Minnesota Fats asks, ‘How do you determine the angle of a fairway approach?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

I’ll bet you do like to play the angles, Minnie . . . In golf (like billiards) the more spin you get, the less you are concerned with the angle of your approach. In old Scotland, where you had to bounce the ball on the green, an opening on one side of the front green meant you had to play to a certain side of the fairway to have any chance of hitting the green. Now, it just helps you reach the green, by keeping your aerial shot over turf the entire flight.

Nonetheless, I typically angle the approach area slightly towards one side of the fairway to reward strategically placed tee shots on the “correct” side of the fairway, wherever that happens to be, and most often, in general agreement with the angle of the green. The green is most often more guarded on the non-premium fairway area with a “master hazard” –the baddest of any collection of hazards that may surround the green. Thus, even fairway misses from the premium side rough are rewarded more than the timid shot away from a fairway hazard.

Like greens, approach areas can have proportionally steeper angles on shorter holes, as most players use lofted shots there and gentler angles on longer holes, where more players would be expected to use a running shot. In fact, approaches should often mimic the green angle, and rarely exceed it, unless they are blessed with a “helping” cross-slope that helps a shot down towards the putting surface.

However, they are often less. Another difference from the links of Scotland to the modern American course is that fairways are now better maintained – and, partially as a result, much narrower. As the diagram below shows, this affects approach design, as creating an open-front green requires very little approach angle to affect play. If I provide 11 degrees for 100-yard approach shots, and only 6 degrees for 200-yard approach shots, the golfer will have a straight shot to the green from the very edge of an average 40-yard wide fairway. Most would consider hitting either half of the fairway a good, strategic shot, and asking them to find the very last yard of fairway to get a better shot is simply too demanding!

However, the width of the approach area typically has the effect of widening the angle. That, and the desire to challenge fades and draws, means its possible to increase the approach angle slightly, increasing demand on a running shot, even from the prime side of the fairway, and more from the other side. However, it’s rare that a cut or draw will curve more than few degrees, except by exceptional players, so slightly means, well, slightly.

Thus, My R.O.B.O.T’ for green angles – 1 to 3 degrees per assumed iron approach (i.e. 1-3 degrees for a 1-iron, 5-15 degrees for a 5-iron and 9-27 degrees for a 9-iron) – should also apply nicely to most approaches. In fact, the entire design will seem to flow if the approach area and the green function as one – primarily through similar angles to the line of play.

As always, there are exceptions!