Most of the greatness in golf architecture is found in the “½ par holes”.
Par fives are now almost all “½ par holes” because of the way technology has affected our game. For the best players, they represent the easiest opportunities to make a birdie. For the longest hitters, regardless of handicap, they can also represent an opportunity to make an eagle. Par fives are looked forward to by everyone, except the very shortest of hitters, because they represent such a great opportunity in the round.
I’ve had a dozen eagles in my life and almost all of them were a made with a putt after reaching a green in two. The par five is where most of us have our greatest memory if we have not had a hole in one. The par five is the best opportunity we have to make an eagle and we all know it. That’s why we hotly anticipate the chance to play a short five or one that is suddenly reachable because the hole is playing downwind.
If I ask you to name a great par five, you will inevitable select a series of them that are all reachable. It’s because these are the holes that we looked most forward to playing in the round. So knowing all this, how do we design really good ones?
These are my thoughts about how to make really good par five. The player should stand on the tee and feel that they have an opportunity to reach the green in two with two of their very best shots. I think they should not be intimidated by the tee shot but should be drawn in by the tee shot being the easier of the two shots they need to make. It’s better to have one really deep and penal bunker to carry or flirt with than to create a tiny well defended landing area that would make them choose to lay-up. I would rather they hit driver and play away from the shortest line out of fear than lay-up and not face the next decision.
Once they find themselves in the ideal position off the tee, it becomes much harder not to fall to the temptation of thinking that just one great swing and I’ll be putting for eagle. They should stand in the fairway, or even in the rough, and be thinking first about aggressive line. I want there bravado or confidence to be more involved with the decision than there common sense.
I think this is where the single most important part of designing a par five lies. The second shot should involve a decision between multiple options. The green should be the most compelling line and the most dangerous. The shorter options from a full lay-up to the aggressive lay-up must all be contested in some form so that the player has to execute some kind of a shot or lay-up well back and hit an excellent long approach.
Since these types of holes are ½ par holes, it means that we can also be a lot more aggressive with our architecture and make the penalty for missing a shot even greater than we would on our longer and tougher holes.
I think greatness comes from our abilities as architects to balance opportunity with Calamity.