All PGA events are governed by the standard Rules of Golf, as published by the United States Golf Association. While rules don't specify precisely where a hole must be placed, the USGA does offer guidance in its Handicap Manual. By the strict letter of the law, therefore, a hole may be placed anywhere on the green. But tournament and golf course officials who must decide where to place the holes can look to Rule 15-3 of the Manual for the USGA's in-depth recommendations regarding pin placement.
Pin Placement Defined
Hole location may be physically moved around the green quite easily using a hole-cutting tool. The tool extracts a cylindrical chunk of grass and dirt from the green. The cylinder is placed into the former hole’s location, and the cup that lined the old hole is positioned in the new spot. During PGA tournaments, hole locations are typically changed each round. This is commonly termed each day’s “pin placement.” The USGA, however, disapproves of this term, listing “pin” as one of the top 10 misused golf terms, according to a 2009 article on the USGA website. The organization prefers “hole location” to “pin placement.”
Factors Affecting Hole Location
According to Rule 15-3, the most important factor when deciding where to place a hole is “good judgment in deciding what will give fair results.” The USGA also admonishes tournament officials not to be "tricky" when choosing hole locations. Toward those objectives, Rule 15-3 advises officials to examine the green’s design and to consider the type of approach shot required. Officials should consider the length of the likely approach shot and should allow sufficient putting distance around the hole. For example, the hole will typically be placed farther from the edge of the green when the expected approach shot requires a long iron rather than a more lofted club, according to PGA official Mickey Bradley. Weather conditions also are factored in. For example, greens will hold an approach better when they’re wet.
More specifically, Rule 15-3(ii) recommends that holes should be placed "at least four paces from any edge of the putting green," and even farther if there's a sand trap near the edge or if the area surrounding the green's edge slopes downward.
Physical Qualities of the Green
The USGA suggests that at least a 2-foot radius surrounding the hole “should be as nearly level as possible and of uniform grade.” The hole shouldn’t be placed on a steep slope on which a missed putt from above the hole will roll a long distance past the cup. “A player above the hole should be able to stop the ball at the hole,” according to Rule 15-3(iii). Additionally, the hole shouldn’t be located on a former hole’s spot until the old location has healed completely.
Rule 15-3(vi) recommends that officials use a balanced selection of hole locations "for the entire course with respect to left, right, central, front and back positions." For example, when setting the hole locations for the back nine during the 2007 Nissan Open, tournament official John Mutch set four on the left side of the green, four on the right and one in the center. Officials also change some hole locations between rounds to force golfers to hit a different shot into the green.
“We try not to have the players hit the same shot or even use the same club,” said tournament official Robby Ware, discussing hole locations for the 2009 Players Championship.
The USGA also advises tournament officials to maintain a consistent degree of difficulty throughout the event. Rule 15-3(vii) rejects the idea of making a course progressively more difficult each day, calling such a plan "fallacious."