The R&A states that “on a par-3, a player will attempt to strike the ball onto the green, directly from the teeing-ground”. Does that hold true for all of us?
The truth is that on par-3s, while most male golfers in Australia are provided the opportunity to putt for par, or even birdie, many women are not. From the Red Tee, the green often remains out of range, even for low-handicap women. In place of a variety of club selection and a test of iron play, women are most often presented a steady diet of driver thru hybrid on par-3s. – Lyne Morrison
Long, difficult and time consuming golf is proving to be an unappealing recreation option for Australian women. The average age of the female golfer in this country is now 65 years, with 53% of Australian women carrying a handicap of 31.0 and above. Due to a typically outdated approach to course set-up these players are often denied the opportunity to score well and maintain enthusiasm for the game.
As participation levels continue to fall annually, many clubs may find it beneficial to reassess the course yardages provided for these players. In the previous issue of Golf Architecture (2014) I covered the evolution of the women’s tee in more detail. In this edition, let’s examine the set-up of the par-3 more closely.
Donald Ross always believed that a great golf course should be designed in direct relationship to the ability of the golfer. He was firm in his belief that the elite player should have a stern challenge through the way the golf course could be set up, whereas an older player and a higher handicap player could have a golf course they could easily move around… that a blend of long and short holes should be provided to examination one’s golfing abilities. Furthermore, across the round the player should be required to hit every club in their bag.
Most Australian clubs continue to offer just one tee for female golfers, yet the range of abilities between the accomplished and the beginner is greater than ever. While it is no longer necessary to attach gender to tees, two teeing grounds fitted to the skill level of a range of player should be available for female golfers on each hole. While ‘short courses’ are increasingly discussed, particularly following the introduction of the USGA Slope System, many of those set out reveal shortfalls in awareness relating to the slow swing speed game played by many women and seniors.
If they are to capture the female player, clubs need to provide a sensible variety of tee placements to set up scoring opportunities and fun for a variety of player. Elite play aside, single-figure club women hit their drives approximately 170 metres while the average female, with her slower swing speed, covers approximately 125 to 135 metres of ground. At the same time this golfer produces a lower trajectory ball flight and limited carry that makes it more difficult to negotiate hazards.
Well-considered course set-up, with tees ‘fitted’ to player ability, is paramount. Furthermore, length of play from those tees, placement and design, and length of carries over water, sand, and other hazards must also be considered in relation to the skills and enjoyment of the women who play golf and love the game just as much as men do.
Past President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) Alice Dye produced the first design guidelines for women’s golf in the 1980s. Her input influenced a generation of golf course architects – but for reasons unknown this contribution went unnoticed in Australia. The guidelines below are an updated form, revised as more information has become available on the women’s game with the benefit of research undertaken by consultant Arthur Little and ASGCA Past President Jeff Brauer.
Par-3 – USGA Yardage Guidance:
Up to 190 metres / 210 yards
- Suggested playing yardage for back tees for lower handicap Club women (hcp 5-25) – 100m-150m;
- Suggested playing yardage for forward tees for higher handicap women – 55m-110m;
- A par-3 with a forced carry over water or vegetation should not require more than a 60-metre carry for women. The yardage can be longer but the carry should not exceed 60 metres;
- Par-3 holes with a sand bunker completely guarding the green should not require a carry of more than 60 metres from the forward-most or short tee and 80 metres for the Red tee;
- Par-3 holes with a fairway and entrance to the green may run up to 150 metres. These holes may not be reachable for all, with some players requiring a pitch from the fairway to the green.
By adopting these guidelines and continuing to be mindful of the need to provide a variety of club choice, female golfers will see new value in the par-3. They will certainly be provided the opportunity to “attempt to strike the ball onto the green, directly from the teeing-ground” as the R&A suggests. Furthermore, with a hole set-up that is relevant, these players will also benefit from the thrill of achieving par – or even birdie – finding new enjoyment for the game along the way.
Changing lifestyles are impacting golf. Time is indeed an influencing factor, but for women and seniors difficulty and intimidation are also key contributors. Australia lags well behind in meeting the needs of these players and clubs need to respond to this situation by thinking differently about the facilities they offer to their members and players.
In many respects golfers are like skiers; they want and need different challenges for different levels of ability and architects have a key role to play in assisting clubs to provide appropriate tee options and shorter courses that make the game more fun and enjoyable for a range of player.
Lyne Morrison believes golf courses should provide a challenging but manageable playing experience that builds inclusion for all levels of ability. She is a strong advocate of improved course set-up that provides a more enjoyable and rewarding game for women and seniors. Lyne has worked in the field of golf course design for over 25 years.