How to Play Par 5's

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Published: February 16, 2014

How often do you step on the tee at your local golf course to the par 5's and pull the driver before you even get out of the cart? While the driver certainly has its place on many par 5's, there are just as many where it's not the wise play, no matter how far you hit the ball.

In this golf instructional video, I walk you through me actually playing one of the par 5's at Windermere Country Club and let you see the thinking process that I go through when deciding how to play this hole.

The hole I am playing in this video is the par 5 15th. In the image below, you can see the shape of the hole and my lines that I play on this hole.

par 5 in two

The first shot off the tee puts me in the perfect landing area that leaves me with an open shot at the green with about the same yardage as my tee shot, so it turns out I usually hit a 4 iron off the tee and a 4 iron into the green.

Both shots are around 220 yards and that is the key. While the hole says 526 on the score card, for me it plays only 440 because of my shot off the tee and angle of approach for my second shot.

This second shot takes me right through the throat of the green, so that even if I come up short, I'm on the short grass with a simple pitch for eagle.

By taking a longer club off the tee such as the driver, I have to thread it into a very narrow part of the fairway that is completely blind from the tee.

A 3 wood brings the lateral hazard and trees into play through the fairway and a 2 or 3 iron brings the small oak on the right side of the fairway into play, forcing me to work my approach shot into the green and take a longer club as I will have to hit a big fade.

While you may not always be able to take a 4 iron off the tee on a par 5, there are many instances where something other than the driver is not only the smarter, safer play, but will even increase your chances of making birdie or eagle and at a minimum, keep you from making a big number.

Play Smart.


Checkpoints for Practice

  • Hole 15 at Windermere Country Club is par 5, so many golfers go straight for the driver
  • In fact, the smart play is an iron and a cut to work the contour of the fairway
  • This places the ball in an ideal position for the second shot, directly opposite the green for a chance at an eagle
  • This is not the obvious way to play this hole, but approaching it less aggressively leads to a much more reliable shot
  • Take a second look at the layout of holes you play frequently - there may be a smarter way to play them to bring your average down

Video Transcription: How to Play Par 5's

15th hole, Windermere Country Club15th hole, Windermere Country Club

Welcome to the 15th hole at Windermere Country Club. It's a very interesting par 5. I do a lot of playing lessons out here, and it never fails. When we get to this par 5, everyone pulls out their driver.

As you can see as you look down, the view from the tee is a pretty daunting view. All you see is weeds and scrub brush. You certainly don't see much fairway except just off to the left edge; if you look down the cart path there you can see just the very, very left edge of the fairway.

What's interesting about this hole is that being a par 5, your first instinct is to grab a driver, but the problem is that's not a smart shot on this hole, because if you look all the way down at the very, very end, it's only about 250-260 yards to the end of the fairway. For many of you, that golf strategy is going to bring trouble into play.

If I hit 3 wood, I take a chance on running through. If I hit driver I've got to work it left-to-right and there's water down at the end, so the smart strategy here is actually to take an iron off the tee, but the trick is picking the right iron.

Zoom in to fairwayThis zoomed-in view is all you can see of the fairway from the tee

How to Play a Tricky Par 5

Normally, what I will typically do on this hole is actually take a 4 iron off this tee, which sounds pretty crazy for a par 5 for a lot of golfers, but as you'll see in a minute it's a very, very good strategy on this hole. Here's how I'm going to play this par 5.

Take my 4 iron, and I'm going to take it just over this OB pole, or just slightly left of it, and I will cut it just slightly, just enough to work the contour of the fairway which you'll see; as we look at the overhead view of this hole you'll see that the layout there's an opening over here that allows you a really good chance for an eagle on this par 5.

15th hole, Windermere Country ClubOverhead view

Let's hit this shot.

As you can see here, my ball has ended up in just the perfect spot. I've hit a slight cut off the tee, brought it back in, played the contours of the fairway, and now I've got about 220 yards to this par 5.

I certainly could have taken it farther out to the left off the tee, which is a shot that you can actually see off the tee and see it land on the fairway but the problem is, if I went that far over it would add another 20, 30, even 40 yards to my approach shot to this green, requiring I have a 4 iron in my hand; over there I'd have a 3 wood in my hand to try and get to this easy par 5 in two.

By playing this hole smart and actually taking an iron off the tee - again, the reason I took an iron off the tee, you can see here that there's actually an oak tree to my left, and the one that you can't see, just offscreen, there's another one here to the right - this 4 iron puts me in that perfect distance that's directly between those two trees.

The ball landed in the perfect spotHitting a cut & bringing it back in put the ball in the perfect spot

By doing that I give myself a clear shot at the green every time, knowing that I'm much more accurate with a 4 iron than I am a 3 wood or driver off the tee, so I know I can put it about in the same spot. I see this in my head as a long par 3 on the first shot, and a long par 3 on the second shot.

Now what I've got is a wide-open view going right over the water, straight at the flag, and I've got a very reasonable shot to get this ball on the green and make an eagle. I could also go around the lake and lay up, but I'm going to be aggressive here. I'm going to take it right over the water with my 4 iron and see if I can't get home in two.

Be right, right...

Just on the front edge.

Well, at this point the hard work's done. I played smart off the tee. I didn't take a driver or do something overly aggressive with a 3 wood or even a 2 iron. I took a 4 iron off the tee; it left me 220 and I took a 4 iron. It wasn't quite enough club to get here. I'm just a little bit short of the green, but I left myself an easy chip.

Again, I didn't do anything stupid on the way back in, on my approach shot. Even though I came up short I've got a very easy chip here. It's a very makeable chip and should be very easy for me to get up and down.

Just short of the greenJust short of the green

Either way, I took the big numbers out of the equation by not trying to be overly aggressive and taking a driver and bringing the water and the lateral hazards and the trees into play. By playing it smart and taking a 4 iron off the tee, to me it's the absolute correct way to play that hole.

To give yourself the best chance of making an eagle on this hole - and I quite frequently do make eagle here - whereas guys that I play with on a daily basis, a lot of professionals that come out and they'll take driver or 3 wood and they'll bomb it over and try to get it over where they'll have a 7 iron onto the green and a lot of times they do, but there's a lot of times they make double bogie too.

I never make double bogie here. I end up in the same spot every time off the tee, and I end up in the same spot every time. Normally I make it to the green, but either way I make eagle more often than they do, and definitely make no worse than par, by just playing smart. That's how to play a par 5.

Put the driver in the bag sometimes. Even though it's 525 yards, there's ways to work around it. You don't just have to bomb it 300 yards to score well these days. You have to hit solid shots, and you have to hit smart shots.

Now I've given myself an easy shot at an eagle. Let's see if we can make this.

I didn't make an eagle, but I did give myself an easy tap-in birdie, so I made four on this hole. It should be a birdie hole every single time you play. There should be more question of par, bogie or double bogie unless you make a really big mistake.

I'll just walk up here, finish this tap in, and call it a day.

Tee shown in yellowThe tee is shown in yellow

All right, now we're going to take a look at how to play the par 5 15th at Windermere Country Club from overhead. Obviously, when you're down on the tee and you've got these huge scrub oaks and all kinds of brush in here, it's tough to get an idea of what this hole really looks like but from up above, you can get a pretty good picture of what's really going on here.

The tee is back in this tiny little corner here, and the angle that you have is going right over this brush here, this lateral hazard. The last tree that you could see in the video when we were looking down the fairway is right here, so when you're going on this line to here, it's about 265 yards to this tree. The fairway runs out, obviously, about 15 yards short of that.

For me, if I hit a straight shot here, my 3 wood goes about 260 and if I hit it normal it's going to be in this brush, so 3 wood is a really risky play for me here. I could take a 3 wood and cut it, and put it down into this throat, but you can see the landing area here is pretty tight.

If I take a driver, I'm begging for disaster. You can see this part of the fairway, the landing area is generous, this part of the fairway the landing area is dangerous, so the last thing I want to do on a short, easy par 5 that you're looking at an eagle on is dump my ball in the water or lost ball, even worse, or throw it into this hazard and be looking at a double bogie.

For me, the shot that I think is hands down the smartest play is to take it right along this line. Let me draw. This is the tee area; I take it right in here, I hit just a slight little cut, and this is right about where I end up. This is about 220 yards off the tee.

First shot & oakFirst shot & oak

This picture is really, really old, so you can't see these oak trees that are sitting here, but this one right here is perfectly situated just to aggravate you, and it does a very good job at it. If I take a longer club and try to make this approach shot a little bit less over the water, or a little bit shorter, without fail I find myself somehow or another having to work the ball around this stupid little tree.

If I take a 2 iron I'm right behind it, if I take a 3 wood and try to cut it and I don't cut it, I bring this play, so the smart play is just to play short here.

When I do that, if I hit just a little 4 iron I'm never going to hit a 4 iron all the way to this tree. It's about 235, so never even on my best day would I hit a 4 iron there. If I land just in between these trees, I've got a completely wide open, clear shot right over the water to the green. It gives me a great angle to this hole.

There's just no sense, there's nothing to gain, by taking a different club over here. If I were to take another club - say for instance I'm feeling aggressive and I decide to take a driver - the line for that driver would have to be...this is about where it would end up for me.

If I hit this cut in here, this is insanely dangerous. I'm going to be possibly looking at a lateral hazard. If it hits the cart path it's toast, there's OB down here at the end if I hit the path. There's just nothing that can go right here.

Driver line (yellow)A driver shot would follow the yellow line

I can land it in this little slot, and I used to play it like this a lot. I used to start a draw over here - now this brush is too tall - and try to hook it in here, but then every once in a while you don't catch it right and you dump it in the water or you catch it really, really well and you hit it all the way into here. It just doesn't make sense to hit driver here.

The 3 wood is the next closest play. It's close, but then I still bring all this hazard into play, and the 2 iron brings this stupid little oak tree into play, so the smart play is just to look at the hole from a different perspective.

When you lay up to this spot, I took 220 off the tee, another 220 from here, and it's a straight shot - and this is the brilliant thing about it - the throat of the green is right there.

Actually, what I happened to do when I played the hole to demonstrate on this video, I actually did come up short and because I was going straight at the hole, I ended up right in this little grassy area, which left me with an absolutely no brainer chip. It left me with an easy birdie tap-in.

From this angle over here, it brings the bunker into play if the pin is short or the long bunkers here. It's just the all-around smart play here.

Nobody ever does it on the first try, and I sure as heck didn't do it on the first try. It took me probably playing this hole 30 times before I realized, "Gosh. This is such a short, easy hole. Why don't I make more eagles here, and a heck of a lot more birdies than dumping it in the bunker and having to go around and doing all these sorts of things?"

Second shotSecond shot

The interesting thing about it is our course is on the rotation for the Moonlight Tour, one of the mini pro tours down here, so I get to play this with a lot of different professionals in tournament situations, and I've never, ever once seen anybody pull an iron off this tee.

I always see 3 woods. They're trying to thread it down here, drivers trying to thread it down in here, taking these very, very aggressive lines. It's interesting, because you can see the mentality of possibly why they're still on the mini tours. It's just trying to pound driver into everything and a 7 iron into every hole because the 4 iron that I have in there just is not acceptable to them.

At the end of the day, 9 times out of 10 I'll probably outscore most people on this hole simply because I just play it smart. It's not that I'm the greatest ball striker by any stretch of the imagination, but I play it smart, and if you play the averages, eventually I'm going to win.

When you're on your home course, you've got to start looking at shots like this where you start seeing things that something just doesn't add up. It seems like an easy hole, and for some reason you're making bogie on it, or double bogie or worse, or you think you should be making par or birdie and you start making pars and bogies and you start to wonder why that is.

Start looking at the layout of the hole and start trying to figure out another way to play that hole. You don't have to just bomb it down here and then try and nuke it over the water from 240, if you lay it back here. This is the only area you can see the landing area off the tee.

Think about playing holes differently. Think about playing holes smart, and see if your scoring average doesn't come down.

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