Best 18 golf holes

1 of 18 David Alexander/Getty Images
If there really are 1,000 places to see before you die, then there's got to be at least 18 must-play holes you need to tee it up on during your lifetime. Travelin' Joe Passov has identified those and tells you what elements make each one so notable.1. St. Andrews (Old Course) -- No. 17: Par 4, 455 yards -- St. Andrews, ScotlandIf this isn't the most famous hole in golf, it is unquestionably the most unique. The properly positioned (blind) drive must actually carry a portion of the Old Course Hotel. The further right you go, the better your angle into the green -- except that OB lurks hard right. The Road Hole earns its name from a pebbled road that awaits a long approach, literally at the green's edge (and a stone wall behind the road). On the other side of the green is the deep, stacked-sod pit known as the Road Hole bunker. The quirkiest, toughest hole on golf's oldest course is unforgettable.
2 of 18 Mike Ehrmann/SI
2. Cypress Point Club -- No. 16: Par 3, 231 yards -- Pebble Beach, Calif. Golf's most beautiful brute is this Alister MacKenzie masterpiece that demands a 200-yard carry over the crashing waves of the Pacific -- a daunting feat on a calm day and a heroic achievement in the wind. A shorter route exists for the less adventurous, but if you've managed to score a tee time at ultra-exclusive Cypress, you owe it to yourself to have a go at this green.
3 of 18 Kohjiro Kinno/SI
3. Pebble Beach Golf Links -- No. 18: Par 5, 543 yards -- Pebble Beach, Calif. There may be tougher finishing holes out there, but none as dramatic. Arcing to the left along Carmel Bay, Pebble's 18th is even a better hole today than it was years ago, because modern equipment has allowed the majority of bold hitters to challenge the green in two. While the beauty is overwhelming, the strategy is what elevated the hole, thanks to its simple risk/reward sensibility: How close to the water's edge do you dare play? There's simply no experience in golf that compares to walking up Pebble's 18th.
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5 of 18 Courtesy of TPC Sawgrass
5. TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium) -- No. 17: Par 3, 137 yards -- Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. From the moment you make your tee time, you're thinking about this one shot. No par 3 anywhere demands such perfection with club selection and ball flight. While the green isn't particularly well-framed, at least it's bigger than it looks from the tee. That said, you still have to slow your heart palpitations enough to execute a short iron you know you can hit in your sleep.
6 of 18 Andrew Redington/Getty Images
6. Royal County Down Golf Club -- No. 9: Par 4, 486 yards -- Newcastle, Northern Ireland Enjoy the sensational view from the tee, and then buckle up, because it's going to be a bumpy ride. Rising in the backdrop are the handsome white clubhouse, the red brick steeple of the Slieve Donard Hotel, the rooftops of Newcastle and the Mountains of Mourne. To the left, out of play but in full view, is the Irish Sea. The fearsome tee shot asks for a sure, trusting drive into a blind fairway eighty feet below that is framed by gorse-filled sandhills. The approach is only marginally easier. In heavy gusts, no hole on Earth better combines beauty and brawn.
7 of 18 Chris Condon/PGA TOUR/Getty Images
7. Riviera Country Club -- No. 10: Par 4, 310 yards -- Pacific Palisades, Calif. The hacker can make a birdie here, and the game's greatest can make bogies and doubles in a heartbeat, which illuminates Jack Nicklaus' statement that Riviera's 10th presents more options than any short hole in the world. Few have the discipline to approach the green from the proper angle, which calls for a lay-up drive to the far left side of the fairway -- especially when the hole location is back-right on this shallow, diagonal green. When the pin is left, however, unprotected by the fronting bunker, the temptation is to go straight at it. However that open portion of the green slopes away to the back. No matter how you approach golf's greatest short par 4, it's an exquisite test of nerve.
8 of 18 Courtesy of Ventana Canyon
8. Ventana Canyon (Mountain) -- No. 3: Par 3, 107 yards -- Tucson, Ariz. For pure fantasy calendar aspects alone, you've got to play at least one hole carved from what once would have been thought of as the most inhospitable, unlikely golf canvas of all: the desert southwest. In 1984, when architect Tom Fazio sculpted "Hole in the Wall," he called it "the most expensive hole I've ever built." Today, it might be his most photographed. The requirements are simple: punch a three-quarter wedge over a chasm to a two-tier shelf of green surrounded by a mountain full of Saguaro cacti. Easier said than done.
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10 of 18 Courtesy of Sea Pines Resort
10. Harbour Town Golf Links -- No. 18: Par 4, 472 yards -- Hilton Head Island, S.C. How great can a short, flat course mostly hemmed in by live oaks be? Check out Harbour Town and find out why the pros are so enamored with it. Pete Dye and consultant Jack Nicklaus hatched a somewhat claustrophobic layout that zigzags among oaks and lagoons, a design that favors no single type of player except skilled shotmakers. It all concludes with a muscular two-shotter. To the left is the Calibogue Sound. To the right lies trees, condos and out-of-bounds. In the distance looms Harbour Town's most enduring symbol, a candy cane-striped lighthouse, along with a marina filled with boats owned by the kind of people who can afford to play Harbour Town every day. It's a hole so iconic, it has to be played.
11 of 18 Fred Vuich/SI
11. Muirfield Village Golf Club -- No. 14: Par 4, 363 yards -- Dublin, Ohio As a way of honoring history's greatest champion and one of modern architecture's leading practitioners, we tab this supreme test of drive-and-pitch precision for must-play glory. An ample landing area awaits a downhill tee shot, but around the 245-yard mark from the back tee, a creek intrudes on the left edge of the fairway, eventually cutting in at the green's right side. Miss the slender, angled green short-right and you're wet, but bail long-left and what remains is a terrifying downhill chip from bunkers or rough with water beyond. Birdies are plentiful, but so are "others," which makes this such a stellar little par 4.
12 of 18 Courtesy of Banff Springs
12. Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Club -- No. 4: Par 3, 192 yards -- Banff, Alberta, Canada You must play a true mountain hole to complete your education as a traveling golfer, and Banff's No. 4 sits at the summit. Rocky Mountain scenery overpowers the golfer traversing the Banff layout, creating optical illusions throughout the round. Gene Sarazen once quarreled with a caddie over his club selection at this mile-high course; his well-struck approach to the green made it exactly halfway there. The culprit was the 4th, aptly called "Devil's Cauldron." Your tee shot must carry a glacial lake to a plateau green banked on all sides with jagged mountains slashing the horizon. It's all really disorienting -- and utterly compelling.
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14 of 18 John and Jeannine Henebry
14. Stoneforest International Golf Club (C course-Leaders Peak) -- No. 11: Par 4, 331 yards -- Kunming, China A nod to the game's hottest growth region -- Asia, and specially China -- which has catapulted itself from novelty act to must-play status, thanks to courses such as those at Mission Hills Hainan, and to another Brian Curley creation, Stoneforest, high in the mountains of Kunming in southwestern China. The mind-boggling short par-4 11th at the club's Leaders' Peak course twists in and among incredible jagged limestone pillars that resemble a petrified forest. Few Americans will ever see Stoneforest in person, but its exotic, one-of-a-kind appeal is hard to match.
15 of 18 Patrick Drickey/Stonehouse Golf
15. Sand Hills Club -- No. 1: Par 5, 550 yards -- Mullen, Neb. Fulfilling the Field of Dreams, "If you build it, they will come," prophecy, the finest course built in the past 50 years is this minimalist prairie masterpiece by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw that announces its intentions from the start. The elevated tee takes in a wide, rumpled fairway, bunkers that appear to have evolved rather than been designed, and a green that's tucked snugly into an amphitheater.
16 of 18 John and Jeannine Henebry
16. Shadow Creek -- No. 18: Par 5, 564 yards -- North Las Vegas, Nev. Shadow Creek architect Tom Fazio once stated that in modern times, if a designer has the money and the imagination, there's nothing he can't do. The ultimate proof is Shadow Creek, which has to be seen simply to fathom first-hand what can be created from a flat, featureless desert canvas. What started as a poker table-flat site transformed into a rollicking finishing hole. From an elevated tee, the ambitious player will contend with a water carry on both shots via a series of three lakes separated by waterfalls. Choose the three-shot route and you still must fly over water to a long, narrow green surrounded by grassy hills, pine trees, mountains and flowers. Desert? What desert?
17 of 18 Gary Lisbon
17. Royal Melbourne (West) -- No. 6: Par 4, 428 yards -- Melbourne, Australia You likely won't lose a ball, but you can still make a six -- or worse -- at this Alister MacKenzie classic most recently seen in the 2011 Presidents Cup. MacKenzie placed a nest of artfully sculpted bunkers fringed in heather and bracken on the inside elbow of this sharp dogleg right. Carry them (220-240 yards) and your reward is a straightforward approach. Driving cautiously to the left imposes a long second, from a sidehill or downhill lie, to an elevated green tilted audaciously from back to front. From above the hole in the 1959 Canada Cup, Sam Snead putted off the green into a bunker. The simplicity lulls you to sleep, but the deception in bunker placement, fairway tilt and green location can be a rude wake-up call.
18 of 18 David Cannon/Getty Images
18. Royal Troon Golf Club -- No. 8: Par 3, 123 yards -- Troon, ScotlandAnother sterling example that you don't need length to make a hole tough -- or great -- this tiny terror was coined "Postage Stamp" by Willie Park Jr. 100 or so years ago when he wrote that the hole had "a pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a postage stamp." Few have been able to lick the Stamp since, except for Gene Sarazen, who at age 71, competing in the 1973 Open, ripped a 5-iron into the wind for an ace in Round 1, then holed a bunker shot for a deuce in Round 2. At age 21, Tiger Woods wasn't so lucky in the 1997 event. His drop shot successfully carried the gully, but missed the long, narrow green that practically melts into the side of a vast sandhill on the left. Tiger found one of the five bunkers that ring the green, failed to escape and ultimately three-putted for a triple. As a hole that both tempts and traumatizes players of all abilities and ages, Postage Stamp gets my "must-play" seal of approval.