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The Australian GC & The Lakes GC, NSW

30 Nov - 3 Dec, 2023

01 Dec 2023 | Australian Open | Women's Australian Open | Men's Australian Open | Professional golf |

Clayton: When par is not par

by Mike Clayton

11th hole
Eddie Pepperell at the 11th hole at The Lakes

Conditions have always established the measure of what a fair score is for a scratch player.

The par on the scorecard is some sort of standard but around The Lakes on Thursday the card said 72 but the players knew it was closer to 69 – something Peter Thomson always referred to as "the strict par".

In the Greg Norman 1980 Australian Open at the same course a ferocious wind came up in the middle of Friday afternoon and of the last 50 or so players, only three managed to break 40 on the back nine.

Hale Irwin paced off his drive (with a driver) on the par 3 18th at 158 yards. Par that afternoon was closer to 76 than 72.

The game has changed beyond recognition since and now almost everyone of firing at the 528-metre 11th green across the water.

In the 1992 Open, Steve Elkington, to the astonishment of everyone, so used to a safe, long iron lay-up and a wedge, was on the green with a driver and a three wood. He had one of those old Taylor Made three "woods' which were a hint of what was both possible and to come as manufacturers refined the technology.

The conventional wisdom was always long par threes and par-4s including the second (when it was a par-4) third, 12th and 16th holes at The Lakes and the 8th ,9th, and 16th at The Australian were the most difficult holes – and they probably were to make a par.

No one, Norman aside, thought of reaching either the 8th or the 11th at The Lakes nor the Australian’s 5th or the 14th (now a par-4 off a short tee) holes in two shots.

And the long carry across the pond at The Australian’s finisher was a fairway wood – or more frighteningly a one or two-iron – to a scary green. For most it was a three shotter, something making the two long irons Jack Nicklaus and Bob Shearer hit to the 72nd green in 1982 so memorable.

With 20-under-par winning last week at Royal Queensland and likely something close to the same this week it’s the par-5s which are now the hardest holes on the course. Not to par certainly but to make multiples of fours on the par-5s is what the winner this week will be doing.

Yesterday at The Lakes, my boss Elvis Smylie was on the 2nd, 3rd, and 12th with eight irons and the 16th a 120-metre pitch. The driver, long iron par-4 in Australia is all but extinct unless a big wind comes into your face and with this the par-5s are now the long two-shotters testing long iron and fairway woods.

Min Woo Lee with his extraordinary length and skill dominated Royal Queensland’s the par-5s and being relatively new holes John Sloan, Bruce Grant and I had the advantage of building them knowing 550 metres was the new 490.

Cameron Davis’s opening 63 was obviously a terrific round and quietly he’s established himself as one of our best two or three players.

Playing golf well for tall men was always more difficult and likely it was a result of poor teaching and shorter drivers (today’s length driver with a steel shaft would have been pretty unwieldly) but Davis is about as orthodox as they come – almost as beautifully orthodox as Elkington.

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