Some great posts here. I totally agree that course management is really a solid or better player's problem. One point I want to make in that regard. Take the very short par 4 example. I've always been a long hitter for an amateur. Say I'm standing at the tee box on a flat 315 yard par 4 with hard fairways so if you hit mid or low trajectory drives you'll get lots of roll. Assume a pretty standard green and say the front edge is 15 yards short of the middle pin.
On that kind of hole, if I hit my best drive of the day I can run it up onto the front of the green. But the majority of my solid drives are going to stop 15-30 yards short of the green. Now play the hole backwards. With my (strongly lofted) irons, say I have 3 choices to get on the green:
1) Driver, 25 yard pitch (I play that with my 60˚)
2) 7i, 9i
3) 5i, smooth 46˚ PW
What are my outcomes?
1) I'm pretty good with my driver, and let's say the hole isn't particularly tight, so I've got a 50% chance of hitting it in the fairway. Then I've got a 90% chance of putting my 25 yard pitch on the green, plus a 25% chance of hitting inside 8 feet with a great look at birdie.
2) My irons are inconsistent, but say on an average day I've got an 80% chance of hitting the fairway with my 7i, and a 66% chance of hitting the green with my 9i. Only once in while will I put it inside 8 feet.
3) With not too tight fairways, maybe I have a 70% of hitting the fairway with my 5i, and maybe a 75% chance of hitting the green with my PW. Again, only once in a while will I put that shot within 8 feet.
These aren't necessarily the most accurate numbers. My point is just this. Check out the outcomes:
1) I have a 45% chance of being on the green, and a 12.5% chance of having a really good chance at birdie.
2) I have a 53% chance of being on the green, with a minimal chance of an easy birdie putt.
3) I have a 53% chance of being on the green, with a minimal chance of an easy birdie putt.
It's entirely plausible that I have a very similar chance of being GIR teeing off with driver as I do teeing off with iron, even on a whole when lots of people would strongly argue that good course management means hitting two irons here. And even with a slightly lower chance of being GIR with the driver, it's probably more than made up for in long term scoring average on that hole by the fact that I'm going to make many more birdies teeing off with driver than 5i or 7i.
And this ignores the poor shots off the tee. Say I hit a poor shot but not an awful one off the tee. Depending on the hole of course, there are a lot of situations where I'd rather have the 30-40 yard rescue shot off the bad drive than the 140-160 yard rescue shot off the bad iron shot. Add that in and my scoring average is way better going with driver than with iron off the tee.
This isn't the end all of arguments, given the somewhat random percentages I made up, and the fact that there are many courses where it's really tight and I'm going to lose a lot more strokes for the mediocre drive than the mediocre 5i or 7i. I'm just saying that course management isn't just hitting shorter clubs off the tee. It's knowing what game you have, what game you brought to the course that day, knowing how punitive a miss with different clubs will be on a given hole, and using all this information to play backwards from the hole and figure out what gives you, personally, the lowest average score on that hole.