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Statistics on how short hitters can conquer Par-5’s

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One of the least surprising parts of analytics in golf is that there is a strong statistical correlation on the PGA Tour between Driving Distance and Par-5 performance. Driving Distance and Par-4 performance does not have nearly the same correlation, which makes it obvious how important power is to performing on the Par-5’s.

I wanted to look at the exceptions to the rule, however: short hitters who performed well on Par-5’s. Conversely, I wanted to examine long hitters who did not perform well on Par-5’s. Then I wanted to see what these groups of players had in common with their game in hopes of explaining why they overachieved or underachieved on Par-5’s.

I decided to take the top-15 Overachievers (nearly the top 10 percent) and the top-15 Underachievers and examine their metrics. 

par_5_stats_1

Click to enlarge

First, I wanted to see how these groups of golfers performed on approach shots, not only the range from which they are likely to hit a fairway wood (225-275 yards), but also on short approach shots where they end up if they decide to lay up on Par-5’s.

par_5_stats_2

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What’s interesting is that the Overachievers have a much better ranking in each of the categories except one: shots from 250-275 yards. That area is where the 3-wood is almost exclusively used by Tour players, and yet the Overachievers were significantly worse performers than the Underachievers.

This is one of the key points in the difference between the Overachievers and the Underachievers. Obviously, performing better from 75-150 yards is helpful to performing better on the Par-5’s. But despite the Overachievers being worse with the 3-wood and better from 75-150 yards than the Underachievers, they were significantly more aggressive on the par-5’s.

Par-5 aggressiveness is a proprietary formula that I use to determine how “aggressive” a player is in going for par-5’s in two shots based on their percentage of Par-5 “Go For It’s,” their distance off the tee, their club speed and the percentage of “Go For It’s” for the field on the par-5’s they have played.

For example, Mark Hubbard ranked 114th in actual Par-5 “Go For It” percentage. But he was 165th in Driving distance, which means he has a less likely chance to go for Par-5’s in two shots. Hubbard did it anyway, and therefore was very aggressive on the Par-5’s.

The difference in Overachievers being much more aggressive on the Par-5’s, despite being inferior 3-wood players and superior from 75-150 yards, indicates that it is far more beneficial to be aggressive than conservative on the Par-5’s.

Next, let’s look at Short Game shots around the green data for both groups.

par_5_stats_3

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Once again, this is not all that revelatory in general, but the details are a bit more informative. The Overachievers had better short games than the Underachievers. However, the data shows that the larger discrepancy is on shots from 20-30 yards. On Par-4’s, it is far more important to perform well from 10-20 yards and from less than 10 yards than it is to perform well from 20-30 yards. But on par-5 shots, 20-30 yards is a more important distance range.

Here’s how the two groups fared on the greens.

par_5_stats_4

Click to enlarge

This was a bit more surprising for the most part, as he Overachievers did not putt significantly better than the Underachievers. This indicates that getting the ball close to the green in the first two shots is more important than actual putting performance on the green for Tour players.

Lastly, I wanted to compare the two groups with some driving metrics.

par_5_stats_5

Click to enlarge

Tee Shot Aggressiveness is a proprietary measurement I use to determine the amount of times a player is laying-up off the tee. Players like Mark Hubbard and Roberto Castro rarely lay up off the tee, while Martin Laird and Lee Westwood were frequently laying up off the tee.

While there is a huge discrepancy in the Tee Shot Aggressiveness rankings for the Overachievers versus the Underachievers and the Overachievers were more effective off the tee in general, the more telling metrics are the ones that indicate a player’s accuracy and precision off the tee.

Despite the Overachievers being much more aggressive off the tee, they were still far more accurate (hit fairway percentage) and much more precise off the tee (Distance to Edge of Fairway, Hit Fairway Bunker Percentage and Missed Fairway – Other Percentage). This goes back to one of the major strategic keys that I stress to all golfers:

If you’re likely to have a long club in your hand (5-iron or longer) on your 2nd shot, it is best to focus on making good contact and finding the fairway rather than swinging for the fences in hopes of gaining an extra 20-30 yards off the tee.

That includes Par-5’s and Par-4’s. For Tour players, the variance in scores on shots from the fairway versus the rough rise dramatically once the second shot is from 175 yards or more. For amateurs who play shorter courses, I recommend looking at it from the club you are using. The general rule of thumb is a 5 iron or longer. I still recommend hitting driver off the tee. As the Overachievers show, they are not laying up off the tee that often. But, it is better to take your “stock swing” and focus on making good contact and finding the fairway than to swing harder in hopes of gaining more yards at the risk of finding the rough.

To summarize, here’s what amateurs can learn from the pros. 

  1. Hit driver off the tee, but focus on good contact and finding the fairway instead of swinging harder in hopes of hitting it farther.
  2. Three wood performance is not as critical to par-5 performance as one may think. However, it’s still important to try and get the ball as close as you can to the hole when feasible rather than playing for your “money yardage.”
  3. Short Game performance is fairly important, but it’s more about long-range short game shots (20-30 yards) than shorter range Short Game shots (<15 yards).
  4. Par-5 performance is more about the first two shots than it is about performance with the putter.
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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Ron

    Mar 7, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    Great article. Love the statistical analysis and how that plays into strategy.

    At 75 (with an index of about 4), I legitimately qualify as a short hitter (although probably fairly long for my age group). I can rarely reach par-5s in two – only on short ones probably playing from the ‘whites’. So my approach to par-5s is to think of them as par-3s in the sense that with a decent in-play drive, and a decent in-play second shot, most par-5s I play then just become a short iron or wedge to the green. (And with a wedge in my hands, I will always think “no worse than three more shots”, although it doesn’t always work out that way.) So par-5s are scoring holes even when they are not usually eagle opportunities. My strategy? Make that third shot as short as possible – unless getting into that position involves some risk like carrying a hazard or flirting with a bunker complex. But the key for me is putting the driver in play – doesn’t have to be long, but I want a doable second shot. The second shot strategy is then dictated by the lie and the risk – a fairway wood gets me as close to the green as possible without taking on undo risk, a hybrid or other ‘lay-up’ might be a safer shot and result in a longer third, but that’s okay. My scoring average on par-5s last year – in 140 rounds on 17 different courses? 5.0 (a little under that on my home course).

    I played a recent on-course practice by dropping a ball 50-100 yards from each green and playing in. Great fun, by the way – and a great way to hone par-5 scoring skills.

  2. Davo

    Feb 25, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    Zac Johnson won his masters jacket by laying up on every par 5 each day a few years back.

    • Rich Hunt

      Feb 26, 2016 at 10:59 am

      Yes, it was record freezing temperatures with high winds. Everybody was having to lay-up because it wasn’t feasible to get over the water in two shots. That left Zach in a wedge competition against the rest of the field which played to his strengths. Since then, Zach has not played all that well in the Masters outside of last season and goes for the par-5’s at Augusta whenever he can.

  3. Gob

    Feb 25, 2016 at 12:07 am

    What are the driving distance numbers in the first chart?

    • Richie Hunt

      Feb 25, 2016 at 8:19 am

      All of the numbers in each of the charts are the rankings. So instead of saying a player ranked 165th, I just put down he ranked 165.

  4. Mark

    Feb 24, 2016 at 9:25 am

    I’m not sure if the stats for tour players apply the same to the games of amateurs. The big difference I see is in the partial swing shots to get on the green. Pros spend endless hours dialing in their distances for these types of shots; amateurs, not so much. So I believe it IS actually better for the amateur to layup to their “money shot” because it’s a distance that they know and have practiced. Getting it as close as possible and leaving yourself a shot that requires a partial swing just doesn’t play out as well for amateurs as it does for pros.

    • aJerry

      Feb 24, 2016 at 2:02 pm

      !00% correct short game of 100 yards and in yields great results BUT very few amateurs with limited income have any where they can spend a hour or two hitting from a hundred yards and in to a playable green and get real descent results. What your talking about is Country Club level amateurs that have the money to belong to a course with quality practice facilities…..you get very little value out of practicing 100 yard shots off beat up old mats hitting in to dirt or near dirt driving range practice areas…and least anyone forget pros are hitting into real greens for practice with balls, like proV1’s they use in tournaments…. Every time we pay $48 bucks for a dozen ball a chunk of that change goes to supply tournament pros with endless supplies of that ball to play and practice with……..

    • Richie Hunt

      Feb 25, 2016 at 8:24 am

      The general concepts apply, but things are scaled down for the amateurs because they hit it shorter and play shorter courses. Most amateurs can’t hit their 3-wood 250-275 yards, so that is why I discussed the actual club more than the actual yardage. With the studies we’ve done on amateurs on par-5’s, the principles are almost identical to what we saw in the numbers for the pros. The only real exception is that some amateurs are far worse with the 3-wood off the deck than any other club in their bag. However, I believe one can draw the reasonable conclusion that if you’re an amateur that really struggles with the 3-wood, par-5’s are going to be an issue for you until you figure out how to hit a 3-wood with some level of competence.

  5. Steve

    Feb 24, 2016 at 12:39 am

    Driving distances of PGA pros and LPGA pros is amazing but the second shots are the unbelievable shots….PGA guys hitting 3 irons 240 yards and stopping them on the green and LPGA gals hitting hybrids 230 yards and stopping on the greens. Insane…

    • Jack

      Feb 25, 2016 at 1:47 am

      Yup. The more you look at those performances, the more you realize the immense gap between top amateurs and pros. Not only are they more accurate, the distance they are covering is much greater too.

  6. Magnus

    Feb 23, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    I actually have a very good shortgame, and my putting is alright, but I break 80 only when I find the fairway consistently from the tee, thats always the key to a good round. But anyway a lot of people talk about how you win tournaments because of your putter or your good shortgame. “you drive for show and putt for dough” is not true, and never has been.

    • Bob Jones

      Feb 24, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      Lee Trevino said, “They say you drive for show and putt for dough, but if you can’t drive, you won’t be putting for very much dough.”

    • Peter

      Feb 24, 2016 at 2:23 pm

      The “drive for show” is referring to the longest drive, it’s nothing to do with hitting or missing fairways. You can’t compete at any decent level if you can’t putt!

  7. Mat

    Feb 23, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    This deserves one more step…

    “Overachievers” are doing what the “Every Shot Counts” stat book says… essentially, you’re going to score better at a pro level from 40 yards out in the rough than you are 90 in the fairway.

    You can essentially stack these stats backwards; overachievers are the guys playing to the stats. Gain the most distance within reason and within your ability every shot, as the lie allows.

  8. Bump Fuzz

    Feb 23, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    I remember hearing on a golf telecast that Webb Simpson will try to get it as close to the hole as possible when hitting his 2nd shot on par 5s instead of laying up to a favorite wedge yardage.

    • Rich Hunt

      Feb 24, 2016 at 9:38 am

      Funny you mention Webb. When I analyze players and their strategy, Webb is one of the very best strategists on Tour. Not only on par-5’s, but on tee shots where there are players laying up or going for it. Whatever is the best play statistically, Webb is usually making that play.

  9. Fahgdat

    Feb 23, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    Wow. Thanks for putting that together. Great article.
    Goes to show you smart course management and timely scoring is what it’s all about.
    You can play to your strengths and still do well.

  10. Scott

    Feb 23, 2016 at 11:42 am

    Are you suggesting that the longer hitters are not being aggressive enough off the tee? I have often thought that there was way too much laying up on tour.

    • Richie Hunt

      Feb 25, 2016 at 8:29 am

      I wasn’t really suggesting that in this particular article. But often times that is the case. One of the things I preach to Tour players I work with is that I do not treat every player the same and fit them into 1 way of doing things. Bubba Watson shouldn’t try to play like Tim Clark and vice versa. Much of that has to do with how far they hit the ball. But, I see a lot of long hitters on Tour that try to play more like the shorter hitters. They concentrate on finding fairways at the expense of their length off the tee by laying up and focus too much on their wedge games. Instead, they have prodigious length off the tee….use it to your advantage. If you have the ability to be a power player…be a power player.

  11. davemac

    Feb 23, 2016 at 11:37 am

    I really like this type of analysis, am I correct in assuming the value in each column is the player’s positional ranking for that given skill?

    Psychology has to play a major impact on the result, Lee Westwood is poor from the ‘important’ target short game areas, but is this a poor short game or excessive shot pressure due to putting weakness?

    The other possibility is perhaps under achievers are in the habit of short siding their approach miss, making the short game shot more difficult.

  12. Bobby Pingstein

    Feb 23, 2016 at 11:01 am

    Just hit the gym and take testosterone

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Here is the name of our teaching method…

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You have to listen to this to find out!

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: A shot to a spot

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Over the past few years, golf has entered the statistical era, with the help of ShotLink, launch monitors, and “strokes gained.” As more and more data is analyzed, much is being written about which parts of the game are most important to scoring and winning out on tour.

It started out with “strokes gained-putting” as maybe the best indicator, but of late, we are reading more and more about ‘strokes gained-shotmaking’, which is the measure of a golfer’s ability to keep it in play and hit greens in regulation.
However, the statistics on strokes gained on tour are very different from the game most recreational golfers play. Realize that “out there”, all these guys are extraordinarily skilled in every aspect of the game, so what separates the winner from the “also-rans” in any given week drills down to a very few specific things. That is a far cry from the game you play week in and week out.

So, what about your game?

From my observation, for almost any recreational golfer, hitting 2-3 more greens per round does two things for you. 1) It gives you that many more birdie tries, and you’ll just have to make some of them. And 2) it takes that much heat off your scrambling. For the average golfer, a missed green leads to a bogey or worse more often than not. Very few recreational golfers can come close to an up-and-down percentage of anywhere near 50%, and most are around 20% at best. Think about that.

So, here’s one way to look at how you might be able to hit more greens in regulation. On the PGA Tour, greens-in-regulation percentage drops by almost half on shots from the rough over shots from the fairway. If that doesn’t hammer home the importance of hitting fairways, I don’t know what will.

Growing up in the era of persimmon drivers – which I’m sure many of you completely missed – the driver was for positioning the ball in the right part of the fairway for an approach shot, not for just blasting as far “that way” as possible. The top players of the era hit their drives to particular spots that allowed for the best approach to the green, and they didn’t let it “all out” all that often.

In his 1949 book “Power Golf” Ben Hogan, listed his ‘regular’ distance with a driver as 265, but his ‘maximum’ as 300. Who keeps 35 yards in reserve for only those times when you really need it?

So, here’s a little experiment for you the next time you can get out for a “practice nine” in the afternoon or early morning.

Each time you hit a drive in the rough, walk it out to the fairway and then back 10 to 15 yards. My bet is that you’ll find that the hole plays a bit easier, even though you have a longer club in your hands for your approach shot.

Then think about how much better you might score if you thought of each drive as a comfortably controlled shot to a spot, rather than just “hit it that way as far as I can.”

Just something to change the game a bit and keep it interesting.

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Courses

The Jamaica Golf Experience

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I love Jamaica. I have been to the island for several trips with my family and the feeling I get every time I think about a next visit is always exciting. On past trips, I have made Jamaican friends that I will remember for the rest of my life. The people there are so happy and good. One Love. The “no problem ‘mon'” culture just becomes a part of you when you’re there, creating a special atmosphere that lets you escape it all. I keep Red Stripe beer in my fridge at home in Fort Worth, Texas, all year — a reminder of the island I love with every sip. So when I received an invitation to play in The Jamaica Pro-Am, I was quick to accept.

The Jamaica Pro-Am (aka Annie’s Revenge — more on that later) is an annual tournament held each year in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Four-man teams constructed of three amateurs and one PGA Professional, the tournament is typically played on three of Jamaica’s finest golf courses — Half Moon, Cinnamon Hill, and White Witch. I attended this year’s tournament as a playing observer, confined to the “media team” and partaking in the festivities. Ya’mon.

The tournament field gets to stay at the beautiful Iberostar Grand Rose Hotel, conveniently located near all three courses and more importantly, right on the beach. The hotel is indeed grand and all-inclusive, providing guests with a wristband that gets you whatever you’d like to eat or drink from any of the onsite bars and restaurants — no questions asked. Less than 30 minutes from the airport, if Montego Bay is your desired city for your next Jamaican vacation, I’d imagine this hotel is tough to beat.

The first night of the tournament is the welcome dinner and reception on the beach. A full Jamaican buffet complete with jerk chicken and pork, beef patties, fried plantains, rice and peas, and cabbage. A true taste of the Caribbean, accompanied of course with whatever rum drink your heart desires. Appleton is the island favorite, and it mixes well with pretty much everything when you’re toes are in the sand. There was a live reggae band playing the Bob Marley songs everyone knows.

While the festivities were for the tournament participants, there was still plenty of activity and vibe for the other hotel guests. This is Jamaica. There was music and fun all around the hotel every moment of this trip. No worries, everything is irie. I have a real love for the island. The people are kind, the food is fantastic, and the waters are the finest in the world.

Day One: Half Moon Golf Club 

Quite understandably, Jamaica has been hit hard by COVID-19, with tourism taking a substantial dip in the past year and a half. The golf has seen a dip in numbers as a result, but the courses are in gorgeous shape with foot and cart traffic just now picking back up.

Half Moon was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and it opened in 1962. The course rests between the Blue Mountains and the sea, playing a mostly flat 7,120 yards from the back tees. Half Moon does offer several tee box options and could be played as short as 5,032 yards, making it a pleasant resort course, should that be your speed.

The course is beautiful and very well maintained. The greens were a bit shaggy, but luscious, playing at a slower pace than I am used to. I am not sure if that is by design or a side effect of the pandemic, as I do know the Jamaican golf courses have been short-staffed and without the usual supplies this past season. That appears to be a thing of the past, however, as the course looks to have turned a corner.

Most fairways are lined by palm trees, adding something to avoid off the tee, but there is enough space between each trunk to give you a full swing if you do miss left or right. The coconuts that drop, luckily, are loose impediments.

Half Moon is a resort course through and through. There are elements of character and excitement, but it mostly just provides a beautiful and benign setting for fun island golf. The fairways are dressed with multiple well-placed bunkers which provide the only designed protection against low scores. The driver could be used on virtually every non-par 3, but the course is better suited to be thought around and played to avoid the sand.

Built on a retired sugar cane estate, the other real hazard (water doesn’t come into play much at all) is the coastal winds that pick up mid-morning each day. With little besides the coconut trees to protect your ball from gusts, the wind becomes a real challenge on this bow-tie routed design. Holes into the wind were a beast, and when we finally turned with the wind at our back, it was time for a Red Stripe and a sigh of relief.

Those winds are a big reason why this tournament is called “Annie’s Revenge.” Named after Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Rose Hall, the namesake is one of Jamaica’s most famous local legends. Rose Hall’s Great House, just down the road towards Cinnamon Hill Golf Course, was home to Palmer, a Haitian-born white woman who grew up studying voodoo and witchcraft. Thus the nickname, the White Witch. She moved to Jamaica when she married John Palmer, the owner of Rose Hall, and unfortunately, her practice of dark magic proved too powerful for those around her. Legend tells she murdered her husband (and two more after that) along with many of her slaves. She herself was eventually killed, but to this day, the locals claim to have witnessed Palmer’s ghost riding her horse around the Jamaican plantations.

The strong coastal winds are Annie’s Revenge on any golfer trying to enjoy the land she once owned. They got the best of me a time or two.

Days Two and Three: Cinnamon Hill 

Both Cinnamon Hill and White Witch Golf Course are members of the Rose Hall family. Typically, in the “Annie’s Revenge” tournament format, the courses are played once each in the three-day event. However, White Witch is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its owners made the financial decision to proceed through these tough times with only one course due to the limited play and the costs of upkeep. While disappointed to not play White Witch, playing Cinnamon Hill twice instead more than satisfied my appetite for Jamaican golf. This is my favorite course on the island.

Cinnamon Hill was designed by Rick Baril and opened in 1969. It was later renovated and redesigned by Robert von Hagge. The greens here were much quicker than those at Half Moon, which I certainly appreciated. The two nines of Cinnamon Hill play in complementing contrast to one another, with the front providing low coastal play while the back nine rises into the tropical Blue Mountains.

Tipping out at 6,828 yards, the front nine marches and builds towards the ocean, with two phenomenal holes hugging the coastline. This is unusual for Jamaica, as most of the shore is saved for sandy beaches and rum-flavored sips under thatch umbrellas.

I played Cinnamon Hill with my cart partner, Jason Deegan of GolfPass.com. Our hosts for our rounds at Rose Hall were Keith Stein, the Director of Golf Course Operations for both Cinnamon Hill and White Witch, and Donnie Dawson, the Deputy Director of Tourism for the Jamaica Tourist Board.

Keith is a very good golfer with a smooth swing. He is originally from Toronto but has lived in Jamaica for 30 years. Donnie is a world-class storyteller who grew up in Kingston and has been playing these courses his entire life. It was a real treat to be able to play the course with both fine gentlemen, see how they play each hole, and hear their tales. The best story came on hole four, a 170-yard par 3 over marshy ponds.

Donnie Dawson and one of his stories

As we approached the fourth tee box, Donnie pointed out a concrete wall just behind the markers and informed us that a cemetery lay just beyond. Peering over, we could see the gravestones in this centuries-old burial plot for the family of English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The grass is grown tall because the golf course staff, local Jamaicans, refuse to go inside.

Donnie told us 20 or so years ago, he was playing this course with a caddie named “Teeth,” a moniker he was given based on the looper’s colored and decorated top front teeth. As they approached the fourth tee box, a man was sitting on the concrete wall bordering the cemetery. He tossed Donnie a ball and said “hit this one, mon.” Donnie complied and the three men watched the shot bounce twice and roll directly into the cup. A hole-in-one with accompanied celebration. When they reached the green, Donnie and Teeth looked into the cup to retrieve the ball, and, to their surprise, it had vanished. Disappeared from the hole. They looked to the tee box and the kind stranger on the wall was gone as well. Perhaps a ghost from the ancient graves. Donnie said Teeth, a believer in local legend, took off running and didn’t stop for three miles.

Hole Four Green, site of the vanishing ball

Holes five and six provide tremendous views right along the quietly crashing waves. The par-3 sixth hole, arguably the prettiest hole on the island, is a 178-yard carry over the Caribbean with bailout room to the left. Just a gorgeous hole that I would have been happy to play all day. Cinnamon Hill does not waste their par 3s.

Hole five fairway

Keith Stein, yours truly and Jason Deegan

Par three sixth hole

The course is also home to an ancient aqueduct that winds through both the front and back nine. The now-ruins provide an interesting backdrop to island golf, whereas they used to be a working part of the sugar cane plantation and used to grind and transport one of Jamaica’s top export products for commerce.

The back nine brings you up the mountains, with the 17th tee box sitting nearly 400 feet above sea level. What that provides, obviously, is wonderful views of the ocean through and over jungle leaves, along with challenging golf shots. On the fairway of the 14th hole sits one of the few homes on course, but one has some historical value: The Cinnamon Hill Great House was the second home of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash for 30 years.

Cinnamon Hill Great House

The 15th hole is another tremendous par 3 measuring 220 yards from the back but playing much shorter straight down the hill to a large green nestled beneath a waterfall. The waterfall, in case it looks familiar, was the backdrop of a famous scene in “Live and Let Die” — one of the best James Bond films ever made. Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond series, lived and wrote many of the books here on the island at Golden Eye.

Cinnamon Hill takes the driver out of your hand on many holes, forcing you to find the right club on every tee shot. You need to be prepared to hit mid-irons off some par fours as angles are often more important than distance. And with the undulating back nine, distances are sometimes deceiving. Cheers to my caddie for keeping the right club in my hand all trip.

Back to the hotel for the final ceremony and last sleep on the island. The Jamaica Pro-Am is open to anyone willing to pay the entry fee, but if you come to Jamaica for just a family vacation, don’t forget about the golf. Most travelers to Jamaica come for the beaches and the island lifestyle, and they aren’t wrong to do so. But next time you visit, I suggest you bring your clubs, mon.

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