The first hole should be playable with a fairway wood or long iron from the tee and it shouldn’t have any water hazards. It should also be a par 4. Par 3′s will slow down play too much at the beginning of the round and should also require more accurate distance control than can be expected on the first hole. Par 5′s easy enough to qualify for a good first hole are just a waste of a potentially fun birdie hole later in the round.
Evan, a fellow Automattician, wrote a great post about golf course design. His points about the first hole stood out the most for me.
One of the courses in Saginaw where I’m a member, Swan Valley, starts off with a tough par 3. Why is it so tough?
- The back tees are 180 yards, but it plays uphill and usually into the wind.
- Any miss left is out of bounds.
- Starting at the tee box, there is a pond that stretches about 120 yards up the right side.
- If you miss to the right of the green, a big slope will kick your ball further right.
- The green is small.
Over the last two years I’ve played the hole 101 times with 0 birdies and an average score of 3.99. My overall par 3 average during that same time period is 3.7. That’s not how you should start a golf course. To make matters worse, hole #2 is a 555 yard par 5, which is nearly impossible to reach in two unless there is a hurricane wind behind your back and you hit the perfect tee shot. The course could easily swap the front and back 9s, but they don’t.