Long view: Great par-5s don’t have to go to great lengths to make you think

There has been a lot of fascination in recent years with short par-4s, but what about the short par-5? I think they can be equally interesting.

I live right on a 470-yard par-5 where there’s a severe slope on the right side of the fairway – the ball is way above your feet, which means it probably will hook off that lie.

But then up by the elevated green, there’s an equally severe falloff to the street on the left, with nothing to keep your ball from rolling out of bounds – even if it lands on the green and starts rolling left. Hook your shot into that green, and you’re flirting with trouble.

Oh, and one other thing: There’s a big pond in front of the green, and it’s considerably below the green’s elevation. You’ve got to carry the shot all the way to the green to get it there, which makes a hook that much more dangerous.

And yet two more things: There’s OB on the right and in back, too. So there’s no bailout zone.

It’s not as if the tee shot is a breeze, either. Besides the OB on both sides, there are strategically placed trees on both sides of the landing area.

Even if you hammer one down the middle, you face one of those excruciating decisions on a par-5: You might not even be 200 yards from the green, but the trouble everywhere makes you hesitate to go for it – and even laying up leaves you with challenges.

That, to me, is the definition of a great par-5.

  • It’s obviously difficult, but when you examine it more closely the degree of difficulty increases exponentially.
  • It tests you on every shot, not just one or two of them. One false move, and you’ve got a big number.
  • You must adjust for the terrain.
  • Length isn’t its only defense.
  • You never rest until you’re safely on the green.
  • There are multiple ways to play it.

The latter is particularly important. I get annoyed with par-5s where you have no choice but to hit an iron or fairway wood off the tee – the par-5 is the one place where you should be able to hit driver.

Equally bad are the ones where it’s foolish to go for it in two no matter how far you are off the tee. A good par-5 should dare you to be bold.

In the case of this hole that I’m describing, you could hit a shorter club off the tee and just plan on laying up. The fairway is flatter on the left side, and the angle to the green is better from there. That’s not a bad strategy.

However, if you’re confident that you can keep the ball in play with your driver and can bang it out there 300 yards, you can make a birdie without too much mental agony. You’ve just got to hit two good shots and be confident that you can avoid the danger.

The best holes are the ones where you don’t realize all of their nuances right away. The most interesting aspect of all regarding the hole I’ve been describing is that I’ve been looking at it for three years, and it took me until now to fully realize all of the things I’ve listed.

It’s yet another reason to love our great game. The next time you play a short par-5 that might have bedeviled you in the past, take another look and appreciate its intricacies. And then find a way to beat it this time.


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