bigger and easier to hit and harder to shape. The ball just goes miles. I hit it the same distance now as I did when I was in my early 20s. My body is in bits and I’m still hitting it the same distance.”

The late Wayne Westner was the distance king when Lawrie joined the European Tour in 1992. The South African averaged a then colossal 286.8 yards off the tee. He was just one of five players averaging over 280 yards, along with Darren Clarke (280.9), Vijay Singh (280.5), Brett Ogle (280.3) and Marc Farry (280.0).

Scroll forward 10 years to 2002 and there were only four players averaging over 300 yards off the tee. Italy’s Emanuele Canonica led the driving distance stats with a 304.9-yard average, followed by Des Terblanche (301.7), Ricardo Gonzalez (300.8) and Angel Cabrera (300.1). Another decade later and everyone in the top 10 for driving distance during the 2012 season averaged over 300 yards, with Nicholas Colsaerts taking the honours with 318.3 yards.

This year’s driving distance chart shows 78 players averaging over the 300 mark on the European Tour. South African Wilco Nienaber is the tour’s current long driving champ at an average of 335.04 yards per pop. Unsurprisingly, DeChambeau is the PGA Tour’s longest driver with a 344.4 average. There are 180 players averaging over 300 yards on that circuit.

What about 280 yards, I hear you ask, which was elusive to most mere mortals when Lawrie started out? There are 142 European Tour players currently averaging over 280 yards. There are 320 PGA Tour members averaging over that distance.

Is it any wonder there are few “untouchables" left when 300-yard drives are now average?

Who cares? Well perhaps the Babba Boey and Mashed Potato guys don’t care. Maybe the large majority of golf fans don’t either. However, surely there’s something wrong when players are pulling 4 and 5-irons to hit into par 5s that were once considered unreachable?

It seems strange to say there was a time when the recommended minimum yardage for a par 5 was 476 yards. The recommendation for par 4s was between 251-475 yards. Nowadays, no one blinks an eye at 500-yard par 4s.

Par 5s were once considered the ultimate risk and reward holes. How much risk is there for most tour professionals when they can reach, say, Augusta’s par-5, 13th hole with a drive and a medium iron? Not much.

Tarde has a recommendation for those golf course owners who don’t want to add new tees to make holes longer just to keep/secure a professional tournament. He writes:

“My advice would be to change the par, not lengthen the holes and incur all sorts of land, design and maintenance expense.”

Now there’s a thought: courses with a different par total for tour players. If that was the case then perhaps there would be few par 5s left at professional level, never mind “untouchables.”

#JustSaying: “On most golf courses the three-shot holes are extremely dull.” Dr Alister MacKenzie.

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