A deeper dive into one of the best finishing holes on tour.
June 27, 2023 by Steve Timko in Analysis with comments
Hole 18 at The Preserve, Minnesota’s Elite Series stop on the Disc Golf Pro Tour, has been the deciding factor every year on the MPO side: Nikko Locastro snagged the eagle to win by a single stroke over Simon Lizotte and Calvin Heimburg in 2020, Ricky Wysocki fought off Paul McBeth and Eagle McMahon in 2021, and, in 2022, a missed drive by Wysocki resulted in a par that let Bradley Williams walk in the win.1
When evaluating the difficulty of a hole, many people start and end with the score average relative to par. Generally speaking, if the average for a hole is 0.5 strokes above par, that hole is considered as too difficult, while a hole with an average 0.5 strokes under par is considered too easy. When looking at Preserve’s 18th on a calm day such as 2022 R1, the hole plays more than 0.5 strokes under par for MPO, while on windy days such as 2022 R3, the hole can play 1+ strokes over par for FPO.
Given these stats, is Hole 18 a good hole for either division? In this hole breakdown, we’ll move beyond the scoring average to see how Hole 18 performs both on the MPO and FPO side.
The Preserve’s par 5 18th is a two-shot hole for the MPO field. With a huge water carry, the ideal landing zone requires a 450-500 drive to the tight fairway. Landing short or right results in poor footing in the tall grass or on a slope. Competitors can then attack the green with another 450-500 feet approach for a shot at an eagle 3. If a competitor is out of position off the drive, there is an opportunity to lay up for a 300-350 feet approach and a gettable birdie. An OB drive sends the player to the drop zone, requiring a ~400 feet approach to get in position to cross the water and attempt to save par.
On par 5s, Fairway Hits counts both the drive and the second shot. In 2022, the MPO field averaged 82%, 10% higher than the average for all holes. This suggests that the drive and approach shots are not too difficult for the field.
Circle 1 in Regulation (C1R) indicates the percentage of players putting for birdie or better from C1. Some rough rules of thumb regarding C1R:
>75%: The hole is way too easy as almost everyone is putting for birdie or better
50%-75%: An easy hole that is a must-get for players
25%-50%: A fair hole that provides good scoring separation
10%-25%: A challenging hole that provides good scoring separation
<10%: Usually a poorly designed hole that has too much distance, OB, or reliance on luck for the field to get to C1R
C1R averaged 53% in 2022, lower than previous years’ average of 66%, perhaps due to the tighter OB or weather conditions. C2R averaged 75%, meaning that three of every four players had a chance to collect a birdie. Most would agree that this results in a hole that is too easy for the field, but the story doesn’t end there.
Scoring separation is a measure of how many strokes were gained or lost on the field, divided by the number of players. Importantly, the scoring separation metric incorporates only the competitive field, reducing the impact of players down the leaderboard. In 2022, the competitive field included 28 players. The average scoring separation of 0.65 is in the top 12% of holes this season, and suggests that players scoring an eagle gain a little less than 1.5 strokes on the field. Overall, high scoring separation leads to high potential for drama — and on the final hole, that’s gold.
Could Hole 18 be improved for the MPO field? The hole is designed to be a two-shot hole and should therefore be a par 4. Players out of position on the drive still can lay up and save a 4, so it would not be unduly punishing to players without the distance to cross to the green in 2. This would change the status from being “one of the easiest” holes to “one of the hardest,” based on average score to par, but the scoring separation would likely not be impacted. As a par 4, the drop zone could be moved ~100 feet closer to the pin to make it easier to save a 5 after going OB off the drive. Moving the tee pad is not desirable — moving the tee back to make it a three-shot hole removes the excitement of the high-risk nature of the hole, and the tee cannot be moved much closer to the tee without building a platform to form a level surface.
In sum, changing the par to 4 is all that is needed to improve Hole 18 and keep it as one of the most exciting finishing holes on tour.
At ~940 feet, Hole 18 is a three-shot hole for the FPO field. The initial water carry is around 300 feet for most players, which can be intimidating off the tee. There is an option to bail out left, but this puts the player out of position to attack the green in three and requires two well-placed shots to be in position to cross the water again to try to save a par. With a drive of 350-400 feet, the top competitors are only 250-300 feet from the ideal second landing zone, which is a little over 300 feet to the basket. From a distance perspective, Hole 18 appears to be appropriate for the field as a par 5. Now let’s look into the stats to see how the course has played over the last three years.
In 2022, the FPO field averaged 74% Fairway Hits, slightly above the average for all holes. In prior years, the FPO field averaged 85%. It’s not clear why the field under-performed compared to previous years, but overall the numbers show the drive and second shot are fair for the field.
The average C1R in 2022 for the FPO field was 15%, a tick above previous years at 14%. While this indicates a challenging hole, it does not suggest a hole that relies too heavily on distance, OB, or luck. Similarly, the C2R was 30%, meaning that almost a third of the field has a shot at collecting a birdie.
Finally, let’s look at scoring separation. The average scoring separation for the competitive field of 28 in 2022 was 0.8, equating to over 1.5 strokes gained on the field if a player birdies. This is in the top 5% of scoring separation on tour so far in 2023. While the FPO tournament has yet to come down to the final hole at the Preserve, with the win margin decreasing from 13 in 2020 to 10 in 2021 and just 5 strokes in 2022, we may see it come down to the wire in 2023, and a hole with a high degree of scoring separation is perfect for creating drama and crowning a champion on the green of 18.
Could Hole 18 be improved for the FPO field? If the purpose of a redesign was to decrease the average score relative to par, moving the FPO tee pad to be to the left of the water and avoid the initial water carry would probably achieve this goal, but it could decrease the score separation that makes a great closing hole. With FPO margins of victory getting slimmer in a season that has already seen two playoffs, keeping the hole as-is will keep the drama high for the likely showdown on the FPO side.
Doug Tyas contributed analysis to this article. All hole maps from Richard Rasch, Custom Course Maps. Data provided by Statmando, UDisc, and the PDGA.