Of all the things that annoy me about professional golf and the way it’s covered on TV – and believe me, there are quite a few – I reckon the flood of statistics is probably the most irritating. Sure, stats can be useful, but the old adage ‘you can prove anything with statistics’ is largely true; and especially so with the rankings of ‘hardest holes’ that TV presenters so love.
‘This hole is playing the fifth easiest on the course today’ is the kind of tripe we are constantly subjected to while watching golf on TV. And it’s completely meaningless – because in competitive golf of any kind, whether it’s the US Open or me against my Dad for the first round in the clubhouse, you don’t play the golf course. You play your opponent. A hole can be easy or hard from a personal perspective – what golfer doesn’t have a few holes that, no matter how often he plays them, he always seems to mess up? – or harder for me than for you, perhaps because its left to right dogleg better suits your fade than my draw. But in isolation, no hole is either easy or hard.
Things are even more farcical now the golfing powers that be have hit upon the idea of changing holes’ par for tournament play. If you take a 510 yard hole and call it a par four, does the hole change in any way? In the end, players will take three, four, five or more shots to complete the hole, just as they did before. And those who take fewer will gain ground on the field. End of story.
I accept that, at professional level especially, there is probably a degree of psychological impact. Par does affect how players, elite players especially, attack a hole. But in the end, the score’s the score, and the lowest score wins.
The real measure of the strength of golf holes is the spread of scores. Based on the untouchable principle that lowest score wins, the most effective holes are those that create separation among the field. A hole where virtually everyone makes a four or a five is probably not that great; one where there is a great range of numbers, both high and low, is doing its job.