Now For Our First Question!

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

Jack from Columbus, Ohio, asks:

Members at my club can't hold the greens, as most greens angle across the line of play, and are shallow. If these golfers complain about that, I think they are are shallow. I have never had this problem, so I wonder, "What's up?"


I don't know your golf skills. In fact, someone today commented to me today that, "I don't know Jack." I have a feeling, though, that you are a good player, because good players can hold shots on shallow greens.

In fact, good players miss wide more often than short or long. Dave Pelz, in his excellent book, "The Short Game Bible" graphed approach shot dispersion patterns for tour players and it resembled a "bra strap." (I'll give you a moment to fixate on that image) with concentrations of missed approaches left and right of the hole, but great with distance control, because they usually make pure ball contact, and get lots of spin.

He found that Tour pros miss, on average, by 7% either side of the target. On 200 yard shots, left to right dispersion is about 28 yards. On 100 yard shots, it's 14 yards. Shallow greens work great high approach shots players, even when approaching with long irons.

They also favor straight drivers. Butler National, a former Western Open host, has many shallow greens. It was among the toughest courses on Tour until they converted fairways from bluegrass to bent, a shorter grass that allows cleaner contact and more spin. After that, scores dropped, because the players who hit fairways could spin the ball enough to hold the greens.

For average players, it's a completely different story! Because they don't hit as high, get as much backspin, or make consistently clean contact, long and short misses are common. They need greater green depth.

According to the USGA Slope Rating Guide, greens must be about 50% deeper than wide for 2/3's of 20-handicappers hold a shot. At 100 yards, golfers need a green about 14 wide by 21 yards deep. At 200 yards, they need 27 yards wide and 40 yards deep to hold a shot. As you see, the green needs the same width as for the good players, but must be much longer, especially at 200 yards!

Twenty handicappers also need an opening, without frontal hazards, to bounce the ball well in front of the green to hold it, and greens higher at the back than the front, to kill the ball's momentum. I have measured many green where golfers have complained, "they don't hold." I found greens sloping towards golfers at least 1.3% hold shots, whereas flatter greens don't.

Therefore, the 99% of courses catering to average golfers need most greens - except perhaps a few short holes - deeper than wide. If your course doesn't, I understand their complaints! Jack, if you mention these things at the next green committee meeting, perhaps they will perceive you as "deep" too.

The 11th at Colbert Hills, in Manhattan, Kansas is one of the toughest par 3 Holes I have designed. It measures over 200 yards from the back tees, and the green is very shallow, with bunkers in front and a creek behind. This course hosts collegiate competitors, who are among the strongest players in the game, but is also a public course.

I currently use long par-3 holes like this to challenge long iron play for better golfers. I also place the forward tees well ahead - over 50 yards in this case - to make it playable for the average player.

The 18th at Colbert Hills is more suitable for all levels of play. The fairway runs right to a grade level green, and hazards are located well to the side. The sand bunker on the right is well back of the front to accommodate a weak fade - also typical of average players, while challenging the back pin position for better players.