When you’re hitting the ball well and things are going your way, it sometimes feels like the course is too short and your round is over way too soon.
Likewise, when you’re struggling out there and nothing's going your way... your round can seemingly take forever and the course can feel like it’s a thousand miles long.
But regardless of how you’re playing, that same course that seems to change distances depending on how long and straight, or short and askew you happen to be hitting the ball, is roughly the same standard length as any other course you play.
What Is the Average Length of a Golf Course?
Each of the 18 holes on a golf course is a particular length, and the sum of all those lengths is the total distance of any golf course. But before you can understand the sum of something, it’s best to first understand all of its parts, so you can visualize how they add up.
While it may seem elementary to most golfers, odds are you’ve never considered all of the different elements that contribute to the length of a course in aggregate.
The Elements that Make Up the Length of a Golf Course
Tee Box: they say that in golf, every inch counts and the tee box can sometimes tag on 10-20 yards on to a hole before you even reach the fairway.
Fairway: the largest contributors to a golf course's length are the fairways, which are the large swath of grass between the tee box and the green. Depending on how long the grass is (it should be anywhere between 0.38 to 0.45 inches) and how damp it is, the fairway can either play ‘long’ (when the ball is rolling well) or ‘short’ (when the ball stops almost immediately when it lands).
Rough: while the rough is certainly a part of the golf course (usually maintained between 1.0 to 1.25 inches), they usually do not factor into calculating the length of a golf course, unless they are running perpendicular across the fairway.
Green: coming in all different shapes and sizes, greens can be incredibly small (fun fact: Pebble Beach has the smallest average golf green at an avg. of 3,500 square feet), or ridiculously large (fun fact: the largest is in Massachusetts at the International Golf Club, clocking in at over 28,000 square feet!).
Depending on the length of the grass (which should be on average about 0.125 inches), greens can play either ‘fast’ (usually when the grass is cut short and the weather is dry) or ‘slow’, when there’s longer grass and they’re damp.
Hazards: last but not least are the ever dangerous hazards - water and sand traps, mostly - that, similar to the rough, can sometimes factor into a golf courses length if the water or sand trap is located on or across a fairway, in the measured line from tee to hole (which we’ll get into shortly).
How to Measure the Length of a Golf Course
In order for golf courses to be considered legitimate enough to accurately calculate amature and/or pro handicaps, they must be properly measured to ensure that the distance is comparable between all other legitimate courses.
Accurately measuring a golf course with a standardized process is also extremely important for providing precise distances throughout the course. This is how the different yard markers (50, 100, 150, 200, etc.) are properly plotted throughout the course, to help you gauge your distance.
The Measuring Process
Measuring starts between the tee blocks at the various colours. The USGA uses the following colours to classify the longest to shortest distance from the hole: blue, white, yellow and red.
To measure a Par-3, you start at each tee box and measure to the back of the green and then to the front of the green. You then take the average of the distances to find the distance to the center of the green (i.e. if back is 150 yds and front is 120 yds, 270 yds divided by 2 equals 135 yds to the middle of the green).
To measure a Par-4, you would again start at each coloured tee block and if the hole was straight (i.e no bends) you would just follow the same process as above to measure a Par-3.
However, most Par-4’s have tricky bends in them called ‘dog-legs’ that can either head left or right. If that’s the case, you would measure from the tee to the first pivot point or ‘setup’ point, determined by the location that the average player would likely need to hit, to have a fair chance at shooting onto the green.
Then from the setup point, you measure again to the front and back of the green and take the average distance and add that distance to the tee-to-setup point distance.
To measure a Par-5, you would follow the same process as measuring a Par-4. However, sometimes you would need to add in an additional setup point, if the hole was designed in a way that forces the average golfer to lay up on their first or second shot (what is known as a ‘Forced Layup’) - usually due to tactically placed hazards!
How Long is a Golf Course
The average golf course is approximately 6600 yards long (3.75 miles or 6 kilometers) made up of Par-3, 4 and 5’s, with a varying number of each depending on the course.
In general there are between 3 to 4 Par-5’s (each measuring between 375-600 yds), anywhere from 6 to 14 Par-4’s (each between 240-490 yds) and about 3 to 4 Par-3’s (all should be under 250 yds).
Once you start to understand the various components that go into calculating the distance of a golf course - and more importantly, the distance of each hole - you can start to get more calculated in how you approach your shots.