Saturday, January 23, 2010

Golf's 100 Toughest Holes

I am always interested in comparing my view of the world's best golf courses to others. Two standard bearers I use for this purpose are Tom Doak's The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses (both the original limited edition and the later edition) and George Peper's The World's 500 Greatest Golf Holes. I have just added a new book to the collection, Chris Millard's Golf's 100 Toughest Holes.

Unlike yours truly, Millard writes from an informed position. He is the former editor of Golf World magazine and when producing the book he spoke with eight living architects and many experienced golf writers. He also used Tour statistics which rank hole difficulty. I have played 56 of the holes listed in the book and 15 of 20 of the holes featured on the front cover of the book.

I agree wholeheartedly with much of the work, including the obvious candidates:

- The 17th at St. Andrews (Road Hole)
- The 18th at TPC Sawgrass
- The 16th at Cypress Point
- The Postage Stamp 8th at Royal Troon
- The 17th at Olympic Club (or any hole on the course in my view)
- The 3rd hole at Durban
- The 18th at Oakland Hills
- The 16th at Spyglass
- The 1st at Oakmont
- The 5th at Pinehurst #2
- The 14th at Royal Portrush (Calamity)
- The 14th at Royal St. George's (Suez Canal)
- The 15th at Bethpage Black

Others in the book, I'm not so sure about:

- Loch Lomond 18th, I didn't find particularly difficult

- Carnoustie's 6th (Hogan's Alley) is not that hard a par five in my view

- Augusta's 12th is listed, but at 155 yards, again, I'm not so sure. The book quotes Jack Nicklaus as saying it is "the most demanding par three in the world." I think Cypress Point's 16th wins that category hands down. Tom Weiskopf probably wouldn't agree with me, as he took the ever rare and embarrasing "deca-bogey" 13 on the 12th hole during the 1980 Masters.

Cypress Point's par three 16th hole

There are some great quotes in the book. What makes the 16th at Cypress so difficult? "233 yards of all carry, often against wind, fog, squalls and whatever else the Pacific can serve up." The Old Course Road Hole is "a combination of temptation and intimidation that are the perfect blend."

If it were my book, I would add in the following holes:

1. Crystal Down's 8th hole, due to the shot required to hit the green and its borderline unfair back to front slope.

2. The 258 yard par three 17th hole at Ganton, that plays across the road at an angle.

3. Mid Ocean's 5th "Cape" Hole, where it is extremely difficult to hit the fairway if the wind is blowing.

4. Carnoustie 16 and 17 are extremely difficult holes. Depending upon the wind, I think that the 17th at Carnoustie is actually harder than the 18th because the Barry Burn snakes through the hole so many times.

5. Merion's 18th, due to its blind tee shot, length, sloped fairway and difficult to hit, well-bunkered green

6. Naruo's 10th hole, a 470 yard par four, where your second shot has to clear an impossibly large chasm.

Naruo's par four 10th hole looking back from the green

The book has nine courses that have two holes included in the most difficult:

1. Carnostie 6 and 18
2. St. Andrews 11 and 17
3. TPC Sawgrass 17 and 18
4. Winged Foot 17 and 18
5. Shinnecock 6 and 18
6. Troon 8 and 11
7. Pine Valley 5 and 15
8. Pebble Beach 8 and 9
9. Augusta 10 and 12

Which architect designed the most difficult holes? Pete Dye, who designed nine of the 100 toughest. Tillinghast and Ross are runners up, having designed five each.

The book uses a variety of adjectives to makes its point. It says that the 10th hole at Yale is "medieval in its toughness." Royal Melbourne's 6th hole is "lethal." Holes are menacing, severe, mind-bending, devilish, fierce, bedeviling, draconian, diabolical, torturous, formidable, impenetrable, primal and brutal. As I wrote that last sentence I also thought to myself that it's a pretty useful description of driving on Long Island at rush hour.

The book also shines a light on some lesser known courses and holes including The Giant's Ridge (Quarry) in Biwabik, Minnesota whose 8th hole makes the cut, as does a hole in the DMZ in Korea known as Camp Bonifas.

As for the hardest hole in the world, my own personal votes go to Bethpage Black's fifteenth and the Old Course's Road Hole. I think the hardest single hole is Oakmont's first. The book describes eloquently why this is the case. There is a ditch dug into the deep left rough and O.B. down the length of the hole on the right. The hole plays 444 yards from the middle tees and the landing area off the tee leaves you with a downhill lie. The green is severe and canted aggressively toward the fairway while the back half coaxes well hit balls to run through. The entire green slopes precipitously from right to left with a stimpmeter of 12.

Are you having fun yet?


Pup said...


Just wait till you get out to NSWGC and play the 15th.. That is surely ranked in the top 10 toughest in the world.

In the Aus Open it averaged 4.65. So 60% of pros had a bogey or worse on it.


Joe Leenheer, PGA said...

Oakmont #1 is brutal.. as well as holes 2-18. I can't believe only one hole from Oakmont made the top 100. I guess they just need to toughen the old girl up some more...haha.

Birko said...

Oakmont is easily the hardest course I've played. But it's fair.

The 1st is a wonderful hole, and surely the 3rd, 10th and 18th should be listed?

The 5th at Merion is a beast with another very tricky green.

Loch Lomond's 18 is pretty difficult but I wouldn't say it's anywhere near as hard as the ones above.

Not played Olympic yet so can't comment, but am playing it in a month so will see how it compares to Oakmont.

Top 100 Golfer said...

Please let me know your thoughts after playing Olympic. The reason it is so difficult is that it's tight, you have to work the ball on almost every shot, almost every shot you hit is from an uneven lie, the greens are hard to approach and are small and fast. Simple Game.

Anonymous said...

Top 100 -

I love your blog, have posted before, and agree with your assessment of the hardest holes. I also believe #15 at Bethpage and #17 at TOC are in the toughest I have played. BUT, if #9 from Royal County Down is not included in the book, every copy should be burned immediately.

Shane from Minnesota

Cpoint#1 said...

Haha Joe, I thought the same thing reading that article. Only one hole at Oakmont? Unbelievable... What about holes 3,10 and 18? Oh yeah, and 12 has to be the hardest par 5 in the world. I defy anyone to show me one tougher.

Birko, 5 at Merion is a tough and fantastic hole. Does that green slope from right to left or what? If that green gets dried out it will be unplayable in the US Open coming up there. What about 17 at Merion!? It's a 250 yard shot from the tips to to a tiny green, and absolutely no place to bailout. Maybe the toughest par 3 I've ever played. Oh and Olympic is tough but it won't overtake Oakmont as the most difficult you've played. Oakmont is the most treacherous course in the country.

Frank said...

I'm with Shane - #9 at Royal County Down, which I played twice in windy conditions, was the most difficult hole I had ever seen.

I just played Olympic for the first time yesterday. I don't know if it's the hardest course I've played, but it was pretty stinking hard. Lots of shots I could have made from flat lies turned into misses off slanted ones.