Creating Strategic Tee Shots - How Difficult?

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

With estimated landing zone, orientation and width determined, we can now consider how difficult we think the tee shot should be. While there are nearly an infinite variety of hazards on the "world's" golf course, only a few are likely to make sense in any particular situation.

We always locate hazards by first considering the natural features we can use, or "natural" places to locate sand bunkers (generally upslope and facing the tee where they're visible).

However, hazard placement must also consider what makes sense for the play of the individual hole and, to some extent, the challenges and hazards on other holes, since we want to create the widest variety in shots over 18 holes. In fact, with just the basic options we will list soon, there are far more than 14 distinct tee-shot challenges, and yet, many courses are very repetitive in what their tee shots demand.

Play factors to consider include the aforementioned wind influences. A hole with all the "traffic signals" aligning is easier to hit, and thus can be narrower, or more closely guarded. If the wind blows left, and the hole doglegs right, we consider a slightly wider fairway.

We also consider the inherent difficulty of the hole, usually related to its effective length. The average dispersion angles means we expect the average 200-yard approach shot to land twice as far from the pin than a 100-yard approach, so the hole is harder.

Also, while the perfect lie on the tee allows for 11-20 percent of shot distance as the average required landing-zone width from the fairway and rough, those percentages rise to 13 percent and 16 percent for pros, with amateurs rising similarly from 14 percent on tee shots to 16 percent from fairways and 22 percent from the rough. In addition, golfers prefer more room on longer holes, thinking they need to hit tee shots farther.

Windswept and uphill holes also play harder, because their effective lengths may be longer. In general, we tend to compensate for naturally harder holes with either fewer or milder hazards.

I roughly divide holes into "hard," "medium" and "easy" for drives, approaches and putting, ranked with values of 3, 2, and 1. You can also do some math just for the hazards - with water, O.B. and deep sand hazards ranking 3, vs. shallow sand bunkers at 2, etc., to help determine how hard the tee shot might be.

On most courses, only a few holes should rank 3-4 (very easy) or 8-9 (very hard), with the rest from 5-7, or in the medium range. A tough tee shot is often balanced out by medium and/or easy approaches and/or putting, and so forth.

Again, we need to remember the goal of strategic architecture isn't to create hard holes but interesting ones where certain plays make birdie or par easier than others. Of course, in strategic design, the approach-shot value should vary somewhat, depending on whether the tee shot hits the prime spot.

The occasional truly hard hole is best used only as a change of pace, but it's usually discussed and memorable, justifying a few others that are very hard from tee to green. However, only the most sadistic architect or greens committee would give that hole a steeply sloping green!

Jeffrey D. Brauer began his career as an apprentice in the Chicago area in 1977. His first project was Kemper Lakes, which shortly after hosted the 1989 PGA Championship. He formed GolfScapes in Arlington, Texas, in 1984. In the last 29 years he has designed and consulted on a wide spectrum of projects, ranging from partial renovations to international resorts. His recent work includes teaming with the design team of Pascuzzo and Pate on a remodel of the world-famous La Costa Resort & Spa in California, and renovations at Superior National Golf Course in Lutsen, Minn., and Mesquite Municipal Golf Course in Mesquite, Texas.

He has been a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects since 1981, serving as President during its 50th Anniversary year in 1995-96. Jeff still studies the classic works - both old and new, and has played more than 75 of the best courses in the world.

Jeff gives many presentations and is a regular architecture columnist for many publications and websites, including Golf Course Industry and He has also been a strong advocate for the "Tee it Forward" campaign and strives to make his courses fit the description of "fun to play every day."

Jeff's work has been spotlighted in most of the world's major golf magazines. Golf World ranked him as one of the top-20 golf course architects and Golf Inc. ranked him as the world's fourth-best value in golf architecture in 2010. Jeff's portfolio and reputation keep him at the forefront of desired designers for new courses, reconstruction and renovation projects. For more about Jeff, visit