So what is par on a golf course?
This is a common question that can have several answers, depending on the intent of the person asking.
If you want to know what the term par means, par is the number of strokes (or hits) that an expert golfer will need in order to complete an individual hole on a golf course (under ordinary weather conditions). Most golf holes range from a Par 3 to a Par 5, but you may encounter a Par 6 occasionally.
Illustration: If you were on a golf course and the first hole was a Par 4, that means it should take an expert golfer four strokes (hits) to get their ball into the hole. The assumption is that it would take two strokes to get to the green, and two putts to get the ball into the cup.
If you want to know what is par for a golf course (a numerical value), par is typically a 72 on a full-size golf course (though it can range anywhere from a 69 to a 74).
Exceptions: Par on an 18 hole par 3 course is a 54. Par on an 18 hole executive course is typically 60-65.
Those are the simple answers to the question “what is par on a golf course?” For those of you who like details, keep reading below.
How is par determined for an individual hole?
Again, this question has several layers to it.
The most concise answer is that par for an individual hole is determined by distance. The USGA (United States Golf Association) set the distances for determining par back in the early 1900s, and though these numbers have changed slightly over time, the guidelines below are the basic standard.
- Par 3 – Less than 250 yards (230 m)
- Par 4 – 251–450 yards (230–411 m)
- Par 5 – 451–690 yards (412–631 m)
- Par 6 – More than 691 yards (632 m)
- Par 3 – Less than 210 yards (190 m)
- Par 4 – 211–400 yards (193–366 m)
- Par 5 – 401–575 yards (367–526 m)
- Par 6 – More than 575 yards (526 m)
Factors such as elevation changes or difficult hazards may make turn a typical par 4 into a par 5 or vice versa, but distance is usually the guiding factor.
Why is par for a full-size golf course usually 72?
Great question. Unfortunately, nobody really knows the answer.
What we do know is that most golf course architects have this number in mind when designing a course. We also know that most golfers expect a course with a par of 72. More on this discussion here.
Because of these realities, 18 golf courses are typically a mix of pars that eventually add up to a 72. Golf course architects often lean toward four par-3s, ten par-4s, and four par-5s.
This guideline isn’t set in stone and sometimes needs to modified based on the land, budget or other factors.
Thanks to Dan Perry for the photo.