Canuck’s Soapbox- Course Difficulty on Tour: Birdie-fests or Head Scratchers?

First off, this is in no way a “complaining” post about course selection. I think it is handled really well and is a thankless job. Keep up the good work!


We are into the second week of Season 2 here at TGCTours and I am astounded at how good people have gotten at this game. To even stand a chance now on the elite tours (Euro and PGA) you need at least two out of 4 sub 60 rounds. The first PGA tour event at Sugar Hills (which was an entry into the US Open design competition earlier this year), got DESTROYED. With the winning score over -50…and things are looking like the same in week 2 (on my poor little Nighthawk Canyon course, which I THOUGHT I set up to play a bit tougher), I’ve been thinking alot about course difficulty preferences. I average -7 to -9 every event…but that still puts me at least 20 strokes back of the leaders at the end of the tournament. I regularly see posts where players are “disappointed” with -40 for the tournament. That just doesn’t seem right.


As someone who helped with course selection in Season 1 on the PGA tour, selecting course (especially on the upper two tiers) is extremely difficult. You want to pick a course that challenges golfers, but this is a game; You want tour members to enjoy playing it as well. As someone with 15 designed courses under his belt (about half of them have been used on tour)..there are some limited ways you can have your course “protect par” against the elite golfers.

  1. Wind- you can’t control this, but a moderate-strong wind (10-16mph) can turn any course into a more challenging one. However, every time the wind is strong, there are complaints. The new patch seems to have fixed this, but in my opinion, the winds are too low now! Please HB, somehow let us set our own tournament winds so we can mix things up a bit more!
  2. Green firmness- This is a tough one. Medium firmness just isn’t cutting it in my opinion. It is very easy to go pin hunting on almost every hole with this type of firmness. However, if this is dialed up even a little bit, it feels like the greens are concrete. We learned last season that “firm-fast” = not fun. However, I think a combination of softer fairways, medium firm to firm greens and large greens to hold shots may be the recipe here. You won’t be able to pin hunt every hole, but if you play smart, you can have 15-20 footers for birdie consistently if you play it shorter and run it up.
  3. Tucking pins- I think this is a technique that can be used, but not on every hole all the time. Tucking a pin behind a bunker where the green is only 6 yards wide and having to hit a 3’s not enjoyable. Again, bigger greens can help here.
  4. Breaks- Many of you know that some of my earlier courses feature greens with tough breaks. However, all my greens are designed for golfers that take time to learn them (just like in real golf). There are easy putts out there. Make your greens tough…just don’t put the holes on slopes :).


At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how a course is going to play. We have an excellent community, but people will complain…and that’s ok.  It’s too easy, it’s too hard, too firm, too soft, etc. As much as I would love to see it, I have come to expect that we will not see winning scores of less than -30 with aids on…and if we do, it’s probably because the course went way overboard with one of the elements listed above..making rounds not as enjoyable. I do think that courses selected can be a bit tougher, and there are ways to do it as a designer…. but in moderation. -30 to -40 winning score is the sweet spot I would like to see more often. A course that is challenging, but allows you to make some incredible shots and go low when things are going right. If that’s still not high enough, head on over to True-Sim for some more realistic scoring!

It may look challenging, but this hole is going to get birdied ALOT this week.

It may look challenging, but this hole is going to get birdied ALOT this week.


What type of difficulty do you prefer? A “birdie-fest” where mid-50s are not just possible, they are commonplace; or “head scratchers” course that walk the fine line between “fair and “unfair” (in many cases stepping over), leaving us scratching our heads? Leave a comment below!


  1. Bassman70 jediconnor1 on ps4 on October 19, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Hey Canuck, I would consider myself one of the better players, NOT the best players. I shoot quite a few rounds -10 or better. Yet, I have never won a tournament, that doesn’t discourage me though. I think the courses are fine just like they are, and here’s why…In real life on the PGA or European tours, there are those that just shoot very well. All players in the competition are professional, use the same clubs, balls, equipment etc. It’s as even as you can get, BUT there are those in the tournament that will shoot +10 and some that will shoot -10, same course same day, same conditions. The reality is there are going to be some that are just much better players. Maybe the course just fits them or they are just in a zone. Same goes for our great game here. Every week we are going to have players shooting well and players that don’t. If you want to shoot -10 or better all your rounds, you need to put in the practice, learn the math that’s involved in this game and practice putting ALOT! Last year I used to shoot in the area of -6 to -9. Always in the middle of the field. I decided to put in more time and learn how to really play the game. By the end of last season, I was playing really well. This year starts and I already have a -14 round. Plus i just think a lot of players don’t understand when to hit a pitch vs a flop, or when to lay up on par 5’s and guarantee a birdie. Going for it on short par 4’s and trying to hit par 5’s in two will cost you so many strokes. If you do these things on a regular basis, I bet you will not shoot as well as you could have. I don’t know if anyone else has thought of this that’s complaining about scores, but we all need to look at our game and how we attack the courses. It makes soooo much difference. I hope this answers the question…kind of rambled on there. I watch TGCT Live and get on the forums and see people saying things like we all have to get on an even playing field???? I don’t even know what that means. Are they saying we are cheating because we score well?? Also, there are courses on the PGA tour that the winning score is -28 to -35 sometimes, then the following week the winning score is -4. Some courses are just easy, and some aren’t. I think we have a great golfing community and there are only a few that complain and that’s fine, but I think we leave everything alone, whoever is picking the courses is doing a fine job. To sum up, I think people should look at their game and not get upset because when I play Nighthawk Canyon I shoot -11 and they shoot -3.

  2. Rob Stone on October 20, 2015 at 8:13 am

    Nice article!

    Personally, I prefer a challenging course, and I’d prefer to see lower scores too winning tournaments. One of the reasons I like TGC so much is the fact it feels more of a sim than PGA did, and if the scores were lower I’d appreciate it even more. I’m not sure how other people find it, but if I’m in a poor run, my round generally spirals for a few holes where I’ll find rough, bunkers, water and then three putt to put the icing on the cake. When I find FIR and GIR, it’s pretty easy to shoot low, so maybe we should have more obstacles, more heavy rough.

    The True Sim Tour is a great idea. I was chuffed with an even par opening round…even if it was P50 at the time of submitting!

    Keep up the good work.

    From a TGCT addicted member.

  3. Reebdoog on October 21, 2015 at 11:41 am

    I still think firm and fast CAN work if it’s done correctly. However that is MUCH harder on the designer and most folks just think “Oh so I need a really big green”. Not at all.

    I think that my Elmview course was a good example of how to pull it off and the scores were somewhat higher on that one even though it did produce some low rounds.

    The biggest issue is that when you design a course for the PGA/Euro tour only…it’s very difficult to modify it for other tours as hazard placements/tees/green sizes all need to be tweaked to give those players a more enjoyable experience. That’s actually a crap ton of work and not many designers will take the time or effort to make it happen.

    You COULD simply soften the course and move pins…but then there is still the length of the holes and wind to take into account. If you shorten the holes then the hazards and fairways aren’t going to work as well.

    If there were more variance in club carry distance based on the player’s skill this would not be an issue…but right now everyone hits it just as far as everyone else…

    Just too many variables right now. I haven’t provided any solutions here. I’m just kind of venting the frustrations of someone that wants to make courses everyone can enjoy regardless of skill level. Not sure how to pull that one off yet…

  4. Oswinner on October 23, 2015 at 10:52 am

    I believe firm and fast can still work Reeb. Very hard to design I should imagine though, you really have to think of the landing zones, the club being used for the approach shot and contours of the greens. A tiny downslope hit can send the ball blasting off so maybe more back-to-front greens?

    Loved the blog. Just started to pick the courses for the Web Tour and it is indeed tough to try and pick a course that challenges without being too frustrating. The hardest out of the initial bunch, Oktoberfest, plays next week in week 3. Should be interesting to gauge feedback on this one as it may be skating the fine line for the webbers. I’ve selected what I think will be a birdie fest for the week after to compensate but we’ll see. I think if you can get a winner between -30 to -40 on the respective tour then you’ve nailed the difficulty level needed. (-25 to -35 for CC-C on the challenge circuit maybe as that’s harder to cater for).

  5. Oswinner on October 23, 2015 at 10:58 am

    Also, I’ve not created a course yet as I struggle to have the spare time at the moment to get good with the GNCD. I’ve created like 15 holes but it’s more like practicing holes out before starting a course.

    However, my idea was always to create it in firm/fast conditions first so it’s playable in that because if it’s playable in firm/fast it will be playable in all formats.

    I would then release a medium/medium version with tees further forward and then a soft/slow edition with tees even further forward.

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