Every course has a somewhat easy hole, right? The one you can count on for a par, or maybe even the occasional birdie, to break up a ride on the bogey train (or worse). Not on this course. Josh Sens introduces 18 of the hardest holes in golf. Be glad you don’t have to play them all at once.
1. 18th at Doral -- Par 4, 467 yards -- Miami, Fla.
On a course called “The Blue Monster,” you expect a lot of teeth. The sharpest of its fangs is this long par-four, which plays to a 4.65 stroke average on the PGA Tour. Why so much bite? The hole demands power and precision off the tee, to a fairway pinched by tangled rough and water, followed by an approach to a water-guarded green.
2 of 18David Alexander / Getty Images
2. 5th at Pinehurst No. 2 -- Par 4, 475 yards -- Pinehurst, N.C.
In Donald Ross’s original 1907 design, this sweeping dogleg played as a par 5. No wonder. A perfect drive leaves you in the fairway with the ball above your feet (if you’re a righthander). From that hook-promoting lie, you’re asked to flight a mid-to-long iron to a green with a false front and brutal bunker on the left.
3 of 18Mike Ehrmann / SI
3. 16th at Cypress Point -- Par 3, 235 yards -- Pebble Beach, Calif.
One of the most picturesque holes in golf is also one of the most punishing, requiring a hefty carry over the Pacific to a green fronted and flanked by bluffs. The safest option is a layup to a ribbon of fairway on the left. The penalty is the grief you’ll get from buddies when you tell them that you played the famous hole the wimpy way.
4 of 18Gary Libson
4. 6th at Royal Melbourne West -- Par 4, 428 yards -- Victoria, Australia
This sharp dogleg right features several signature Alister Mackenzie stylings, including a constellation of furry-browed bunkers, set 220 to 240 yards from the tee. Carry them, and the approach gets easier. But bail even slightly left, and you’ve got a hanging lie to a green that spills precipitously from front to back.
5 of 18Kohjiro Kinno / SI
5. 8th at Pebble Beach -- Par 4, 427 yards -- Pebble Beach, Calif.
The tee shot is blind, but when you clamber up the fairway, the true test is plain to see: a dramatic approach over a craggy ocean inlet to a green that looks no larger than a pinhead. In fact, it’s bigger, but not by much.
6 of 18David Alexander / Getty Images
6. 17th at the Old Course at St. Andrews -- Par 4, 495 yards -- St. Andrews, Scotland
At the 1978 British Open, Tommy Nakajima took five shots to escape it. In 2000, David Duval took four. But no one has kept tabs on the number of victims claimed by the infamous Road Hole Bunker, the most feared of the hazards on a hole that also features a slender fairway filled with humps and hillocks, ideally reached by taking your drive over a portion of the Old Course Hotel.
7 of 18
7. 18th at Whistling Straits -- Par 4, 500 yards -- Kohler, Wisc.
Nicknamed Dye-abolical (after designer Pete Dye) it’s best known today as the hole that did in Dustin Johnson at the 2010 PGA Championship. But this beastly par 4 has undone many others. Among them, Justin Leonard, who, needing a par to win the 2004 PGA, carried the long gorge on his tee shot, then sailed over another that guards the green, only to land in a grassy hollow, just steps from the putting surface, with little hope of getting up and down. He didn’t, and lost in a playoff to Vijay Singh.
8 of 18Stuart Franklin / Getty Images
8. 18th at Riviera -- Par 4, 454 yards -- Pacific Palisades, Calif.
The toughest shot in golf is a very long and straight one. This hole requires two. The first is all uphill, to a landing area you can’t see. This second is all uphill again. To a narrow green. From a hanging lie.
9 of 18Chris McGrath / Getty Images
9. 1st at Oakmont Country Club -- Par 4, 485 yards -- Oakmont, Pa.
First tee jitters? We’re talking outright shakes as you confront a hole that insists on a bomb to a fairway bordered on both sides by bunkers. Once you’re done with that, there’s still no let up. Your approach is a long iron to a green that moves in more directions than Jim Furyk’s swing.
10 of 18Legend Golf and Safari Club
10. 19th Hole at Legend Golf and Safari Club -- Par 3, 470 yards -- Limpopo, South Africa
You know a hole is tough when you have to take a helicopter to the tee. From there, it’s a dizzying way down to a green shaped like Africa, with a bunker protecting every inch of its border. As the 19th hole, this add-on is used to resolve unsettled bets. $100 says you won’t make a hole-in-one.
11 of 18Evan Schiller
11. 11th at Old Head at Kinsale -- Par 5, 526 yards -- County Cork, Ireland
Ask not how many shots you took. Ask instead how many balls you lost. That’s a better way to measure how you fared on this do-or-die par 5, which tempts you to bite off too much off the tee before presenting you with a downhill approach to a miniscule green set on a steep-sided promontory.
12 of 18Jason DeCrow/AP
12. 5th at Bethpage Black -- Par 4, 445 yards -- Farmingdale, N.Y.
With a diagonal hazard guarding the landing area, and a fairway that’s offset to both the tee and green, this Leviathan is best tamed by two opposing shots: a power fade over the waste bunker on the right, followed by a draw to a shallow green. You’ve got that, right?
13 of 18Fred Vuich / SI
13. 6th at Royal Birkdale, Par 5, 488 yards -- Southport, England
Size matters, but not here. What gets you instead are penal fairway bunkers, and a long, uphill approach to a green surrounded by dunes. Even when it’s time to use your flatstick, you’re far from finished. The putting surface has so many curves, it’s like trying to roll your ball on a Kardashian.
14 of 18Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
14. 6th at Olympic Club -- Par 4, 490 yards -- San Francisco, Calif.
There’s only one fairway bunker on the entire course, but it’s a doozy, and it was put even more in play for the 2012 U.S. Open. Land in it, and abandon all your hopes of a green in regulation. Lay back behind it on your tee shot, and you’re left with 200 yards-plus to a tilt-a-whirl green.
15 of 18Larry Lambrecht
15. 18th at Atlanta Athletic Club -- Par 4, 507 yards -- Johns Creek, Ga.
If you lay up, as David Toms did on his way to winning the 2001 PGA Championship, you now have to steer clear of a new fairway bunker that Rees Jones added near the second landing area. If you go for it in two, as Jerry Pate did when he flushed a five-iron to two feet en route to winning the 1976 U.S. Open, you’re confronted with an imposing carry over water to a firm green backed by bunkers. Either way, you’ll face a daunting drive, with a lake on the left, to a 30-yard-wide fairway that looks a lot slimmer from where you stand.
16 of 18David Cannon / Getty Images
16. 18th at Carnoustie -- Par 4, 444 yards -- Carnoustie, Scotland
You don’t have to be an ill-fated Frenchman to feel the full force of this exacting finisher, which forces you to fly the Barry Burn not once, but twice, the first time with out-of-bounds awaiting on the left. When the wind is up, as it often is, four is a heroic score here. Five beats Jean Van de Velde by two.
17 of 18Joann Dost
17. 6th at Spyglass Hill -- Par 4, 446 yards -- Pebble Beach, Calif.
When the Pebble Beach Pro-am rolls around, no course in the rota plays harder than Spyglass, and no hole there plays harder than the sixth, which leads you from the coastal dunes straight up hill toward the Del Monte Forest. Fit your drive left of the fairway bunker, then aim for an approach below the pin. Nothing good happens from behind the sloping green.
18 of 18Bay Hill Golf Club
18th. 18th at Bay Hill -- Par 4, 441 yards -- Orlando, Fla.
With dramatic clinching birdies at Arnie’s event, Tiger Woods has made this hole look easy. It ain’t. Finding the fairway, through the wind, is an absolute must if you’re going to take a crack at this green in regulation. Carry the water, and the rock jetty around it, but don’t go too far. There’s nothing behind the green but bunkers and tangled rough.
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