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  • Stephen Arnold

Create your own "par" and game plan

Last week I talked about using the data you collected to make better decisions on club and target selection on approach shots into the green. This week I’m going to focus more on overall strategy and coming up with a game plan on individual holes. When working with students, a common theme I come across is throwing out the notion of par on the scorecard and creating our own par for each hole based off our numbers.


In the same vein that we can only pick a good club and target into the green by knowing our dispersion numbers, our game plan on a hole must be centered around our distance and dispersion off the tee. If you’re trying to shoot your best score possible, sometimes it necessary to evaluate what your best score on a specific hole may be.

In the first example I am looking at one of my students and using his data for the 5th hole on the Blue course at Longboat Key Club. This player hits his driver around 150-160 yards and carries his 3w around 130, with his best coming around 145. If we look at the 5thhole and where his driver would put him, he is forced with 150-yard carry to get over the water. If he does get it over the water, he would need to hit the same shot again to get over the water and onto the green. This means he must hit 3 perfect shots in a row, and if any one of them is just average he’s going to have a big score on the hole.


What we talked about was forgetting the idea of it being a par 5 and calling it a par 6. If he hits his normal drive and it’s in the middle of the fairway he can hit a 9 iron to the wide area over the bunker, then a 6 iron near the edge of the water, and then another 9 iron onto the green. If his approach happens to wind up close to the hole or he makes a mid to long range putt it’s a 5(birdie) or he 2-putts for a 6(par) and doesn’t ruin his round. He has tried this strategy for 5 rounds and has made one 5, three 6’s and a 7. In his previous 5 rounds before this he had to take a max score 3 times, along with one 5 and a 7. By allowing himself to get rid of the notion of par, and trying to play too perfectly, he has quickly brought down his scoring average on this hole.


This isn’t to say we need to play “safe” all the time. It just means that we need to play within ourselves and our skills when we plan out a hole. I want students to be as aggressive as possible and make as many birdies as possible. This doesn’t mean we need to take on bad shots. A good example of this would be the difference between how I would play the 13th hole on the Jones Course at Laurel Oak vs the 6th Hole on the Blue Course at Longboat key.

As you can see on the Par 5, there is only 35 yards of playable area off the tee at the distance I hit my driver. Even if I do hit the fairway it leaves me 240 yards to a target that is only 20 yards wide with water just right of the green. My intention on this hole is still to make 4 or 5 as I can get there in 3 shots. But rather than taking on the tee shot where 30% of my drives would wind up in a hazard or OB, I can lay back off the tee into a much wider area and still get my 2nd shot inside 100 yards of the green.

On the other side is the 6th hole at Longboat. The hole is only 330 yards so most people would think it would be a short hole where they could lay up off the tee. However, at my driver distance the hole is 65 yards wide and almost all my tee shots will wind up on grass. It may seem like an aggressive play to hit driver, but it is the safest and smartest play.


Smart doesn’t always have to mean laying up and going for it isn’t always risky. If we understand our dispersions and our distances, we can plan out holes and courses to give ourselves the best chance to shoot the lowest score possible. When you’re thinking about your next round think of the holes you are going to play, figure out what a good “par” on each hole would be for you, and what you think the best plan to achieve that score would be. I think you will find that adjusting your par will free you up on many of the holes that give you fits and will hopefully give you a bit more confidence to play them.


For those that are really interested in a deep dive of their statistics I would recommend looking at the DECADE software at www.birdiefire.com. It allows for great stat tracking and strategy ideas. As always feel free to share and I welcome any feedback or comments. I hope you are enjoying the content and it’s helping you with your game.

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