All of the courses on display at the Open Championship are classic links, tough in the wind, honest in their shot demands. Still, there are a handful of golf holes from this esteemed group that are just plain odd or unusual. Here are the nine quirkiest holes on the Open Championship Rota.
1. St. Andrews (Old Course), No. 17, 495 yards, par 4
Perhaps the freakiest hole on the Open rota, the Road Hole calls for a blind drive over a corner of the Old Course Hotel, followed by an approach to a narrow green set on a diagonal. Guarding the left-front is the frighteningly deep, stacked sod Road Bunker. On a shot struck slightly long and right, a pebbled road—or a stone wall—will likely come into play. As five-time Open champion Peter Thomson once remarked of the 17th, “As a planner and builder of golf holes worldwide, I have no hesitation in allowing that if one built such a hole today, you would be sued for incompetence.”
2. Royal Liverpool, No. 1, 429 yards, par 4
“The opening tee shot at Hoylake is the most terrifying I’ve seen in my life,” said BBC-TV’s (and former Ryder Cupper) Peter Alliss. Fortunately or unfortunately, this shot doesn’t occur until the third hole in Hoylake’s (as Royal Liverpool is known) renumbered Open configuration. The drive is played into the wind and the hole jackknifes to the right, around two sides of the practice grounds, with internal OB flush to the right side and a swale to the left. Scary, indeed.
3. Carnoustie, No. 17, 461 yards, par 4
Called “Island” for the sanctuary of fairway where most drives must land, the 17th features a watery loop of the Barry Burn that sinuously twists like a Formula 1 racetrack, first cutting in front of the tee, then darting across the fairway from left to right. From 240 to 290 yards off the tee, the fairway progressively narrows. making the layup tee shot a sensible play, but leaving a monstrously long second. It’s awkward downwind, brutal into the wind.
4. Royal St. George’s, No. 4, 496 yards, par 4
A par 5 until 2011, the 4th asks for a blind drive that flirts with the most terrifying bunker on the Open rota, a gigantic, gaping, 40-foot-tall mountain of sand that obscures the right-center portion of the crescent-shaped fairway. Once negotiated, the approach must ascend a five-foot-high false front to a severely sloping green atop a plateau.
5. Royal Portrush, No. 14, 210 yards, par 3
Called “Calamity Corner,” for good reason, the aptly named 14th inevitably ushers in winds whipping off the Irish Sea, but the slightest pushed shot will plummet into a yawning, 75-foot chasm short and right of the hole. A “safe” play to the left is no haven, as the terrain is dotted with heathery hillocks.
6. Royal Lytham & St. Annes, No. 8, 417 yards, par 4
On a layout peppered with more than 200 bunkers and a slew of hard, similar-looking holes, the 8th stands out as unusual, as well as superb. From a highly elevated tee, the drive is complicated by a cavernous bunker left, and by trees and an active railway line to the right. Three cross bunkers are etched into an abrupt rise, 50 yards from the green. For those who miss the putting surface, two wicked pot bunkers, thorny gorse and a rough-choked slope await.
7. Royal Troon, No. 11, 482 yards, par 4
As a par 5, as it was until the 1997 Open, this was a rugged but fair hole. As a par 4, it’s a horror story. Named “The Railway” for the commuter line that hugs the right side of the hole, the 11th demands a tee shot to a hidden fairway that avoids the OB/train tracks on the right, and thick gorse bushes on the left. The approach contends with the stone wall that runs the length of the hole. Fade your ball at any time and you could make a 10, as Jack Nicklaus did here in 1962.
8. Muirfield, No. 9, 554 yards, par 5
Host to 16 Open Championships, Muirfield will undoubtedly witness a few more, once the younger members have a greater say about admission policies. In the meantime, we recognize the funkiest—and perhaps greatest—hole on a course with little quirk. A long, low gray stone wall forms the out-of-bounds feature to the left, while a bunker cluster well short-right of the green further dictates play.
9. Royal Birkdale, No. 5, 346 yards, par 4
While hardly the most distinguished hole on a course known as the fairest on the Open rota, the 5th is definitely the quirkiest, thanks to a risk/reward drive over the only pond in play on the entire rotation of championship courses. While prudence usually results in a layup off the tee on this dogleg right, the better to approach a long, back-to-front sloping green guarded by seven bunkers, a risky drive over the water can pay off with an eagle putt.