Par was originally used as a term to discuss stock prices. Par was the normal or expected price of a stock. In golf, it was originally used to define what a perfect round would be. In 1870, at the 10th “Open”, Tom Morris won with a score that was two above par. As a golf term, par was born.
Note: For the purposes of this discussion, we are going to focus on par for the touring pro (gold) level player. Also, “golf” refers to traditional golf.
Today, at the largest golf events, we expect the winning score to be close to par or perhaps a few strokes below par. For golf, it has been this way for nearly 150 years. Shoot par, be in the running to win.
With scores of 30 down winning disc golf tournaments, no wonder disc golf has a problem with par. Our expectations have been set by the very long tradition of golf and disc golf does not fit into our expectations.
We either need to change our expectations or we should change the way we calculate par. Our ingrained expectation is that par in disc golf is going to be about the same as par in golf. It just feels like this should be the case, so we struggle with the best way to determine par. In golf, the average number of putts is theoretically two. In disc golf, the average number of putts is theoretically one. In golf, par is the number of shots to reach the green + putts (2). In disc golf, par would be the number of shots to reach the green + putts (1). This would make about half of our holes into par 2s.
Pro golfers average around 6 one putts, 11.5 two putts, and .5 three putts per round. Pro disc golfers average around 16 one putts and 2 two putts (presuming all their putts are from Circle 1).
There are two ways to “fix” this. Either accept par 2s into disc golf and “correct” par or, increase the size of the green.
The first option, creating some par 2s, is not good for the game for multiple reasons. First, non discers are used to the direct comparison of golf and disc golf. Since there are no par 2s in golf, this would instantly confuse people that are new to the game. Second, happiness = results – expectations. Setting a par 2 makes the scoring expectation much harder and, oddly enough, decreases our enjoyment of playing the game. Disc golf has a tremendous advantage in that it is more fun to play because our par score is easier to attain. We should not take away this advantage.
The second option, increase the size of the green so that the average number of “putts” (shots from the “green”) approaches two, seems like a better solution. Increasing the size of the green, as described to me by Lowe Bibby, creates “Close Range Par”. Advocates have accepted 100 feet as a good size for the “green”. One caveat, as players get better at putting from long distances (in five years, Ricky’s 70 foot putts will be much more commonplace), the green may need to grow. What Close Range par does is it keeps our par as an easier number to attain than that of golf while also giving it a valid basis (expecting two putts in 100 feet as opposed to expecting two putts in 33 feet).
But won’t players still shoot way under par? Yes. Quite a bit under par. The simple answer is acceptance, one of the core tenants of disc culture. Let’s close by figuring out what ideal par is and what a winning score should be. Perhaps once we figure out why players will shoot under par we can begin to be okay with the fact that disc golf par is not the same as golf par.
Back when I had more hair, I discussed what par should be. The jist of the discussion boils down to:
Let’s break down a par 5 in golf and equate it to disc golf using close range par. A par 5 has:
In disc golf, this would equate to:
Golf’s par 5 becomes disc golf’s long par 4. Here is how the correlation continues:
Ideal course par: 63
Let’s go a step further and figure out what a winning score would be. The holes we would expect players to birdie would be the Short Par 4s and the Short Par 3s. Theoretically, following our golf model, there are five Short Par 4s and four Short Par 3s. We would expect these nine holes to be birdied by the winner of the tournament. We would expect them to get par on the long 3s and 4s. This would result in a score of nine under par being a great score and would put the winning score at 54.
Expected winning Score: 54 (pro par)
Here are the birdie stats from McBeth, Wysocki and Leiviska over the Pro Tour’s inaugural season. As we can see, the best scoring players averaged about nine birdies per round. In the rounds where they pair this with no bogeys, they will find themselves on the podium. The key to thinking this is okay is understanding why it is happening and accepting it. 36 down to win a disc golf tournament is about right. And that’s okay.