Several years ago, the USGA got on board with a movement called “tee it forward,” a concept developed by Barney Adams (of Adams Golf) and supported by none other than Jack Nicklaus. The gist of the idea was for golfers to play from the 18-hole yardage that best corresponded to the distance that they hit their driver so that they would play roughly the same irons into the greens as do the pros.
The concept received much fanfare and publicity, but soon vanished from the scene as most golfers either ignored the concept, didn’t know about it, or lost interest. It was a noble idea, but asking a golfer who averages 200 yards off the tee to play from around 5,300 yards (as “tee it forward” recommends) is a tough ask, especially if that golfer is a skilled golfer for that particular driving distance. Most male golfers continued to gravitate towards white tees at golf courses, which are normally in the 6,200-yard range or so, no matter how far or short they hit the ball.
The concept of “par” is a relatively simple one to grasp. It is the score an expert golfer is expected to make on a given hole, with a certain number of strokes to reach the green and two putts for par. For male golfers, a par-3 is any hole up to 250 yards; a par-4 ranges from 251 to 470 yards, and a par-5 is 471 yards and over. (There is also a par-6 yardage, which we will omit for purposes of this discussion.)
For female golfers, a par-3 is any hole up to 210 yards; a par-4 covers hole 211 to 400 yards, and a par-5 is a hole 401 yards and longer. Note that for both male and female golfers, these yardages are not arbitrary as normal course conditions, topography, altitude, etc., must also be taken into account before coming up with a hole’s par.
The problem with most golfers comparing their scores to par is that they never come close to shooting it for an entire round. In fact, the average golfer doesn’t break 90, according to various statistical studies. So for them to shoot a round of par is sheer fantasy.
Currently, a concept of “par” can be made by simply assigning handicap strokes to each hole, but it doesn’t take into account the potential that golfer has. For example, merely saying an 18-handicapper’s par is 90 on a par-72 course doesn’t give that golfer an idea of what is possible for the distance he hits the ball.
What if we came up with a different concept of par, based on how far a particular golfer hits the ball? The concept of par is based on what an expert is expected to make, but an expert is also expected to be able to drive the ball at least 250 yards. What about those golfers who can’t hit it that far?
Here’s something we can try for male golfers who drive the ball less than 250 yards or a female who drive it less than 210: A golfer’s personal par based on how far he or she hits the ball. To keep things elementary, we can call this the “Personal Par System.”
First, a golfer who averages less distance than the minimum an expert is expected to hit it likely has lesser skills. So let’s subtract 30 yards from whatever yardage a good drive goes (to more accurately reflect how far an average drive might go), and assign that as the maximum length of a personal par-3 hole. Next, take another 30 yards off that figure and add it to the first to come up with a maximum length of a personal par-4, and we can also add that same figure again to come up with a maximum length of a personal par-5.
Example: Tom’s ball goes 220 yards when he hits a good drive, so a personal par-3 would be anything up to 190 yards. His personal par-4 would be from 191 to 350 yards, and a personal par-5 would be 351 to 510 yards. Using the site of this year’s U.S. and World Golf Teachers Cup (Boulder Creek Golf Club in Boulder City, Nevada, Desert Hawk/Coyote Run nines, white tees at 6,080 yards), we come up with a personal par for this golfer of 79 instead of the score-card’s 72.
A golfer who is not able to shoot his personal par now has something realistic he can strive for, and may incentivize him to put a little more time into his game. For someone who can regularly break his personal par, instead of subtracting 30 yards from the figures mentioned earlier, subtracting 20 or 10 yards may be a more accurate reflection of what a personal par should be.
Someone interested in trying the Personal Par System can take a look at the scorecard and adjust the par before the round. Some people overestimate how far they really hit it, so the system depends on an accurate accounting of driver distance.
Tee it forward was a good idea, even a great one, but it didn’t seem to catch on. We are under no great illusions the Personal Par System will become a national rage, but if USGTF members can get their students to think about their golf ability in a different way with the system, we would say our mission has been accomplished.