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Nosevi

How difficult are PGA Tour course setups?

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I often hear about how hard PGA Tour courses are and how even a halfway decent player would be blown away by them. Are they really? Comments of far narrower fairways than we are used to, how heavily bunkered they are, huge distances ....... they just don't appear to be that bad on the coverage. So I set out to do a comparison with a course being played now - Riviera - with a tough course near me - The Hotchkin at Woodhall Spa here in the UK (where I get lessons). Interested in comments but it'll take a few posts so bear with me, I'll let you know when I'm done :)

OK, started with general layout and length. Length wise Riviera is longer off the Championship tees - on average 12 yards per hole so I guess that's a point in Riviera's corner but I would argue that we're not on a whole different planet. When you add in how open a course like Riviera is I would argue that some of this is nullified. Looking on Shot Tracker at some errant shots played this week you frankly wouldn't have got away with it on the Hotchkin. Hopefully this gives an idea:

Riviera

Hotchkin

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Looking at fairway widths, I've heard about how narrow PGA Tour course are but looking at a document put out by the PGA it says fairways are cut to between 25-30 yards. Doc can be found here.

http://www.pgatouragronomy.com/Tour/WebTemplate/agronomy.nsf/2c47cc31e412bc4985256e6e00287832/7e567e7b6b89ae38852574820075ced8/$FILE/PGA%20TOUR%20Course%20Conditioning%20Guidelines.pdf

This is no different to the Hotchkin, and in fact no different from my local course. Apart from being familiar with them both, armed with the trusty Google earth you can see that this is generally the width of the fairways.

Then you look at what happens when you miss the fairway. Francesco Molinari this week, when complemented on how many times he hit the fairway commented that it was nice to hit the fairway but the rough had such a small penalty it made little difference. Outside the 25-30 yard fairways you obviously have the first cut. Looking at the above doc this is cut at between 1 and 1 1/2 inches. I'd argue this almost makes the fairways a bit wider.

And then you have the rough proper. In the doc above it instructs courses to set the rough between 2 and 4 inches in height. At the lower end of that scale that is pretty ridiculous and the Riviera didn't look to be much above that in most places. Further to that it tells courses that the rough must be consistent throughout the whole course.

This is the rough at the Hotchkin:

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Looking at bunkering the doc in the previous post details how all the bunkers must be consistent and how they should be specifically set up to prevent buried lies. It also speaks about how fringes should be mown to prevent hanging lies.

Then you look at the bunkers themselves:

Riviera

Hotchkin

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There are plenty of courses as long as what is played on tour. Take a 12 handicap player of average length and make them play any 7200 yard course and they will struggle to break 100.

For a better & stronger player I think what makes the courses played on tour tougher is the speed that they play at. The fairways and greens are a lot faster than what us mortals play on every week.

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The Document says things like bringing the fairways in to 25-30 yards, growing the rough up to 3 inches, but surely these course aren't that tame to begin with that this is really the case?

So, open to the floor - are these course really THAT hard. The example I've used is where I'm coached at our national academy but I'm sure others could chip in with examples as well. I'm not saying they are easy but when you hear people talk about them as if a halfway decent golfer couldn't get round them in under 100, I frankly don't buy it. There are far harder courses out there.

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The bunkers played on tour are a joke. The sand is consistent and amazingly groomed. They are just about as perfect as you can get.

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There are plenty of courses as long as what is played on tour. Take a 12 handicap player of average length and make them play any 7200 yard course and they will struggle to break 100.

For a better & stronger player I think what makes the courses played on tour tougher is the speed that they play at. The fairways and greens are a lot faster than what us mortals play on every week.

Hi Bob. I've used a course I know well here, the Hotchkin, and just looking at it you can't tell me Riviera is close to as penal when you get it wrong. The Hotchkin has pretty quick greens but I have no idea how quick they are. My coach who is the head pro said they were on a par with "USGA spec" but frankly I have no idea what that means :)

Regarding the length alone if you lay up on every par 4 and take 4 shots into every par 5 green, standard par 72 becomes a par 86, plus your 12 handicap gives you a theoretical round of 98. At Riviera would you take 3 shots to get on a par 4 of 315 yards? Or necessarily fail to reach a par 5 of 503 yards in 3 shots? This is a discussion so we can each hold our own opinion but I'd argue that at least some of the holes would be in range in regulation.

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The bunkers played on tour are a joke. The sand is consistent and amazingly groomed. They are just about as perfect as you can get.

True. I just find it surprising that they specify a way of prepping the bunkers to try to ensure no plugged lies.

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Hard to lump all "PGA Tour courses" into a group. Also hard to lump the "tough courses" near any of us in a group. The one you are showing may be tougher than some of the courses on Tour??? Most people give a lot more weight to the distance of a course than I do. Course conditions and ability to find and play errant shots are bigger factors on my list.
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Hard to lump all "PGA Tour courses" into a group. Also hard to lump the "tough courses" near any of us in a group. The one you are showing may be tougher than some of the courses on Tour??? Most people give a lot more weight to the distance of a course than I do. Course conditions and ability to find and play errant shots are bigger factors on my list.

I agree with the last point - length is more of a problem when you can't just lash at the ball and still play it no matter where it ends up. Regarding lumping all courses together, fair point, but people do it all the time when they say how hard PGA tour courses are. Just looking at Riviera though, and knowing how it's been set up in terms of rough (or lack of it) depth of bunkers, etc it appear to be a glorified resort course compared to a course like the Hotchkin and I bet compared to a lot of other courses out there. Long admittedly, but that's about it.

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The toughest set up of a paga course that I was lucky to play immediatly after a tourney, was Beth page black after the us open. Next time you have a slow foursome in front of you, walk 12 normal strides and that's how far wide the fairways on some of the holes were. There was only 3 feet of first cut rough lining the fairway, then immediately into the deep stuff along with fescue. Next the rough immediatly around the greens the grass would curl over your golf shoes and cover your laces of very thick green grass, maybe 5-7 inches in length. We had 3 instances where a ball was lost (and eventually found after taking a drop) , just a foot or 2 from the edge of the green. Greens were real fast, although BPB was not real undulating. I am used to 11-13 on my home course, others playing with me were not, and it showed. At the time I was playing very good golf close to scratch at my 6800 yard course. I thought I played a very good round from the tips 7340 yards with out the aid of a caddy, I shot 85 with 2 birds. But launching 3w, 5w, and hybrids from the fairways does take its toll. At the end of the round I was exhausted, it was in the low 80s, it may have been that walk up 15. The course although long, some of the bunkers you could lose a FedEx truck inside, other were numerous to make you reconsider your shot or target line. the sight lines to the greens would often only show a ribbon of green throwing off your debth of how deep the green was. #17 was especially tough. There were lots of holes where a perfectly placed sprawling 50 year oak tree was placed again upsetting your site line for driver. The best in the world shot even par or close to it'. I felt lucky to have shot 85, my partners shot 90-100 and they were what I considered very good golfers single digit handicappers. Playing a PGA course is one thing, course management takes on a life of its own and. I had nothing riding $$$$$ on my round one could only imagine standing over a sliding 8 footer, if you made it great, if not it would drop down into a tie with 5 others.
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Hard to lump all "PGA Tour courses" into a group. Also hard to lump the "tough courses" near any of us in a group.

The one you are showing may be tougher than some of the courses on Tour???

Most people give a lot more weight to the distance of a course than I do. Course conditions and ability to find and play errant shots are bigger factors on my list.

This, Woodhall has hosted the English Am (strokeplay and matchplay) lots of times. It is/has been ranked in the top 25 courses in the world. Has the OP played the course when it has been set up for a top am tournie, I imagine the set up is substantially different to what the members and students at the National Academy get to see most weeks.

I've broken 90 round Pinehurst no 2 and Kiawah Island, I have no pretension that I'd break 100 if they had been set up for Majors. Having said that I'd hope I'd break 90 round the courses they use for the Humana.

USGA spec means the greens are built to the specification that the USGA requires for courses that they hold their events on. It doesn't mean that they are set up to US Open spec all the time (at all in all likelihood).

I like what they have done at Woodhall, when I was a junior member of a club close by in the early 90s I rang up for a tee time and they laughed at me. Now the EGU owns it plenty of people are getting a chance to play. I'm jealous of Nosevi getting to play sucha great track on a regular basis.

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I've used a course I know well here, the Hotchkin, and just looking at it you can't tell me Riviera is close to as penal when you get it wrong.

A quick googling of Hochkin and it looks like it is rated by some to be one of the 100 best courses in the world. It may very well be capable of hosting the best players in the world. Looking to compare a normal course to what is played on the PGA Tour Hochkin is probably a bad course to use as an "average" course to get a player from.

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Just looking at Riviera though, and knowing how it's been set up in terms of rough (or lack of it) depth of bunkers, etc it appear to be a glorified resort course compared to a course like the Hotchkin and I bet compared to a lot of other courses out there.

To talk about Rivera specifically a couple of factors I don't think you are taking into consideration:

1. The amount of elevation change. The course is built on the side of a hill. There are not a lot of flat lies on the course.

2. The density of the trees. I have never played Rivera but I have played some older courses with similar tree lines and your only option is pitching sideways to get it back to where you can hit a shot towards the hole.

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Thanks all.

Spitfisher, cheers, that's the sort of info I wanted to know. I think many think the pros score their 6 and 7 under rounds on courses set up like you have described Bethpage Black to be when it's set up for the US Open - they don't, they struggle (if close to par is struggling :) ) When they tear the place up it's generally far from set up like this, the rough is shallower and the fairways are wider 25 to 30 yards is the PGA Tour stated width in the landing zone.

Wansteadimp, you're absolutely right, the Hotchkin has been used for those events quite regularly. The only reason it can't be used for Tour events is it's deemed that there isn't enough room for the crowds - too much rough and trees in the way :) If you're ever over this way and want to go play it, just ring them and book a tee time - that easy, if a tad expensive.

Regarding playing it, I'm normally about 7 or so over my handicap although that's from a few yards forward of the champ tees - in theory that would add a couple of shots. Setup wise the rough is the same - it's all bracken and heather so can't be grown in for a tournament and the bunkers are just as fearsome. Anywhere that routinely has steps to get down into the bunkers is going to be interesting. They do speed the greens up though.

Bob, I'll take your word for the elevation changes but the tree density isn't close to some courses and certainly not a patch on the Hotchkin. Here's another course in my neck of the woods - Forest Pines. Compare this to the aerial shot of Riviera I posted earlier, there is a world of difference. That said Forest pines is a tad shorter at 6900 yards...

What got me to thinking about all this was Justin Rose's first round this week. I like Justin as both a golfer and he seems to be a level headed, nice bloke. Have followed him his whole career and think he's a top chap.

Anyway, on round one he missed the fairway 5 out of 14 times, at times by a country mile (as did many of the players at times, a few of Dustin Johnson's would have been lost ball, no question yet he lead after round one) and on either of the courses local to me I've posted up Justin would have been deep in the woods. He then hit the green only 6 out of 18 times. But due to the light, near non-existent rough and flat even bunkers he did a great job at scrambling to a score of one under par and hats off to him.

But put his ball into the trees you can see in the overhead shot of the Hotchkin I posted towards the start of the thread, or in the picture of the rough I posted up which is all round the Hotchkin, or into any of those bunkers rather than the flat examples on Riviera.... And no way does he score close to that.

That's not his fault, reading the document put out by the PGA Tour on how the courses should be prepared it's obvious that they don't want to penalise players too much for poor play - keep it close and Birdies are exciting, who can blame them, but when it describes how Tour players "don't like" rough around bunkers...... you know what? All the more reason to put it there.

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Just play the tips on a modern course, the 72 par rating jumps to 76 range usually. So the tips lenght add 4-5 shots to par, now throw in 13 stimp greens, and most scratch golfers wont break 80 from tips on 13 greens. The pga tour players are all easily +8 range golfers once you throw in course slope and rating. That's what most people don't understand, is how good all tour players are today. Scratch golf is nothing compared to a real pga tour pro. So, go back to the tips on a long modern course, par is rated 75 to 77 usually. The greens might be a 10 or 11. Now double cut the greens and dry them out do they dont take approach shots well. Then put the pins on the hardest areas of the greens. Scratch golfer might not break 80.
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Just play the tips on a modern course, the 72 par rating jumps to 76 range usually. So the tips lenght add 4-5 shots to par, now throw in 13 stimp greens, and most scratch golfers wont break 80 from tips on 13 greens.

The pga tour players are all easily +8 range golfers once you throw in course slope and rating.

That's what most people don't understand, is how good all tour players are today.

Scratch golf is nothing compared to a real pga tour pro.

So, go back to the tips on a long modern course, par is rated 75 to 77 usually. The greens might be a 10 or 11. Now double cut the greens and dry them out do they dont take approach shots well. Then put the pins on the hardest areas of the greens.

Scratch golfer might not break 80.

Oh, they're really good, I just don't think they're playing courses that are as hard as is sometimes made out. I know the tour's slogan etc I just think, at times, the difficulty of the courses is 'bigged up'.

Green speeds are rarely 13 no matter what commentators say. In fact the document I posted from the PGA Tour specifies that green speeds are to be in the range 9 1/2 to 11 for inspection but may be adjusted slightly up or down for the tournament and should be kept as close to this speed as possible throughout the whole tournament. Having played the greens at Woodhall which has, as I said earlier, USGA spec greens (cheers to for telling me what that means Wansteadimp) I can get far more bite on them than on my home course. Playing a Pro V1, which I do, I can get a hop and grab off the smallest of pitches - shots that would just roll on a less well constructed green.

And just take the pin placements this week at Riviera round 1 starting at hole one - front right away from the bunker, back middle, back middle, middle of the green, back middle, back left, front middle (little trickier admittedly as close to a bunker), middle of the green, back left...... That was the front 9. They weren't exactly tucked into the corners in fact only one involved going directly over a bunker (on 9).

Our course rating system is different to yours, we use what is called Standard Scratch Score (the score a scratch player is expected to go round in) and at Woodhall that's 75 (personally think it should be higher by a shot or 2). That said our handicaps are worked out in a different way (all scores used not the best 10 out of 20 and for Category one golfers it's now only competition scores that count during the playing season, no social scores) and a scratch player here is more like a plus 2 or plus 3 there. That's not to say they are better, we just use different numbers to describe a given level of ability. That may be where some of our disagreement is - our plus 5 players are like your plus 8 players, will explain why if you want me to.

Anyway, I've picked a pretty hard track admittedly, but no matter how I look at it I just don't see the players 'getting away' with some of the shots they hit. Look at the shot of the rough I posted near the beginning - how many players would have been firing at the green from 180  yards out from in there as they did at Riviera? Superimpose this drive of Justin Rose's onto any of the fairways at woodhall and there's no way on earth his next shot is towards the green, not a hope, and I could have chosen any number of drives from half the field:

I think it goes back to what was said earlier - when the courses are set up for tournaments such as the majors they are frighteningly hard. And at times the pros take courses apart and shoot 7 and 8 under par. But these two don't actually occur at the same time, at least not very often. They shoot 65s and 66s when courses are set up like Riviera was this week (which I've argued is far easier than a course like the Hotchkin), they shoot par or even over on Bethpage Black set up for the US Open (which I'd assume is far harder than the Hotchkin).

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Most people who play with me say wow you hit the ball like a pro. Compared to most golfers I do. But compared to real tour pros I stink. My best was a plus 3 years ago. I play with all levels of pros, tour, senior, mini tours, club pros and Pats. Anyone on any tour making money is far beyound scratch it's not comprehensible until you actually play with them. Then you shake your head and just say, these guys and girls are really that good.
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