Golf courses have been lengthened in recent years to contain a group of longer-hitting golfers

Driving distance in 2012:

  • Longest average: 315.5 yards
  • Averages over 300 yards: 21

Driving distance in 2002:

  • Longest average: 306.8 yards
  • Averages over 300 yards: 1

For example: In 2010, Augusta National Golf Club, the site of The Masters, was measured at 7435 yards (6799 meters). This number was 6985 yards (6387 meters) in 2000.

In contrast: The 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines South Course measured 7643 yards (6989 meters). However, the 2013 US Open at Merion Golf Club (East Course) measured 6996 yards (6397 meters and under 7000 yards since 2004). To be fair, the philosophy of the US Open is well-documented, and results historically have been around even par. (1)

All things equal and considered, does course length correlate to the difficulty of golf courses?

1 Answer 1


Somewhat. First off, the USGA sets guidelines for par rating by hole length. It's only one factor in determining a hole's par (and thus course par), and most courses have to stay at around a par-72, but a course made up primarily of holes with lengths at the upper limit of their par rating is going to require using longer clubs (lower lofts, woods instead of irons). That requires more accurate shots made at longer distances, which is always going to require more skill.

Now, the tour pros and other scratch players aren't going to be bothered much; they tend to hit shots up to 50-60 yards further than "normal people" with the same club loft, even in the higher lofted irons. Therefore, length doesn't really contribute to the "course difficulty", defined as the expected score for a scratch player. Length does, however, affect the average "bogey golfer" (18-20 handicapper) who has a shorter drive and less ball control. So, a course longer than the average will definitely increase the "slope rating" of the course, which figures into calculation of handicaps for those of us who have one.

  • At the professional ranks, it seems like a myth that courses are being lengthened to increase difficulty...but emphasis on how it would affect the "bogey golfer" is what I relate to as a recreational golfer. Elsewhere, I notice the difference when I play a hole, then play it again 50-100 yards longer. Although I am a better mid-iron player than short- and long-irons, course management changes. Do I lay up? Do I go for the green? Etc.
    – user527
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 16:08
  • Courses are being lengthened, but more to compensate for increased hitting power of the average golfer swinging a late-model club. Look at these numbers; in 1980 there were 32 Tour professionals, scratch players or better, that averaged under 250 yards, and nobody was hitting over 280. Now, only one Tour pro drives under 270, and 21 of them average over 300. The portion of this increase that is inherent in the equipment is available to anyone, from a scratch player to a 36 'capper.
    – KeithS
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 21:41
  • The scratch player, further, is the one setting the course difficulty based on their average drive distance, which is lengthening over time. So, to keep the course difficulty constant over time, the course designers must increase their long-distance hole yardages an average of a yard each year. That increases the slope rating of those of us who don't stay on the cutting edge, leading to the "Play It Forward" initiative of teeing one tee forward of your traditional color if available (which is usually where your traditional tee would have been ten years ago).
    – KeithS
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 21:48

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