These are the holes which make PGA Tour players and your low-handicap recreational golfer salivate. Typically built anywhere from 450 to 600 yards long, a par 5 has a theoretical strategy of a good drive, a fairway wood or long iron to lay up near the green, and then a short wedge or pitch shot to get your ball onto the putting surface. After that, two putts and you're walking off writing down a 5 on your card. However, screw strategy if you're able to drive the ball around 300 yards off the tee. This leaves you a second shot of only two hundred yards plus which, with the use of your high-dollar equipment, should offer you a golden opportunity to "reach the green in two," as they say in the world of golf clichés. Should you be able to do that, then two putts would give you a birdie and one putt would offer up an eagle. If you were to hole out that second reckless shot to the green, you'd get the rarest score in golf: The double eagle. You could achieve the same result in your overall score should you make a hole in one on a par 4, but that is much less likely than holing out your second on a par 5. Either way, the point is that walking off a par 5 with a 5 is, as the golf announcers are so keen to remark in another cliché, "like giving one back to the field, Ken." For instance, so far in 2004 (and the season is just getting underway) there are six PGA Tour players who have birdied more than half of the par 5s they've played. You would recognize most of these names if you're a golf fan. They include Tiger Woods, John Daly, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh.
Speaking of golf clichés, I long for a golf announcer with as much panache as Dizzy Dean had in his baseball announcing days. He may have used clichés, but by God they were his own clichés. Gary McCord helps give some life to the announcer's job with some of his "local color," and Johnny Miller can sometimes be counted on for an outlandish remark. A newcomer to the announcing crew, David Feherty, can make amusing comments such as this one on some player ripping a huge drive: "I haven't seen recoil like that since my wife saw me get out of the shower this morning." But by and large the golfing announcer world is as dull as some feel the game is. My wife says that golf on TV can put her to sleep better than a Valium. I suppose she's right. If you're not a golfer or a real golfing fan, it is probably like watching paint dry.
So, dannye, back to the subject at hand: If par 5s are such meaty morsels for the golfer whose quest is the lowest score possible, how do the course designers make them hard enough to offer a challenge? I'm glad you asked that, because I've played par 5s all over the world and I've seen just about every trick in the book. Each trick is meant to pierce the shaky skin of some golfer's psyche, and it usually has to do with the way the hole looks to "the eye." Sometimes a certain hole can be so daunting to a particular golfer that he may choose to bend over backwards and give the hole itself "the eye" prior to teeing off. This is considered bad form in a mixed doubles tournament, but can be seen on occasion when it's a regular group of guys playing with no one else watching.
The first chance for the course designer to intimidate the golfer's eye is from the teeing ground. Many par 5s are doglegs, so you cannot see the green from the tee. This means that you have to imagine a spot out there where you want your ball to land. If you go too far beyond this imaginary spot, you will likely be in deep kimchee. It might be as benign as being in some deep rough, but it is more likely to be woods, water, 200-foot drop-offs, oceans teeming with sharks, lava pools, radioactive waste dumps, or a naked beach for geriatric amputees. If it's the rough, you can likely advance your ball far enough so that you can reach the green with your third shot. If you're in the woods, it all depends on the trees. Have you ever seen that movie Intacto? If you're in one of the other situations, it is likely that you're out of bounds and will have to go back to the teeing ground and hit what will be counted as your third shot on the hole. That means you'll have to reach the green on your second shot and one putt to make par. How likely is this? Having a trained team of a dozen earthworms ferry your ball invisibly from its landing spot after your drive, just as it quits rolling on its own, another 200 yards toward the hole is about as likely. So just settle your nerves, hit a decent tee shot, and assume that you'll be writing down 7 on this hole. Seven is a good number. They made a movie about it. George Costanza was going to name his first-born boy Seven. It's Biblical and you can look on this hole as your Job tenure during the round.
In addition to doglegs, par 5s often cover terrain that changes elevation. I've played some which, if looked at from a cutaway topographic map, would have resembled the NASDAQ during the dot com birth and collapse. When you are having to hit blind shots over hills, you'd better either have a damn good caddie or a detailed course map or some awesome luck. This is how some folks take a golf ball to the head during an otherwise normal round. It's hard to tell when the group ahead of you has "played through" when you cannot see them. Some courses have large convex mirrors so you can see over the hills. Some have large bells which the group ahead is supposed to ring when they're out of the way of the group behind them. Some have marshals who hang out at the apex of the hills and let you know when it's safe to hit your next shot. But some courses just think it's damn funny when folks get beaned by a golf ball traveling several miles an hour, or when groups get into fistfights over whose fault such a beaning actually was. I have seen dozens of arguments, three fistfights, and pistols drawn on two occasions out of golf bags during just such disagreements. Luckily, no shots were fired, but this should give you just a hint about the seriousness of some folks wanting to "play through."
In addition to the doglegs and the hills, there are always the problems which can be designed on flat, straight land. One of the more natural problems which can help torment the golfer on a long hole is a creek running along side or across the hole. Often, on a par 5, the hole will be designed so that such a creek will determine how you play either your tee shot or your second shot. Let's say that you think, and you have told your playing partners, that you can drive the ball in the air 300 yards. In this case, you'd likely be playing the back tees (called the professional tees on some courses). There would also be some middle tees for higher handicap players, front tees for seriously bad golfers or for very old men, and ladies' tees for the women. Courses are usually designed first and foremost for the good golfer, so let's get back to this situation with you on the back tees and this creek out there. It's likely that the creek will cross the hole around 275 yards from the back tee. Let's say the creek is ten yards wide. Thus, you will either have to hit your driver damn close to that 300 yards you told us you could, or you'll have to put on your bib and let mommie give you some applesauce before you pull out the 5-wood and hit your shot 240 yards or so in order not to wind up in that creek. Should you opt for the second alternative, you have essentially given up hope for "getting on in two," and you've also told the rest of your group that you're either a liar or you secretly like taking off your shirt at Cher concerts, "just to see what happens."
Man-made bodies of water often guard areas of par 5s, maybe just in front of the teeing ground or just in front of the green. Some par 5s have a green that's sitting out in the middle of a body of water as some sort of island. This really makes pulling the trigger on a long second shot a dicey venture, so holes with this sort of configuration might be some of the shorter par 5s you'll see.
In the early days of golf, 500 yards was considered a very long golf hole. Nowadays, with the souped up equipment which is available to anyone who wants to buy a game of golf, 600 yards is closer to the average length of a par 5.
There are golf courses with a par 6 on them somewhere. There really is no set rule that a golf course has to be par 72 total with four par 3s, four par 5s, and ten par 4s. That's just the way most of them are.
The most famous par 5 in the world is probably number 18 at Pebble Beach in California. You have to start your drive out over the Pacific Ocean on the left, with rocks jutting from the water and the sea lions barking disbelief that you've been able to afford this round on a supposedly "public" course, let alone make it to the last hole.