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.


A split fairway is a design feature found on some golf holes where the fairway splits into two or more separate landing areas. Golfers have the option to choose which side of the fairway to play from, each offering different advantages and challenges. Knowing how to play a split fairway strategically can lead to better positioning for the subsequent shot and potentially a more favorable approach to the green. Here's how to approach a split fairway:

  1. Evaluate the Layout: Before teeing off, carefully study the hole's layout and identify the split fairway options. Look for any hazards or bunkers that might come into play on either side of the fairway. Consider the distance to the landing areas and how it aligns with your preferred shot shape.
  2. Assess Your Game: Assess your own strengths and weaknesses as a golfer. If you consistently hit a fade or slice, you might prefer the side of the fairway that caters to that shot shape. On the other hand, if you have a reliable draw, you may want to play to the opposite side.
  3. Choose the Right Club: Depending on the distance to each landing area, select the appropriate club that gives you the best chance of reaching your preferred side of the fairway. Distance and accuracy are essential factors to consider.
  4. Factor in Wind and Conditions: Take into account any prevailing wind direction and speed. The wind can influence the trajectory and carry of your tee shot, so aim accordingly.
  5. Play to Your Comfort Zone: If you have a more comfortable approach shot from one side of the fairway, choose that option even if it means sacrificing a bit of distance off the tee. A well-placed tee shot can set you up for a more straightforward approach to the green.
  6. Consider the Pin Placement: Take note of the pin placement on the green. If the pin is tucked to one side, it may be advantageous to favor that side of the fairway, as it allows for a better angle into the green.
  7. Avoid Trouble: Be mindful of any hazards or trouble areas near the landing areas. If one side presents a higher risk of getting into trouble, it might be best to play to the safer side.
  8. Stay Confident: Once you've made your decision, commit to your chosen side and execute your shot confidently. Second-guessing your choice mid-swing can lead to a less-than-desirable result.

Remember that split fairways add a strategic element to the game and offer an opportunity for players to showcase their decision-making skills. It's essential to adapt your approach based on the specific layout and conditions of each hole. By understanding the advantages and challenges of each side of the fairway and playing to your strengths, you can position yourself for a successful round of golf.