Ever get the feeling that the golf course superintendent is out to get golfers by tucking the hole behind a bunker or hazard on every green?
Superintendents have heard it all before. A golfer walks off a green and mutters, "What kind of idiot would put a pin there?"
Rest assured, there is a method to the madness for placing hole locations. As a rule, superintendents will set up the course using a hole rotation with six placements in the front third of the green, six in the center, and six in the back with nine holes cut on the left side of the green and nine on the right.
There are some deviations from this straightforward method. One involves dividing the putting surface into several sections or quadrants, but there is always a balance between locations in the front, center and back. That way, the overall length of the golf course does not change from day to day.
It's customary to relocate the hole to a new position on the green each day, especially during a multi-day tournament. By cutting the hole in different locations, the challenges posed to the golfers vary. Perhaps one hole location emphasizes a dangerous bunker located adjacent to the green. Maybe a different hole location emphasizes the slope or crown of the green. Yet another location toward the very front of the green may discourage the use of the bump-and-run shot. By varying the hole locations, a course can be made to test the versatility of all competitors, forcing them to demonstrate proficiency in several aspects of the game.
But as the golf season progresses and the weather changes, green speeds increase and weekly rounds double. This can make it very difficult to find a fair hole location where the turf is not worn. Since slowing down green speeds would entail altering Mother Nature, this is usually not an option. Superintendents have to come up with other ways to simplify the selection of hole locations.
Superintendents will study the design of the hole as the architect intended it to be played. They take into account the length of the shot to the green and how it may be affected by the probable conditions for the day -- that is, wind and other weather elements, condition of the turfgrass from which the shot will be played and the holding quality of the green.
A proper hole location has enough putting surface between the hole and the front and sides of the green to accommodate the required shot. For example, if the hole requires a long iron or fairway wood to the green, the hole should be located deeper in the green and farther from its sides than if the hole requires a short pitch shot. The hole should also be cut as nearly vertical as possible, not perpendicular to the contour of the green.
Because it takes three weeks for a cup to repair itself, the superintendent's rule of thumb is for every green to have approximately 21 hole locations - spots that are roughly flat for a yard in diameter.
Technology may also provide an answer to tougher hole locations. The return of hand-mowing has allowed bunkers and other hazards to be moved closer to the edge of the greens. In the 1970s and '80s, the triplex riding mowers that were commonly used needed more room to turn around. So a flagstick set at the edge of the green may in fact be closer to trouble than in years past. And though it's customary for a hole location to be at least three to five paces from the edge of the green, there are no official USGA rules prohibiting something even closer and more challenging.
Still, many superintendents will go to great lengths to give golfers a little extra information that can improve their scores and make their round more enjoyable. Hole location sheets, fairway flags and GPS laser-guided yardages are all ways superintendents provide information about hole locations on a daily basis.
For more information regarding golf course maintenance and etiquette, contact your local superintendent or the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America at 800-472-7878 or www.gcsaa.org.