Par (for the course)

As the PGA TOUR prepares to contest Arnies Open this week, “par” has become a buzz word. Apparently Arnold has changed Bay Hill to a Par 70 for the tounament, making two par fives into par fours. The change will not affect the outcome of the tourney, however it might get into a few player’s heads. At the end of the week Arnie will give the trophy to the player with the least strokes. Pars only matter in Stablefords. Arnie says he’s protecting his course by reducing the par, I think he’s too late and anyway, people watching TV like to see birdies, not great pars.

One comment you hear when a five becomes a par four “the green is too small to accept long shots”. Really, when it was a five most tour players went for it in two shots anyway. It does affect history, a four round score of 276 used to be 12 under par, now it’s just 4 under. When we check the records in ten years someone will say “see, they aren’t any better, 24 under is still winning”.

Anyway, I’ve enjoyed the last few tournaments, and I’m sure the best man will win again this week. Or is He not playing?

In 1968 I played in England with our Swing’s the Thing tour, and on one course the scorecard had yardages but no par. I asked the Professional “what’s the par?” and he pointed to a black board with “today’s SSS 72” written on it. I didn’t understand until he explained the “par” for today’s conditions and setup was 72. I knew this concept wouldn’t catch on in Canada because who was going to get up early enough, every day, to figure that out and post it before anyone played. The Pro also told me that the committee had only recently put the yardage on the card, “don’t need par or yardage, just play the course”. When we finished I found another scorecard in the 19th Hole, with yardages and pars. “That’s for matches only”.

Getting back to Stablefords, the best competition in my opinion. Several Pro Ams that I have been involved with are all Stablefords now and the reason is because they have mixed fields, teams with men and women playing. Often a hole is a par four for men and five for women. The woman scores five for a net four, a birdie, 3 points. A male partner shoots five, net four, 2 points. By playing Stableford she gets credit for her birdie. In the UK I’ve noticed many scorecards have par three holes as their lowest handicap stroke holes. The reason is most of their matches are Stableford, often par threes are the hardest holes to score a par on, so they have lower handicap strokes. Another reason Stablefords are popular is when you can’t get a point you can pickup, in medal play a big number often means game set and match.

How does “par” affect a player’s head game? Imagine a 250 yard par 3 (16th at Carnoustie). It’s a very difficult hole, bogey 4 is a good score. If that same hole was a par 4, it would be a very easy hole and many would birdie it, I’ll bet the average score would be lower. To the good players it’s just a hole, to the rest of us it’s a tough par 3. On Bay Hill’s 16th, now a par four. When a player is in the rough off the tee, and the hole was a par five, they hacked it out short of the green (and water) and hit their third shot to the green. Now, as a par four, some will feel that they have to go for the green in two, and perhaps will pay.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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