Course Management Basics – Part 3

Golf Course Geometry

Have you ever wondered what the announcers on TV were talking about when they discussed players taking “good lines” off the tee or having “good angles” into the green?  If so, you’re in luck.  Today I’m going to explain what that means and how you can use this concept to shoot lower scores immediately.

This Series Is For You If:

You want to shoot lower scores with the swing you have

Understanding Angles

Take a look at the picture above.  If you could play your approach along the red line or the white line, which would you choose?

Hopefully we can agree that the white line is more desirable.  There are a few reasons why.  First, the white line stays further from the hazards.  The red line could put you in a hazard by being a little short and left or by going long.  On the white line, being short leaves a simple chip and you’d have to be very long to go over the green.  Also, the white line gives you the entire length of the green to play with and provides maximum margin left and right.  On the red line, there’s little room to miss right and far less room long or short.

Before I move on, I’ll acknowledge that this example, and the one that follows, assume a relatively straight ball flight and normal dispersion.  If you play a cut or draw exclusively, or you are much more prone to missing big on one side, you will need to make adjustments.

In this second example, the answer may be less obvious.  There are no bunkers to avoid, but the white line is still option A.  The first benefit is that you get to approach the green more “square-ly.”  On the red line, the green is more diamond shaped.  While there may be slightly more length to play with along the red line, there’s less margin for error left and right.

The other benefit of the white line has to do with the shape of the green.  You can see that the green slopes dramatically at the back right and the front left.  Along the red line, both areas are in play and the flat landing area is very small.  Along the white line, you would only find those run offs with a shot that was short-left or long-right.  Those combinations are less likely because pulls and draws go farther than pushes and cuts.


Setting up good approach angles happens from the tee, so putting this into practice requires some knowledge of the hole.  Thankfully, between Google Earth, golf GPS systems, rangefinders, scorecards, and, of course, your eyes, you have plenty of resources for figuring this out.

Ultimately what you’re looking for are lines of play that give you maximum room for error.  If you can be safe whether you’re short or long, and there’s some room to miss a little right or left, you’ve found a good line.  Beyond that, think about the shape and tilt of the green to give yourself the best chance to be near the hole or have good recovery opportunities.

Matt Saternus


  1. Great points here. Direct and to the point and very helpful when applied.

  2. Nigel Smith

    I’m not sure I agree with the second analysis in this article. I don’t think it’s as black and white (or red and white, as the case may be) as you set out. I understand what you’re saying about the approach, with the run-offs, and the shape of the green going in, but I would say that, in this case, I would actually rather take the red line (or maybe something closer to the middle) in this example for two reasons:

    1) I would say most people would have more difficulty with approaches going left or right than they would have them going long and short, by virtue of having a relatively good idea of how far each club goes (I have no evidence to support this, so I may be off). In going by the red line, I would think that you are able to use the entire width of the green (due to the “diamond shape), or at least more width, which I think would be just as valuable for an approach shot, even if it’s long enough that the ball may not land softly since, if you’re that far out, the chances of losing it left or right only increase. Also, from the photo, it looks like from the red line, I would be hitting at a green that angles slightly short-right and long-left. As a right-handed golfer, this would be ideal – if I over-cook it, I’m going long and left, and if I cut it too much, I’m going short right. I understand that there may be run-offs, but I think in terms of just getting it on the green, this isn’t a terrible scenario.

    2) The landing area on the drive, I would argue, is worse on the white line. With the red line, you may have a longer approach, but you’re basically aiming at the center-left of the fairway, with no psychological hazards. I don’t understand what you mean when you say “less margin for error left and right” with the white line. There’s as much danger right on the white line as there is left on the red line, only with the white line, you have a bunker in play if you hit a strong head-wind, or if you mishit the drive at all . If I’m right, I’m in the long stuff, if i’m short, I’m in a bunker. To me, that’s a recipe for disaster, as I know those factors would get into my head.

    Ultimately, I’m not a golf pro or a course architect, I’m just a weekend hacker. I just thought I’d throw my opinion into the mix for the sake of discussion. Love the your reviews and love this series – keep up the good work!

    • I agree with you Nigel. My #1 priority is to hit FW from the tee box. So I’m taking the red line all day. The only mistake I could make with red is missing left = rough. The white line, I’m in trouble… real long (not likely a problem), left in the sand, right into the rough or in the rough.
      I also agree that most amateur’s misses are short, or wide. So a diamond shape green is favourable.

      But I will give recognition to this article. I wholeheartedly agree with course mgmt. I rely heavily on Google Earth/Maps, and even design my own paper yardage books. I have a mental picture of what I want to do, before I’m faced with a shot. (i.e. do I layup in front of water, resulting in a longer approach, or do I risk hitting it longer, into a skinnier portion of the fairway, get wet, and watch my score swell?)

      • Nigel Smith

        Oh absolutely, Ernest. I was just throwing out some food for thought. I think these articles are great – too many sites just focus on how the newest technologies will give you that extra 10 yards or keep you in the fairway, and don’t spend any time discussing the sides of the game that will actually make the real difference.

        I’m looking forward to the next installments of these articles. A lot of it is really common sense stuff, but things that you may not think about in the moment. Having the simple rules to remember (e.g. the 80% rule) will definitely save some strokes in the long run.

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