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Hugh Driver asks, ‘What is the best course length?’
I know of 7,000-yard courses in "senior" communities, which are far too long, but my longest course, Colbert Hills, designed at 7,500 yards to challenge collegiate players, is just right! However, that's the exception, and most courses should fall in between, ignoring the longest players and accommodating shorter ones with multiple tees.
With better players hitting farther – at a public course I designed four years ago, many players now play past 265-yard bunkers – courses clamor for championship length of 7,100 yards or higher. On one renovation, we increased yardage to 7,201 yards to give it "bragging rights."
So one answer is: "As long as you can fit in, and with room for expansion!" However, another answer is, "Not to worry." I still find that the most popular tee length at my courses is 6,300-6,500 yards. The length explosion is something we mostly see on television. So the best answer is to let the site dictate, and let the course be what it will be.
Length distribution is as important as total length. We create wide distance variation, which encourages golfers to hit "every club in the bag." That provides no guarantee, of course, because golfers don't strike each tee shot equally well, sometimes lay up, and face different wind and roll conditions. But it's a start.
Recently, I've varied championship lengths of par-3 holes from 120 to 275 yards. Properly designed, the shortest par-3 can be the trickiest.
It's hard to build long par-4s for top players without exceeding the USGA 470-yard limit*. I like par-4 holes to range from 320 to 499 yards, with varied sequence (disregarding interspersed par-3s and par-5s), by alternating between short and long holes.
Golfers love reaching par-5s in two, so I include one reachable par-5**, one unreachable hole, and two "tweeners," usually with championship length of approximately 625, 575, 550 and 525 yards. I'll move forward tees up on shorter holes, to create similar challenges for all golfers. We augment "reachability/unreachability" by designing shorter par-5s with prevailing winds and longer par-5s against them.
When speed of play is important***, and since reachable holes slow play – with one golfer per group invariably waiting for an open green, we place them later in each nine where they reduce slow-play effects and add excitement.
Lastly, we keep the feature designs associated with these lengths in mind, even during routing, to provide variety on every hole. That's a topic for another day.
* These yardage numbers probably sound as laughable to my 2050 readers as the 6,500-yard championship courses of 1950 sounds now.
** Not particularly speaking personally, as I only reach par-5s in my dreams now. This concept comes from a Golf Digest article on design by Gary Player in about 1966.
*** And when isn't it these days?
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