Weigh Risk-Reward to Handle Dogleg Holes 1

A dogleg is a par-4 or par-5 hole that curves left or right (and occasionally both) from tee to green. Designers build doglegs to introduce strategic elements that most straight holes lack. Understanding and identifying these strategic elements is the key to success on holes that dogleg.

Typically, trouble lurks on the inside curve of a dogleg in the form of rough, trees, water, sand or a combination thereof. Since this is also the shortest and most favorable line to the green, there's risk involved in driving down this inside path.

On the other hand, the outside of a dogleg usually offers more room and less risk. But the golfer choosing the safe route will face a long second shot to the green.

Handling doglegs involves weighing the hole's risk-reward ratio and knowing your own tendencies (slice or draw, for instance), then choosing the route that gives you the best chance of success based on these factors.

Weigh Risk-Reward to Handle Dogleg Holes 2

A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • In general, golfers fare best on doglegs that mirror their natural shot shape. So left-to-right doglegs favor left-to-right drivers, and vice versa.
  • Unless you can intentionally hit shots in either direction, it's best to stick with your normal shape at all times rather than forcing a shot you're unlikely to pull off.

How and Why Weigh Risk Reward to Handle Dogleg Holes

How and Why Weigh Risk Reward to Handle Dogleg Holes

You will never play two golf courses which are exactly alike. This is one of the main selling points of this great game – the endless variety you will find on the course. Sure, you can group courses into categories like 'links' and 'parkland' courses, but there is tremendous variety within those groups. Golf is one of the few games in the world where the playing field is constantly changing, and that is something that keeps players coming back round after round.

One of the ways golf course designers are able to make their layouts interesting is through the use of dogleg holes. A 'dogleg' is simply a bend in the fairway, either to the right or to the left. Both par four and par five holes can have doglegs, and some par fives will even feature a double-dogleg design. Needless to say, a dogleg will add a level of challenge that would not be present is the fairway simply ran straight from tee to green. Well-designed courses will have a combination of straight and dogleg holes to provide the player with plenty of challenges throughout the day.

In this article, we are going to provide advice on how you can tackle the challenge of a dogleg hole. Some dogleg holes are more difficult than others, of course, but there are some basic strategies that can be used in most cases. In addition to laying out these strategies, we will also discuss how you can weigh risk and reward when trying to decide how to proceed. Most amateur golfers could benefit from thinking more strategically on the course, and there is certainly plenty of strategy to consider when facing a dogleg hole.

A common mistake made by amateur golfers is thinking that they are not good enough to be concerned with strategy. Many golfers think that they only need to deal with course management concerns once they have 'mastered' their swing. That is simply not the case. You are never going to master the swing, as that is something that no one can accomplish. This is a hard game, and you are always going to hit bad shots along the way. By focusing on course management regardless of your skill level, you can take a big step forward with your game. Whether it has to do with doglegs or any other type of situation you may face on the golf course, making smart decisions is a critical piece of the puzzle.

All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

The Challenges

The Challenges

So, what is it that makes a dogleg hole so difficult? On the surface, this might not be clear. After all, you aren't trying to hit the green with your tee shot, so what is the big deal? Can't you just hit your tee shot straight to the fairway, then aim your approach in the direction of the green? Well, yes, that is how it can work in theory. In practice, however, things are a bit more difficult. If you are going to play dogleg holes well, you need to understand the inherent challenges that they present.

The list below highlights some of the key challenges that come along with a dogleg par four or five.

  • Potentially narrow landing area. Depending on the size of the fairway, and the severity of the dogleg, you might find yourself with a rather narrow landing area on a dogleg hole. Picture a par four that has a fairway which starts to turn hard to the right at 220 yards from the tee. Assuming you can hit your driver more than 220 yards, you are going to have a narrow slice of fairway to use before you run out of short grass on the other side. This can be made even worse if the fairway happens to slope in the opposite direction of the dogleg. Course designers are often able to 'trick' golfers by using doglegs to effectively narrow what would otherwise be a rather large landing area.
  • Finding an angle to the green. The goal of any tee shot on a par four or par five hole is to create a good angle for the second shot. Golf is a sequential game, meaning each shot builds upon the last. If you can position your ball properly off the tee, you will make life much easier when it comes time to hit your second shot. Unfortunately, playing a dogleg hole can make this task more difficult. It might be hard to tell from the tee what kind of angle you want for your second shot – especially if you haven't played the course before – and you will need to be precise with your distance off the tee to find the right position. When playing a tee shot on a straight hole, you will worry about the line you take off the tee in terms of creating your second shot angle. On a dogleg hole, however, you need to worry about both distance and direction as they relate to the angle for your next shot. This is simply a more complicated situation, and it will require more thorough planning on your part.
  • Carrying the corner. If you are going to be aggressive with your tee shot on a dogleg hole, you need to be sure you can carry whatever might be waiting inside the corner of the dogleg. Sometimes, this will be something mild, like some short rough. In other cases, however, it will be a serious problem, like a deep fairway bunker or a water hazard. The danger that is waiting inside the dogleg will go a long way toward determining your strategy on the hole. We will deal more with the topic of risk and reward later in the article.
  • Trees make things complicated. A dogleg hole on a course with no trees is a mild challenge, but a dogleg on a course which is lined with large trees is a major hurdle to overcome. Since the trees will effectively take away options for your approach shot into the green, you have to position your tee shot perfectly to even have a look at a clean approach. Getting either the distance or direction wrong off the tee in this situation may mean you have to lay up with your second shot. Tree-lined golf courses can be beautiful, but they are often difficult as well, in large part because of the challenge you will find around the doglegs.

Make no mistake – doglegs can make a golf course more difficult. With that said, you don't have to resign to posting high scores on courses which feature a number of doglegs. It is certainly possible to play well on these kinds of courses, as doglegs will provide you with some advantages as well. The rest of this article is devoted to helping you play as well as possible while dealing with doglegs.

Understanding Risk and Reward

Understanding Risk and Reward

Every tee shot you hit on a dogleg hole is a chance to weigh risk versus reward. How much of the dogleg are you going to take on? Are you going to play safe down the wide side, or are you going to force the ball up closer to the green? Making the right choice can mean the difference between having a putt for birdie and hoping to save a bogey.

The issue of risk vs. reward is contained in every single decision you make on the golf course, whether you know it or not. There is obviously risk and reward involved when deciding whether or not to go over a water hazard, but not all examples of that obvious. For instance, think about a downhill five-foot putt for birdie. If you decide to be aggressive with the putt, you will increase your chances of a make – but you will also increase the chances that the ball will race past the hole, leaving you a long par putt. There is risk and reward to be found here, and you have to decide how aggressive your first putt is going to be. Is the risk of a three putt worth the chance to knock in a birdie? That's up to you.

Getting back to the topic of doglegs, there are some specific points you can use to help make the decision on how aggressive you should be. Those points are as follows –

  • The danger inside the dogleg. We mentioned this point in the previous section, but it bears repeating. What kind of danger is waiting if you miss to the inside of the dogleg with your tee shot? Is there a hazard which is going to cost you a stroke, or will you be able to play your next shot up toward the green anyway? Obviously, if there isn't much to worry about here, you can feel free to be more aggressive with your tee shot. Don't make the mistake of always trying to cut the corner on a dogleg, even where there is a serious hazard in your way. The reward of getting over the corner is often not worth the risk of forcing yourself to hit a challenging tee shot.
  • What kind of reward is waiting? Speaking of rewards, you need to think about what you will gain if you do decide to carry the ball over the corner of the dogleg. You will likely set up a shorter approach shot, but how much shorter? Is that difference in distance going to help you enough to warrant taking on the risk? Maybe, maybe not. Don't assume that moving your ball up closer to the green is automatically going to be a good thing. Carefully think about what your approach shot would look like after being aggressive, and what you would be faced with if you play it safe from the tee. Only when you stand to gain a significant advantage should you be willing to deal with the risks involved.
  • Your level of confidence. How do you feel about the shot at hand? Are you feeling like you can succeed with an aggressive tee shot, or do you feel like you will be setting yourself up for failure? There is a lot to be said for trusting your instincts on the course. You need to look at each situation from a practical perspective, of course, but you also need to allow for some input from your 'gut' feeling. You don't want to attempt shots which make you unnecessarily nervous, as confidence is a big part of success in golf. Trust your instincts and only hit shots you truly believe will succeed.

Learning how to balance risk and reward as effectively as possible is one of the greatest skills you can develop as a golfer. When it comes to doglegs, you need to make smart choices on when you should try to cut the corner, and when you should play it safe to the wide side of the fairway. Take a moment on the tee to think critically about the shot at hand and you should make the right call more often than not.