One of the fours being conceptualized at Laval
The par fours are the backbone of any golf course. It’s the collection of par fours that usually play the most significant role in determining how well you play. While the short ones do present an opportunity to score, the majority represent the place in the round where the player generally looks to hang on.
There is no such thing as a par 5½. For the better player a par five will always be an opportunity. There are definitely par 3½’s which are made up of short fours and very long and tough par threes. Architects work to hard to create variety in the threes, so there is little likelihood of there being more than one per round from the par threes. In fact there is a greater chance that there will be more 3½’s made up by par fours than by par threes. This leaves the par fours to do most of the work to create difficulty within the round.
When I design a course I'm always looking for a couple of shorter fours to create balance, but when you consider the average number or fours is eleven, that leaves nine more that are not short. So let’s assume that two are of the shorter variety and then add two more in the early 400 yard range and call them mid-length. That leaves us with seven long par fours of varying distances. Well let’s once again take away two holes, but this time we are going to remove two very long and arduous par fours of exceptional difficulty. They are the dominant fours which are designed to test the player’s mental toughness and game. That still leaves five long par fours.
The Road Hole - the greatest dominant par four I know
So that’s seven holes where the scoring average is expected to be above par for the scratch player. That also means that we are looking at five to seven holes of similar length that must be differentiated through either landforms or by architectural decisions.
One side note: If you want to make the course more fun, you simply add in more short fours like a course such as Pacific Dunes where the addition of more short fours adds to the fun and the ability to score. If you want to increase the challenge, you simply remove almost all the short ones and in essence create anywhere from seven to eleven par 4½’s.
Here’s my basic breakdown for a course with 11 par fours:
One drivable par four
One drive and pitch par four
Two mid-length par fours where accuracy is rewarded over strength
They should reward the ability to think and work the ball
Two very long and tough dominant fours
These should play either uphill, into the wind, or involve a testing long approach.
Five holes will all be of the longer variety
They should balance out the player’s ability to work the ball in both directions
They should each have a different setting and different task from the last one