Early spring after a long winter means the revival of one of golf’s most nerve-wracking traditions: the opening tee shot of the season. But some starting holes are more stomach-churning than others. Of the public-access layouts I’ve played, here are the five first drives I fear the most.
1. Spyglass Hill
Pebble Beach, Calif.
No forced carry, no landing area hazards, no OB. Just a simple, mist-enshrouded tee box that abuts the small pro shop, along with a bowling-alley fairway hemmed in by enormous pines. The place is mausoleum quiet, with one terrifying exception: the sounds of golf balls echoing off the trees from adjoining holes. A short, straight drive won’t work, as the timber will block your second. Even a healthy drive down the middle will leave you an awkward downhill-sidehill lie. When only a long, high draw will do on a narrow, 595-yard, par-5 opener, that’s scary!
A stone wall and active railway line runs from the tee to the green and is flush with the landing area’s right side. On the left, broken ground and nasty bunkers await, easily reachable via firm ground and the ever-present wind. All of that trouble forces you to lay up on this 346-yard par-4, but with similar horrors affecting the approach, you wonder how far back you can afford to be. Thus, you steer a mid-iron into play, an unsettling prospect on the first tee.
3. Capitol Hill (Judge)
Nowhere on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is there a more stunning hole, and it comes right at the start of this Montgomery-area track. The 415-yard par-4 plunges 200 feet tee-to-fairway. A slice will find the river to the right, but more balls hook into a swamp and trees left. This judge has no mercy.
4. Black Mesa
La Mesilla, N.M.
Off by its lonesome in the high desert, the 385-yard, par-4 1st hole at this Santa Fe-area spread dishes out a blind drive over a native ridge. Two directional bunkers are gashed out of the ridge, which for the squeamish makes the task more unnerving. Playing it a second time induces more queasiness because you realize that a natural ravine lurks left.
5. St. Andrews (Old Course)
Granted, you’re hitting to one of the widest fairways in golf. Still, it’s the Old Course—and for many, that prospect is enough to quiver the legs and cement the shoulder turn. Having tourists and locals watching just a few feet away doesn’t help, either.