Par - What is it Good For? | Oregon Golf Association

Par - What is it Good For?

Par, as defined in The USGA Handicap System, is the score that an expert player would be expected to make for a given hole. Par means expert play under ordinary weather conditions, allowing two strokes on the putting green. Par is not a significant factor in either the USGA Handicap System or USGA Course Rating System.

But what does it really mean?

I know it’s not a new song, but every time I get in conversations about Par and Course Rating, the song “War” by Edwin Starr comes to mind: (Here’s a link to the song on YouTube

War (Par?), huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War (Par!), huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, y'all

Here are the facts. Par is set by the USGA Handicap System. It is formulated using the shot length for the Scratch (0 Course Handicap) player. Par is different for Men and Women.

Please note that the chart says “GUIDELINES”. We do have some leeway. One of my favorite examples of an appropriate place to ignore the chart is the second hole at Orchard Hills Country Club. From the back tees, the hole measures 225 yards. That is clearly within the Men’s Par 3 guidelines. If you have ever played Orchard Hills, you know this is NOT a par three hole!

There is a 30 foot elevation gain for the first 170 yards. Then, the green is almost a 90 degree right turn. There are trees lining the right side of the fairway so there is no chance to cut the corner.

This 225 yard hole is a par 4. I have no doubt about that and will always support the USGA’s Yardage Guidelines.

I often have people asking why OGA has holes listed as one par when it is on the scorecard as a different par. There are several circumstances that come up on a regular basis; and the conversation always comes down to this statement:

“But our golfers/members can’t hit it that far.”

The USGA Course Rating System is based on two sets of people, Scratch and Bogey. Par is based on how far the Scratch player can hit the ball plus two strokes on the green. If your Course Handicap is over 0, you are less likely to get a par on a longer hole. That is where the USGA Handicap System comes in, awarding strokes based on Handicap Index.

On a 450 yard hole, the men’s par is a 4 (think 380 yards for a women’s par 4) unless there is something that forces the ball not to go the distance prescribed by the USGA. Is there a pond forcing a layup? Are there trees at a corner making it a dogleg? Is there bunkering that will cause a golfer to club down? Does the fairway rise so much from tee to green that the ball won’t get its normal roll?

All of the above situations might cause us to change the par on a hole. If this hole is difficult, but in the guidelines for a par 4, then it is a difficult par 4. Par does not change because the people who golf the course on a regular basis cannot reach the green in regulation. Par is computed automatically in the Course Rating System, unless one or more of the situations above exist.

As much as par is irrelevant in many situations, par does matter in establishing a standard and should be accurate. Here is USGA Handicap System, Decision 16/1:

Q: What may be done if par is not established in accordance with Section 16?  For example, a club has designated a 330-yard hole without any unusual features as a par-5 for women. This designation is well outside the USGA guidelines. Must clubs using the USGA Handicap System establish par within the guidelines?

A: Yes. If notified in writing, the USGA will request the authorized golf association in the area to contact the club about changing par. If the golf association is unable to persuade the club to change par on the hole, the USGA will write to the club requesting the change.

What we need to get across is that Par, by itself, is irrelevant to the game. The traditional 72 par has nothing to do with how much a player enjoys their round. Par has nothing to do with shooting a round under/over/at your Handicap. If you are in a stroke play tournament, it is the number of strokes that you make at the ball (plus applicable penalties) that gives you a score. In order to win a tournament, you have to hit the ball fewer times than the other players. If you are in a match play tournament, you have to win more holes than your opponent does to win the match. Par in both cases is immaterial.

A Player’s Course Handicap is based on the Course Rating, Slope Rating and their Handicap Index. That Handicap has nothing to do with par. It does tell the golfer how many strokes that are to be taken off the total score to get to their Target Score. If you’d like to learn more about Target Score click here.

In Oregon, we have quite a few courses with sets of Tees that are par 72 for men and vary in length between 5300 – 7600 yards. Those Course Ratings range between 65.0 and 76.5.  For Women, the par 72 Tees are 4200 – 6500 yards and between 64.5 and 77.7 for Course Ratings. Using par to compare any of these courses would not give a player any sense of course’s difficulty.

There are also several courses with par of 68 that have a Course Rating of over 70.0. A short course with a high Course Rating would indicate a fairly difficult course. A long course with a lower Rating would indicate a less difficult course.

Remember, par is not based on the ability of the person playing the hole. Par is based on how far the Scratch player hits under ordinary weather conditions. It has nothing to do with age, income, lessons or equipment. It also has nothing to do with how much you and your friends enjoy playing the course. Par has nothing to do with the care and maintenance of the course by the Superintendent and crew, or the sound of laughter, birds, or traffic.

Go out and enjoy the game. Par is just a number on a scorecard. OGA hopes it is the RIGHT number. 

By Gretchen Yoder, Manager of Handicapping and Course Rating,

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