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Photo by Chris O'Riley

I love a good par 5 like this one, the new seventh at Royal Portrush's Dunluce Links. You'll see the pros attacking this 590-yard gem during the 148th Open Championship, but it's also a great example of the typical par-5 challenges amateurs like you deal with no matter where you play. It's long. It's risk/reward. It has menacing bunkers. And it has a green where the location of the pin can really shrink your landing area. There are lessons to be learned in playing this hole, ones you can use when you play any par 5, and I'd like to share them. Let's walk down the fairway together, although we'll do it backward, from green to tee. You'll have a better understanding of how to successfully navigate a par 5 if you start planning your strategy based on what you see around the green.


The hole's location and the green's severity should determine if you try to get on in two shots or three. A back pin on a flat green is usually a green light to be aggressive, whereas a tucked pin on a tabletop green beckons for a shorter, higher approach.

No matter which strategy you choose, the flagstick also indicates what side of the fairway—or rough—to hit a third shot from. Find the leave with the best angle to attack the pin while being mindful of greenside bunkers and penalty areas.


You'll likely have more birdie opportunities if you lay up with your second shot. But where do you play your third from? In addition to positioning a lay-up for the best approach to attack the pin, consider the distance that allows you to play your favorite club or shot.

Many of you struggle with half-wedges, so laying up to a full-swing distance keeps you in your comfort zone. Also, note the terrain. You never want to leave yourself with an awkward lie, even if you like the yardage.


You took on that monster fairway bunker and piped your drive. Now trying to reach the green in two is doable. But if you're still deciding whether you should, let me ask you a question: Why did you take on that fairway bunker if you didn't intend on going for it?

Never follow a successful aggressive play with a conservative one. If you hit it in the rough, that's a different story. But in this case, take a rip at it, only noting the best place to leave the ball should you miss.


The smart golfer puts ear muffs on and doesn't listen to playing partners when teeing it on a par 5. Let them hit driver into the rough. Instead, you should look for the fattest, safest spot in the fairway, and use whatever club gets you there.

The worst thing you can do on a par 5 is ruin your chance at a birdie with a bad tee shot. If you're a little wild with the driver, or a penalty area/bunker is too big or far to carry without your best effort, stash your ego and go with a more reliable club.


No matter how familiar you are with the hole, don't just mindlessly tee it and swing. Consider everything from the weather to the pin position to how you're feeling. Then plan like you're playing chess—a few moves ahead—so you have the best chance at a birdie try.

The only constant should be to tee the ball on the side of the teeing area that allows you to play away from trouble. On this hole, I'd tee it on the same side as that giant fairway bunker and try to go left of it.


Knowing how to hit all the shots in golf is important, but if you want to shoot lower scores, you have to understand how to successfully navigate a golf course, too. I can help you do that in my new program “Strategic Golf” in the Golf Digest Schools video library. You'll learn how to play par 5s, 4s and 3s in the most sensible way based on your ability. To improve your playing IQ, go to GOLFDIGEST.COM/ALLACCESS.