A Debate With Patty Ruddy, Owner – European Golf Club: Is the Length of a Golf Course A Measure of Its Quality?

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By Patrick Ruddy, European Club

Studying the best golf courses in the world in 2019 shows that there have been substantial changes in golf course design over the past thirty years and they are beginning to show in telling fashion in the World’s Top Golf Courses lists.

What exactly is meant by “top” in the rankings is not clear. But one thing is certain and that is the fact that golf at the top has become a long-hitting sport and the most talked-of courses must be graded initially, in a cold-blooded and factual way, into groupings based on length just as boxers are sub-divided based on weight. Before judgment is made on elements such as conditioning, history and the finest design details.

Length is an actual and factual primary marker which does not accommodate specious arguments or assumptions of superiority and opinions. Length places the “runners” into initial fact-based running order. You either have those yards or not.

The GOLF Top-100 for 2017-2018 includes thirty-three HEAVYWEIGHTS of 7,200-plus-yards; twenty-three MIDDLEWEIGHTS of 7,000-yards up to 7199; eighteen WELTERWEIGHTS of 6,800-yards up to 6,999; and twenty-six LIGHTWEIGHTS below 6,800-yards.

Given that there are many more heavyweights and middleweights not recorded on today’s chart would suggest that courses measuring below 7,000-yards need to be really stellar in design to contest for top-100 listing.

The bigger courses have the advantage of offering multiple challenges played from multiple tees, offering championship play as required and social golf as the norm, and this flexibility cannot be duplicated on the smaller courses. The bigger courses can be compared to the Russian Doll which features several smaller dolls within the primary one.

To be great for all circumstances the modern course needs to be long. As the top players can now fly the ball 275-yards they can travel 3,850-yards with fourteen drives. Add eighteen 8-iron shots of 160-yards and another 2,880-yards is traveled. That is 6,730-yards gone using nothing bigger than an 8-iron and so our lightweight courses are wiped-out by just two clubs so far as tournament play is concerned.

The GOLF TOP-100 courses run from 7,790-yards at Whistling Straits down to just 6,431-yards at Swinley Forest. Two vastly different worlds are asked to mingle and be comparable.

Those who would argue that length is not very important run counter to the opinions of those who are challenged with, indeed charged with, the preservation of the relevance of the great championship venues. All but a few of them have long since shunned the lighter divisions and live as magnificent heavyweights or middleweights.

COUNTERPOINT:  Length Does Not Equal Quality in a Golf Course

by JJ Keegan

Who Acknowledges “He is Often in Error and Rarely in Doubt”

Dear Mr. Ruddy:  Attached is a spreadsheet I created from your data.  If I understand your hypothesis, the longer the course, the more likely it is to be ranked in the Top 100.

For a discussion over a black and tan, I will take the counter position – distance does not equal quality. From the spreadsheet, the Top 25 golf courses are nearly equally distributed among the heavyweights, middleweights, light weights, and welterweights, as shown below:

Category Number of Courses By Length Number of Courses in Top 25 % by Category




Middle Weights




Light Weights




Welter Weights




Second, here is a list of the golf courses where the variance between there length and ranking is the largest:

Golf Course Length Rank Yardage Top 100 Ranking Variance
Cypress Point


6,524 2


Royal Melbourne West


6,656 11


Fishers Island


6,615 19


Crystal Downs


6,560 24


Royal Dornoch


6,704 15


Pacific Dunes


6,633 26


National Golf Links


6,935 7




6,802 17


San Francisco


6,716 25


Sunningdale Old


6,660 31


If one were only able to play those “short” courses the rest of their lives, that would be an impressive rota.

Here is the fact that I find further compelling. In 200 survey of public golfers we have conducted, the length of a golf course they prefer to play is 6,125 yards.  Length and difficulty are and anathema and are curtailing not stimulating the growth of the game for the recreational player.  But as I often say, “I am often in error, but rarely in doubt.”

That is what Mr. Ruddy, an esteemed and incredible likely owner of the European Club and I think.  More importantly, what do you think.  Comment below.

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