Front-Nine Stretch Could Be Pivotal in Deciding Champion January 10, 2017 | Panama City, Panama By Ron Driscoll, USGA

The challenging terrarin surrounding the par-5 fourth green might cause competitors to think twice about being too aggressive. (LAAC/Enrique Berardi) 

Scorecard numbers can be deceptive on a golf course when wind, firm conditions and setup flexibility are factored into the equation.

“Holes are going to play both much longer and much shorter than their scorecard yardage,” said Jeff Hall, the inside-the-ropes championship director of the LAAC. “We fully intend to utilize the flexibility that has been provided to us by the course architect.”

For example, the four par-3 holes at Club de Golf de Panama range from 152 yards (No. 8) to 215 yards (No. 6) on the card, but the tees offer varying yardages and angles of attack.  

“The sixth hole is certainly the big par 3 on the course, at 215 yards from the back tees over water and into the prevailing wind,” said Hall. “But we’ve got probably 40 yards of teeing ground to work with there, so if we decide on a hole location that’s pretty tight behind a fronting bunker, we’ll probably put the tee up a little bit so the players have – at least in theory – a more manageable club to play.”

No. 7 is a 412-yard, dogleg-left par 4 that gave Hall and his course-setup team pause when they started to map out hole locations.

“We place dots at the front and back of each green that we use as the reference points to measure our hole locations for the week,” said Hall. “On that hole, we really struggled to decide what angle we should take in placing that mark. Because of the pronounced dogleg and the pond that’s on the inside corner of the dogleg, we could see players playing tee shots 220 yards off the tee, which would leave them a 155-yard shot into the green, or they could hit drivers in the 270-to-290-yard range and have a slightly shorter shot, but from a very different angle.”

Hall noted that the angle of approach does not necessarily get easier the farther down the fairway the player hits his tee shot. There are also mounds on the right side of the fairway at the far end that can leave players with an awkward stance for their approach shot.

“If you hit it 230 yards or so off the tee, you’re hitting into the length of the green,” Hall said. “There’s not necessarily a huge benefit in hitting it longer. I think it’s a hole that a lot of players will be quite happy if they can play that hole in 16 strokes [even par] for the week.”

The primary reason for the series of bumps in the fairway is functional.

“They aren’t there for any strategic or architectural purpose,” said Hall. “They’re there to keep water from washing across the fairway when they get heavy rains. They help to funnel the water away.”

Hall noted that organizers of the Tour have occasionally moved up the tee on the fifth hole (413 yards on the card) to create the opportunity for players to consider driving the green. He also cited the strategy that can come into play on the previous hole, the 520-yard, par-5 fourth.

“The hole plays into the breeze and slightly uphill, and you could move the tees up 15 yards or so to almost ensure that players would have a chance to reach the green in two,” Hall said. “But it’s a pretty demanding shot from 240 yards. There is out of bounds to the right, and the instinct will be to miss it left, but that leaves a treacherous up-and-down.”

There is also a bunker to the right of the green, and the putting surface has a ridge running through it that can leave a demanding two-putt.

Hall said, “A player might find that they hit the green in two, but if they get on the wrong side of the ridge, they will realize that they might have been able to get closer to the hole with their third shot from 100 yards away with a wedge than they can with their putter.”

The greens are small, averaging 5,000 square feet, with depths ranging from 26 yards to 40 yards. “Some of them are interesting shapes – No. 7 is quite long, but very narrow,” Hall said. “There is quite a bit of variety there. This course should do a very nice job of identifying the best player for the week.”

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at

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