It’s hard enough to hit one fairway, right? So what do you do when faced with two?

What is a Split Fairway, and How Do You Play It

The “split fairway,” also called a “double” or “alternate” fairway, has been around for ages. Modern golf course architects are particularly fond of the concept, which makes the golfer weigh a number of factors in deciding which route to take.

A split fairway appears as a pair of fairways, one left and one right, divided by a hazard (i.e., a creek, a series of bunkers) or a strip of rough. The fairway that appears more difficult to hit from the tee is often the one which provides a preferable approach to the green.

In other words, you face a trade-off on the tee: Go for the easier fairway and take your chances with a tougher approach, or try the harder drive in exchange for a simpler second shot?

There may be several differences between the two fairways. One is likely wider, or less tightly guarded by hazards. The tougher fairway to reach probably serves up a shorter second shot and a better angle to the green, whereas an approach from the more open fairway might require clearing a bunker or water. Sometimes, one fairway is higher than the other and offers a better view of the next target.

Much like a center-line bunker, a split fairway forces the golfer to make a choice, then execute with confidence. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Where does the biggest risk lie, and is the reward worth it? When picking a fairway, take stock of the entire hole, not just the tee shot. Let’s say hitting the right-side fairway demands a long carry across a lake and leaves you with a short, hazard-free pitch to the green. If you play left off the tee, you take the water out of play and leave yourself a slightly longer approach that must fly over a bunker. Therefore, the toughest and most potentially penal of all possible shots is a drive toward the right fairway, and the reward isn’t that much better than you’ll get from playing safely. The smart choice: left fairway.
  • Which is the easiest fairway for you to hit? One fairway may look more forbidding than the other, but your favored shot shape may actually make it easier to hit. If playing up the wider right side demands a draw you don’t possess, the narrower left option may be a better bet if you can rely on your natural fade.
  • Can you pull off the tougher drive? If there’s a forced carry required to reach the preferred fairway, can you clear the trouble with room to spare – say, 15-20 yards? If the preferred fairway is tighter, do you stand a decent chance of hitting it? Assess your accuracy on previous holes; if you’re below 50% for the day, take the wider path and give yourself a fighting chance. Are you drilling everything straight down the middle? Have a crack at the riskier side.

Architects create split fairways to encourage strategic thinking and plant doubt in the golfer’s mind. Be thorough in your thought process and confident in your decision, then take advantage of what the hole gives you.