The R&A - Working for Golf

Course Set-Up - General Principles When Running a Competition

Previous articles on course set-up have looked at some general principles and also some specific course areas (ie teeing grounds, fairways, rough and bunkers). This time we turn our attention to the putting green and hole positions.


The condition of the greens is the aspect of course set-up that tends to come under most scrutiny. Establishing and maintaining well-conditioned greens is a long and continuous process and it is not the purpose of this article to focus on the ins and outs of this technical aspect of greenkeeping. However, regardless of the quality of the greens, it is essential that the Committee has a clear idea of how it wants the greens to play in terms of firmness and pace.

These decisions should be taken with regard to the nature of the course and its greens, the standard of the players in the competition and the weather forecast.

Firmness of greens is a key aspect in course set-up. It is generally the case that the firmer the greens are, the more difficult the course is. At The Open it is one of our principal objectives to have firm greens that are difficult to hold for shots played other than from the fairway but such levels of firmness are unlikely to be appropriate for club events.

If greens are relatively flat and high winds are not a feature, then there may be no issue with having very quick greens. However, with the links venues used for The Open, we have to take account of the exposed nature of the courses and the possibility of high winds. In view of this, we tend not to have our greens as quick as may be the case for some other elite level events. We use the stimpmeter as our guide for pace, and it would be unusual for the greens at The Open to have a reading of more than 11 feet. 


The Committee needs to ensure that it is control of the pace of the greens, and that the Club and the greenstaff are working to the same goals. Not only can very fast greens cause difficulty for less skilled players, this can convert into a pace of play issue. In addition, it is possible to lose a day’s play if the greens are quick and then wind becomes a factor resulting in balls not staying at rest.

It is important to keep a close eye on the weather forecast for the days ahead and err on the side of caution in terms of the speed of the greens. If it is a choice between not playing or playing on slightly slower greens, everyone will choose the latter.


Hole Positions

The positioning of the holes on the green does not make a tournament but poor selections can certainly jeopardise it, either because the positions are too difficult for the majority of the field or the course becomes unplayable due to a hole position.

The Committee needs to decide on who is going to select the hole positions – will this be left to the greenkeeper or will the Committee select the positions (or at least have an input). Often this will depend on Committee resource but at high level events it tends to be a representative of the Committee that selects the hole positions.

Even if the Committee is selecting the hole positions, it is important to get input from the greenstaff with regards to greens where high winds can cause balls to move or areas of the greens that are likely to flood in wet weather. With careful selection of hole positions on problem greens, a suspension of play can be avoided.

The general advice when selecting the hole positions for the round is to try to achieve a balance of right and left positions, front, middle and back positions, easy, moderate and hard positions.

As with most aspects of course set-up, the key is taking account of player ability and trying to set an appropriate challenge for the players involved.

Greens speed and firmness should have a bearing on the selection. A hole position that might be good with the green running at 9 feet on the stimpmeter may be inappropriate with the greens running at 12 feet, so careful consideration is required. If most of the players will be hitting a wedge into a firm green, it may be fine to have the hole 6 yards over the front bunker but if the players are going to be hitting in a long iron that same hole position might be best avoided.


The weather should also have an impact on the Committee’s selection of hole positions. If very wet weather is forecast then avoid putting holes in gathering points on the greens that could flood. However, if there is a forecast for dry and very windy weather, it may be those “low” points on the greens that provide the best option for ensuring that play can continue in the windiest of the weather.


There are two very important themes that run through most of the guidance on course set-up:

  1. Keep a very close eye on the weather forecast - Adapt your set up to the forecast and assume the worst from the forecast. If it transpires that the weather is not as bad as predicted, the worst that will happen is that your course plays slightly easier than you ideally would have liked.
  2. Tailor your course set up to the players you are dealing with – Setting up the course for a Club Handicap Competition with a mixed ability should be different from setting up the course for a National Amateur Championship. The set-up needs to be appropriate to the level of player in the field and in that regard consideration needs to be given to the weakest players rather than the strongest.