More Golf Vacation Tips

Add Some Intrigue To Your Next Round By Taking Golf Course Setup Into Your Own Hands

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One of the most encouraging recent developments in the golf world is an increased emphasis on making golf courses fun, which is going hand-in-hand with a decreased emphasis on extremely difficult courses.

We’ve talked about this concept before. Consider this something of a follow-up to our call to have more fun by shooting lower scores on your next golf vacation.

In order to do that, you might take a page out of the USGA’s book, believe it or not.

Rather than playing every single hole from the way-way-back tees every single day, USGA executive director Mike Davis has shown a willingness to throw a couple curveballs at competitors, not just at the U.S. Open, but other high-profile championships.

Not only does this cause some of the world’s best golfers to have to think on their feet, it’s more intriguing for spectators when both glory and heartbreak are possible.

How You Can Get In On The Drama

The most recognizable example of this new attitude is the tendency to move tees forward (sometimes all the way) on a couple holes, usually turning a normally plain-Jane par four into an exciting drivable hole. Occasionally the USGA will also combine a very short tee box with a particularly nasty hole location on a par three.

In most cases, though it might mean slightly lower average scores, this setup strategy adds depth to the challenge of the course because it takes the pros out of the groove that can be forged by a steady diet of big swings with the driver and full, aggressive shots with mid- and short-irons.

Top golfers are more powerful than ever, but finesse is still hugely important both to players and host courses. That’s what makes Augusta National’s par-5 13th and 15th holes so thrilling every year during the Masters. Their powers of temptation, coupled with the stiff penalties for sloppy play, are such that any score from eagle to double bogey (or worse) is always in play.

Here are some general strategies you can employ at your home course to infuse your rounds with more drama:

Mix it up – Before teeing off, pick a few holes where you’ll move up a set of tees from your usual set. Our advice is to make the easy holes easier, so that you can virtually guarantee that birdies start flying.

Winner’s choice – In match play situations, institute a rule where the winner (or loser) of a hole gets to pick the tee everyone plays from on the next. This can enable a player or pair to play to their strengths on certain holes. Ballyneal, the acclaimed private club in eastern Colorado with a phenomenal Tom Doak-designed course, uses this rule every day, as the club does not put out tee markers.

6-6-6 – Some fun events have a rule where players can choose to play six holes from the front tees, six from the middle tees and six from the back tees. In a four-ball match, you could allow teams to pre-determine their rotations at the beginning of the round, such that one team may play the front tees while the other plays the back tees on the same hole. Imagine the momentum-swing created by holding off your opponents on a hole where they’re playing from tees 60 yards ahead of yours!

The bottom line is this: especially if you’re not going to be entering your score (only a small fraction of golfers keep a handicap, after all), why force yourself to play the same tee box on every hole? Why deny yourself the chance to make an eagle on one or two holes per round? There are tons of opportunities to move forward in order to make the match in your foursome, or just your general enjoyment of the course, more fun.

Here are some great holes you may want to shorten on your next vacation for a little extra drama:

(For the sake of the exercise, we’ll base things off the middle tee, typically between 6,000 and 6,500 total yards, since this is where the majority of male golfers play from.)

Par 4s

Erin Hills is feared for its length, but shorter holes like 15 comprise the soul of the course.

To amp up the drama of your round at Erin Hills, give yourself an eagle or birdie chance by moving forward a few tee boxes on 15.

Erin Hills Golf Course, hole 15
Middle tee yardage:
346 yards (Green tee)
Our suggestion: 
Don’t just jump forward to the 288-yard tee, which the USGA used on day 3 of this year’s U.S. Open. Push it all the way up to the 252-yard Gold marker. The USGA used this tee in the final of the 2011 U.S. Amateur. That will give you the opportunity to thread a tee shot between some of the course’s nastiest bunkers and up onto the green.

Torrey Pines Golf Course (South), hole 14
Middle tee yardage:
359 yards (Gold tee)
Our suggestion: 
One of Mike Davis’ first forays into setup manipulation happened at this hole, which he had play just 277 yards one day during the 2008 U.S. Open. The cliff-hanging green is well defended, so you may not want to take a crack at it from this tee, but a layup leaves a ticklish, fun wedge shot rather than yet another long iron on this tough track.

Pinehurst No. 2, hole 13
Middle tee yardage:
358 yards (White tee)
Our suggestion: 
Move all the way up to the 278-yard Red tee to make this a potentially drivable hole, as it was during one round of the 2014 U.S. Open (the USGA used a 313-yard tee and the hole yielded two eagles).

Par 5s

TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium Course); Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.; hole 16
Middle tee yardage:
486 yards (Blue tee)
Our suggestion: 
Move up to the 470 markers. The vast majority of the field goes for this green in two during The Players each year, so why not give yourself the opportunity to take on that heroic second shot?

Kapalua Resort (Plantation Course); Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii; hole 18
Middle tee yardage:
585 yards (Regular tee)
Our suggestion: 
Move up to the Forward tee at 489 yards so that a solid tee shot sets up one of the coolest approaches in golf: a fairway wood that lands well short and right of the huge green and bounds forward and left onto the surface. Watching a ball bounce and roll toward the hole is one of the great joys of golf; why not pursue it in a spectacular setting such as this?

Caledonia Golf & Fish Club; Pawleys Island, S.C.; hole 8
Middle tee yardage:
512 yards (Blue tee)
Our suggestion: 
The cup is normally cut on the bottom level of this hole’s dramatic two-tiered green with a pond across the front, making it one of the more entertaining reachable par fives anywhere. But it may not be reachable unless you move up to the 477-yard White marker or the 429-yard Red one.

Do you ever create your own drama on the course by moving up on a hole or two, either at your home golf course or on a trip? Share your thoughts on this below!

9 Comments

  1. G Stucke

    August 15, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    What do you do if you want to post your score for the round? If you mix up the tees on a bunch of holes then the rating won’t be correct and your exceptionally low score will be overvalued and may lead to your hcap being artifically lowered?

  2. Tim Gavrich

    August 15, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    G–
    This is the only drawback to this sort of play – you can’t post a score if you play from a mixed up set of tees. It would be great if the USGA could calculate Rating and Slope figures for individual holes so that players could enter this, but otherwise, I think you’ll have to not post a score when you play like this. That said, if you’re playing match play with your friends, and you’re picking up putts on certain holes, the USGA doesn’t want you posting those scores, anyway.

    Hope this is helpful,

    –Tim

  3. Don Cwiklowski

    August 15, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    Our group has been toying with this idea. As we get older the difference in skill levels is growing, and making the course the distance we want is a whole lot more entertaining than having people on different tees on every hole.

  4. joe jetson

    August 15, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    I never heard about this idea of changing tee boxes. I’m 61 and have been contemplating moving up to the golds, but I’m not quite ready yet. This is a great compromise, and provides a test of what it might be like. I’ll try it!

  5. Zach Gilstein

    August 15, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    We often do this when playing a scramble but it could work just as well in a best ball match. Start on the normal middle tees. If you make a birdie, move back a set of tees, if you make a bogey move up a set of tees. It tends to even things out and gives you a better chance for birdie if you just made a bogey or two. Try not to finish on the red tees.

  6. Robin loader

    August 22, 2017 at 9:52 am

    I think your ideas of mixing it up is great but you talk about moving up in some cases to say 270 from the green even decent golfers don’t hit this distance – talk to all of us not just top golfers – I am 71 and the days of 200+ are gone. I could play from the golds but not ready mentally.

  7. Ron McLaren

    August 22, 2017 at 10:02 am

    Wouldn’t it be great if the USGA or in my case the RCGA rated by hole and not by total round. That way you could mix and match holes every time. Players could always find a distance that they are comfortable with. Probably wouldn’t work for tournament and competition play but for the majority of rounds it would be great.

  8. Joe Nichols

    August 22, 2017 at 11:30 am

    Question about posting… if you normally play blue tees, roughly 6500 yards.. say you pick 2 holes to move forward on and 2 holes to move back on, so that the holes play different but the yardage is basically the same the overall difficulty/easiness is balanced out, can you post that score?

    Thanks…

  9. Tim Gavrich

    August 25, 2017 at 10:23 am

    Joe–
    I would consult your home state golf association to be 100% sure, but I do not believe you’d be able to post a score for a round of this sort, unfortunately.
    Best,
    –Tim

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