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Have you ever got a hole in one? A few weeks ago, I came within 2 inches of paying for a very expensive round of drinks from 121 yards off the 14th tee at the Portal Championship course in Cheshire. Unfortunately, an ‘almost hole in one’ doesn’t count. At least the putt was easy. But what are the chances of getting an ace?

What are the chances?

The odds vary but an amateur has about a 12,500 to 1 chance of hitting an ace and a pro 2,500 to 1. The better you are, the luckier you’ll get. With my 2-inch miss, I clearly have more work to do. But it can’t all be down to skill, can it? After all, my brother, Neil, has scored a hole in one so how hard can it be? I’m not jealous.

Improving the odds

Besides having great golf skills, there are two key factors that can influence those odds – the number of par-3 holes on a course that you play and the length of those holes.

You could just play a par-3 course for a lifetime to improve your chances, but that’s just not cricket. I think an 18-hole course with an additional sprinkling of par-4 and par-5 holes is the expected minimum requirement.

 

Most 18-hole courses have four par-3 holes spread evenly across the front and back nines. However, if you play the St. Andrews Old Course, you’ll only get two par-3 holes to secure an ace. And those aren’t easy.

How long is a par-3 hole?

The length of the hole is critical. Shorter increases accuracy. The R&A guidance for establishing a par-3 hole yardage is 260 yards maximum for men’s tees and 220 yards for women.

Image: Rick Shiels Golf

You may have seen videos of the 255-yard 17th at the JCB Course near Uttoxeter. It’s not just almost at the limit but downhill across a lake to an island green with deep bunkers, mature trees, and pine straw. Beware the ferryman. Take the bridge.

Fortunately, the R&A don’t mention a minimum yardage. Clearly, a super-short par-3 hole is a much better bet for achieving a hole in one.

The problem is that short par-3 holes tend to have defensive features that compensate for their lack of yardage, including small greens, cliffs, water, bunkers, tall trees, deep rough, steep drops and the potential for high winds.

But none of these castle-like defenses should really matter. All you have to do is land it on the green, get it close, and let it roll and drop. Simple.

Short but scary

These short ones are designed to mess with your head. On the tee, all you can think about is the impressive display of multiple hazards and not the landing zone on the green. That makes them a real psychological challenge. A few examples are worth a mention.

How hard can 107 yards be?

Piece of cake. That’s the yardage of the downhill 7th at Pebble Beach. If it wasn’t for the surrounding rocky cliffs down to the Pacific Ocean, the deep bunkers everywhere, and a stiff sea breeze, you’d fancy your chances.

TPC Sawgrass 17th hole is only 127 yards, but it’s a small island that’s been the source of premium lake balls since inception.

Closer to home, the 123-yard “Postage stamp” 8th hole at Royal Troon has no water, but it’s a very small undulating target where the coastal winds don’t help. I’d like to try it, but at £315 a round, perhaps I’ll take my chances elsewhere and buy the hole-in-one drinks, at least until that lottery win at 45,000,000 to 1.

Image: Bridport and West Dorset Golf Club

High chances of an ace

There are two short holes that have made me very nervous. I don’t like heights. The 129-yard 6th hole at the Bridport and West Dorset Golf Club has a fast eroding cliff-top tee that gets my attention. With a 90-foot steep drop to a small, bunker-strewn green, the nerves kick in. It can get windy.

 

Image: The Manor House Golf Club

Away from the seaside, there’s the 154-yard 17th at the Manor House Golf Club at Castle Coombe that has two greens for variety. 

Check the brakes on your buggie. With a 120-foot drop to either green, defended by tall mature deciduous trees and meandering brooks, dreams of a hole in one rapidly switch to thoughts of getting the ball safe and if those brakes work. 

Club selection

The challenge with these steep drops, besides vertigo, is club selection. Get your maths wrong and the probability of a hole in one goes downhill very fast.

The variety of advice on calculating yardage by elevation change is confusing. A theodolite is helpful. A laser rangefinder with slope indication (but not in a competition) is even better.

It’s also helpful to know your carry distances, as that high-lofted short iron will create a steep drop angle and some backspin. I’ll do a future blog on trigonometry. Bedtime reading.

A hole in one is hard

All things considered, there’s a whole lot of factors as to why getting a hole in one is a 12,500 to 1 shot. Getting it to 2 inches off the tee just has to be so much harder.

On the 2022 PGA tour, Justin Thomas was ranked #1 in proximity to the hole from 100-125 yards with an average 15 feet 6 inches. That’s a lot further than 2 inches! Ok, that’s not my season average, but I’m comforted by the comparison.

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Main blog image: 14th green at the Portal Golf Club, Tarporley, Cheshire.

Paul Hart is a co-inventor of the PuttBANDIT ball marker and enthusiastic golf improver still hoping for a hole in one.

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