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Green Elevation Part Two Play Factors

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


Construction practicality, trends, course type and conditions, and individual approach shots influence green elevation. When I started golfing in 1967, many courses advertised their "elevated greens" in the phone book. I think this meant to connote advantages of professional design (contrasted with "mom-and-pop" courses) and difficulty, since golfers and golf rankings then equated difficulty with quality.

Elevated greens are difficult, effectively presenting smaller targets, and rejecting shots, while low greens accept them. Bunkers are deeper, side slopes kick shots down to a difficult recovery pitch.

Elevated greens were a trend in the 1960s, but like skirt length, these trends go up and down! Early Scots placed greens on small plateaus. In varying U.S. climates, architects built them in small hollows to collect rainfall. With early irrigation systems, they elevated them slightly for drainage, and still more by 1960 to counteract increasingly skilled golfers. By 1980 public courses dominated, and we built greens lower to collect shots, and speed play. The trend is still towards lower greens, which provide increased creativity (read: fun) and shot-making options, and wheelchair access to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.

The typical green is probably slightly elevated above the fairway, which allows:

Surface drainage;

Sunlight and air movement;

The green's visibility and visual importance as the ultimate target;

Bunker depth and visibility; and

Construction of surrounding berms to hold shots near the green.

When considering shot values and variety, green elevations should vary considerably. Shorter approach shots may have but don't need higher greens, while longer approaches need lower greens. The ROBOT (Rule, Often Broken, Of Thumb) I use is: 1 foot above the fairway per approach iron i.e., 5 feet above fairway level for an average 5-iron shot, 9 feet for a 9-iron.

This allows average players to roll longer approach shots on the green. As hazards are usually deeper on higher greens, it creates proportionally stiffer penalties for missing with short irons.

Green elevation depends largely on individual green sites, as some sites demand certain elevations for flood plain, visibility, or slope requirements. Where flexible, we generally but not always vary green elevations by:

Course type, lowering greens on municipal courses.

Wind velocity and direction, lowering greens on heavily windy sites and upwind holes, where a player is likely to try a lower shot to the green; raising them on gently downwind holes, where players may fly a high, soft shot to the green.

Hole type, creating different shot types among par-3, short par-4, and par-5 holes, but keeping greens low on long par-4s.

Consecutive holes for distinct sequence.

Green size, raising oversized (for their shot length) greens, lowering undersized ones.

Hazards, often lowering greens with severe or surrounding hazards.