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AFSD - how to determine
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Average Fairway Stroke Distance

What's the true length of a golf course? (The answer may surprise you.)

If you've read many of my reviews, you know I am not a fan of all the new 7,000+ yard golf courses. And I don't like to use total distance as a measure of the worth of a golf course because using only length can be deceiving. The most difficult hole on the excellent Boat of Garten golf course is a 470 yard par 5. That's considered a rather short par 5 but it's all uphill and the fairway is severely slanted. The famous Merion East course outside of Philadelphia is another example. When David Graham won the U.S. Open at Merion in 1980 it measured "only" 6,400 yards. Yet Jack Nicklaus said of Merion, "Acre for acre, it may be the best test of golf in the world." Another example is Gullane #1, a World Top 100 Scottish golf course which measures 6,466 from the medal tees. So just because a course is short doesn't mean it's an easy play or if it's long a hard play.

With some golf courses, distance is the only challenge. It can be the ultimate golf architect's cop-out. But more than that, total distance doesn't give you enough information. I would rather use Average Fairway Stroke Distance (AFSD), a simple formula I came up with that gives you the real distance.


How AFSD works

Whether a golf course has a par of 64 or 74, fully 36 strokes are reserved for putting. In other words, built into every par on every hole is two putts per green. Obviously, on an 18 hole course, if you deduct the allowed number of putts (36) from the par you will be left with the number of strokes allowed to get to the green, i.e. from the tees and fairways. So on a par 3 you are expected to get on the green in 1 stroke. On a par 4 it's 2 strokes. And a par 5 allows you 3 strokes to reach the green. Okay, so far so good.


It seems to me that to judge more fairly the length of a course, you should take into consideration not only the distance from tee to green but the number of strokes needed to negotiate that distance (in other words, par minus putts).

This will help clear it up

Let's take the legendary Royal St. George golf course in Sandwich, England, home of the 2011 Open Championship. Before the changes made in preparation for the 2003 Open Championship, it played to 6,560 with a par of 70. Now it's 6,630 from the medal tees. Given that 36 shots on this and every course is for putting, that leaves 34 shots that you are allowed in order to negotiate the 6,630 yards from tee to green (par 70 - 36 putts = 34). Divide 34 into 6,630 and you need to average 195 yards for every stroke on the fairway. Now obviously there are par 3s that don't call for this distance but, on average, your tee shots and fairway need to average 195 yards. I call this figure the Average Fairway Stroke Distance or AFSD.

Let's apply this AFSD to Craigielaw, a newer course on Scotland's Golf Coast (near Edinburgh) and one of my favorites. Par is 71 and the distance off the medal tees is 6,601 yards. Deducting 36 putts from par we are left with 35 strokes. Divide this into 6,601 yards and the AFSD is 189.

What about the venerable Old Course at St. Andrews? Measuring 6,566 yards from the medal tees it plays to a par 72. If we divide 6,566 yards by 36 we get an AFSD of 182 yards. Again, that means you must average 182 yards distance on every fairway stroke. Note -- that's 13 yards per stroke less than Royal St. George or about one club less per shot.

And what about "The Monster"--Carnoustie? At 6,692 yards off the tees normally played and with a par of 72, this course has an AFSD of 186 yards, only 4 yards per fairway shot longer than Old Course at St. Andrews. The Glen Golf Club, on Scotland's Golf Coast, may seem short at only 6,243 yards, yet it has a par of 70 and so has an AFSD of 184. What's so short about that? It's actually 2 yards longer than The Old Course at St. Andrews and only 2 yards shorter than Carnoustie!

AFSD - a useful tool to determine the real distance of a course.