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Golfers need to rethink the meaning of 'par'

Kristen By Kristen "Golf Chick" Williams,
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Sure, we all think about par, but how true a measure is it for our games? (Brandon Tucker/GolfPublisher.com)

What is par? The American Heritage Dictionary defines it thus:

1. "An amount or level considered to be average."
2. "The number of golf strokes considered necessary to complete a hole or course in expert play."

How - or more to the point, why - did a word meaning average get morphed into expert when it pertains to golf?

Experts in golf are a tiny fraction of the golfing population. The rest of us are left struggling to achieve such a high standard - which, perhaps, is why golf is so addictive.

But does par really have any relevance?

Why do golf holes and golf courses have numbers set for par? Whether par on a hole is 3, 4 or 5, if you shoot 5, your score is still 5. And if your total score for 18 holes is 85, does it really matter if par is 70 or 72? You know if 85 is a good score for you or not. Aren't personal goals more relevant than par?

I guess par can be a good reference point when setting your own goals. For example, if you're playing a long or tricky "par-4" hole, you might be happy to make a 5 or 6 there. I know some people set their own "personal pars" that might be equal to an official bogey or double-bogey on any given hole. So what difference does par make to the average (not par) golfer?

According to the USGA, any hole measuring 400 yards or longer is a par 5 for women, regardless of what the scorecard states. If the scorecard lists a hole at 425 yards as a par 4 and a male and a female both shoot a 4, does she get to feel better about it and consider it a birdie? Yawn. At the end of a round, my score is still what it is, so who cares?

Handicap calculations are based on the USGA course and slope ratings for both genders from a given set of tees, and the formula doesn't consider par. In fact, the USGA offers a formula for determining the "bogey rating" of a course and recommends that "every golfer worse than a scratch" use it as a "truer yardstick of the challenge."

I recently played a course with my boyfriend Greg and we both played from the same set of tees, at 6,575 yards. Here is an example of the bogey rating in action:
Greg: Slope Rating (121) divided by 5.381 (set value for men), plus the course rating (69.0) = Target score of 91.48. Actual score: 88
Me: Slope Rating (138) divided by 4.24 (set value for women), plus the course rating (75.2) = Target score of 107.74. Actual score: 100

I have my own, more precise calculator that uses my actual handicap index rather than just a standard bogey golfer index, and it gave me a target score of 94, so the 100 I shot was 6-over. Greg's target would have been 83, so his 88 was 5-over.

On this particular scorecard, par is 72, but there are 4 "par-4" holes from these tees longer than 400 yards, which added four more strokes to par for women. If we compared our scores to par instead of our targets, I would have been 24-over and Greg would have been 16-over. Like many golfers of our skill levels (our indices only differ by 2.3), he actually does compare his score to par. I just don't see the point.

Considering that most golfers aren't experts, if we're going to put par on a card, shouldn't we also list some kind of a par equivalent for bogey golfers? Since par is synonymous with average, par could be the higher number for the "average player target score" and the lower number that is currently called par could be called "expert target score."

In golf, there is nothing average about par.

A woman relatively new to golf and known for her wit and dedication to her rapidly improving game, Kristen "Golf Chick" Williams has won fans for her blog and WorldGolf.com golf course reviews. She pens her golf articles from her home in Southern California.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • The importance of par and personal handicap calculation

    Pat wrote on: Oct 31, 2010

    I read your post with interest. As a relatively new golfer, I too struggle with calculations, slopes, ratings...it's a challenge. But I'm addicted.


  • Target score VS handicap index

    Al Davis wrote on: Aug 15, 2010

    Doing the math from your match with your boy friend is don't see how the final score relates to handicap index. I see no mention of handicap and it would seem a 6 handicap vs a 20 would have different TARGET SCORES?


  • Par for the course

    Tom Feltman wrote on: Jun 22, 2008

    I have my own scorecards made up the way I want them to be. Hole number, yardage, FIR, GIR, Putts, putt distance of first putt on green, Up/dn inside 100 yards, sand saves, but no trace of a 'par' listed. It's not important. My score for 18 holes is 80. I am 76 years old and one day soon I expect my total score to be less than eighty. My last seven 9 hole rounds have averaged 3-4 less than my score of 40 for that nine holes. Par 72 is not a part of my game. I never add my score after each nine holes unless that is all I am playing that day. Just a comment.


  • par

    adam wrote on: Jul 31, 2007

    Scores relative to par are a by-product of Stroke Play and to some extent, Television.


      • RE: par

        bill wrote on: May 30, 2010

        par is relevant and if u shoot 85 on a par 70 and a par 72 there is a big difference, golf isnnt judged by what number u shoot but by the AMOUNT over par u are. if a course was so long tghat par was 100, then 100 would be a good score if a course had a par 65 65 is a good score if u shoot those same scores on a par 72 they are awful and great respectively



    ROB wrote on: Jul 17, 2007



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