Assembling the Most Impossible 18-Hole Course from World's Toughest Venues
Despite what some may think, humans love to witness disaster in sports. How else could one explain the excitement they feel when an athlete fails at exactly the wrong moment?
Sure, people felt bad for Jean Van de Velde after his implosion to lose the 1999 Open Championship, and many others sympathized with Phil Mickelson after he was relegated to calling himself an idiot when he blew the 2006 U.S. Open.
Still, these failures fascinate fans, and that sense of impending doom only locks them deeper into their love for sports (otherwise, nobody would like golf).
With that in mind, it seems like a good measure to imagine the look of the world's toughest golf course. Matching every hole number to its original (i.e. No. 1 at Augusta could only be hole No. 1 on this course), here is an 18 that every pro would fear.
It turns out to be a par-66, but I doubt we'd see many scores in the 60s on this track.
No. 1 Oakmont
The opening hole on this nightmare course fittingly comes from possibly the toughest course in America.
Oakmont Country Club has a long history of tormenting the best golfers in the world and seems almost allergic to red numbers.
The 482-yard par-four first hole ensures players know the difficulty of the course right from the beginning. The fairway here is just 24 yards wide, and bunkers guard each side, willing to take in any slightly errant tee shots.
Even if players can navigate the drive, though, their work is far from over. With likely a mid-iron for the downhill approach shots, players struggle to get the ball close to the hole. It's a blind shot, and the green slopes severely from front to back and right to left, allowing only the softest irons to hold the surface and, when the pin is front left, forcing any shots left of the pin totally off the green.
This is a hole where two putts and a four would be greatly appreciated by many. Aaron Baddeley came to this hole on the final round of the 2007 U.S. Open carrying a two-shot lead. About 15 minutes later, the Aussie walked off the green with a triple bogey seven and reeled to a final-round 80.
Johnny Miller once called it "the hardest opening hole in the world." In his famous final-round 63 in 1973, Miller did hit a three-iron approach five feet from the pin for an easy birdie, thus disproving his statement for at least one day.
Nonetheless, this instance of kindness was a rare one on the part of this hole. Very few have been able to duplicate that success on what is surely golf's toughest opening hole.
No. 2 Pebble Beach
After playing a 482-yard par-four on the first hole of this impossible course, a golfer is faced with a par-four at the second that, at 502 yards, plays a full 20 yards longer.
Of course, the second at Pebble rotates between a par-four and a par-five, but for our purposes it will be used as a par-four.
Anyway, this long par-four demands an accurate drive, as the fairway only gets to a maximum of 30 yards at any point on the hole.
For those who hit it in the short grass here, getting the second shot on the green is far from a guarantee. Players are using longer irons into the greens and are aiming at a putting surface that is very narrow.
Bunkers, and tough ones at that, guard each side of the green, and as Dustin Johnson proved in 2010, the rough around the bunkers can leave players with horrible lies.
Any way you cut it, no player would choose this hole as one of their birdie opportunities. This is the first Pebble Beach hole on the list, but it is definitely not the last.
No. 3 TPC Blue Monster at Doral
It's rare to see the third hole of any course strike fear into a golfer, but Doral accomplishes the feat.
The hole's yardage doesn't seem to say much for the difficulty of the hole. The par-four is 438 yards, maybe a long distance for the amateur golfer but a relatively average one in PGA Tour terms.
Yet length isn't everything. The third hole at Doral makes up for its deficiency in distance with a less than generous fairway that is surrounded by danger.
Immediately to the right of the fairway sits a massive water hazard that has taken its fair share of golf balls over the years.
If players think that they can just bail left with little trouble, they are in for a big surprise. Thick rough awaits loose tee shots to the left, along with a very difficult fairway bunker.
Playing from either of these places makes approaching shots much more difficult. Still, shots from the middle of the fairway here are no bargain either.
The water hazard runs all up the right side of the hole, meaning any approach shots lost right will find the drink. Also, as is true on the tee shot, a bail left does not mean safety.
While a better circumstance than hitting it in the water, the area left of the green is tough to scramble from, making par a less than realistic possibility in most cases.
Challenging from the tee up to the green, the third hole at Doral certainly tests a player thoroughly early on in their round.
No. 4 Augusta National
After two great chances to pick up birdies at holes two and three at Augusta National, No. 4 is the course's way of fighting back.
The downhill fourth hole measures 240 yards and is none too easy. Facing a long-iron shot to a small target, players often find themselves unable to keep their shots on line.
To make matters worse, winds on this hole are very deceptive, leaving even perfectly struck shots the possibility of finishing nowhere near the cup.
A lot is said about the birdie and eagle roars at Augusta, but the fourth hole plays a key role for the course. In effect, it is a weed-out hole, a test on whether a quick start through Augusta's first three will result in a huge run or fizzle out as the day moves along.
Many players fail this test, and seeing the bogeys pile up here demonstrates the severity of Augusta's fourth hole.
No. 5 Bethpage Black Course
Bethpage Black has been notoriously difficult in the two U.S. Opens that it's hosted, and the fifth hole may be the course's greatest challenge.
Playing 451 yards, the hole sounds like an average PGA Tour par-four on paper. People who've actually played the hole would not classify this as an easy four.
Players face a downhill tee shot with trouble right and an approach shot blocked by trees if hit left.
From the fairway, approach shots are very difficult to judge. The hole moves a great deal uphill, and any shots that come up short (far from a rarity) will likely land in one of the cavernous front bunkers that surround the green.
These bunkers, which are truly hazards, make life difficult and don't usually allow up and downs.
Unsurprisingly, the toughest hole on the Bethpage Black layout makes this list.
No. 6 PGA National Champion Course
This 488-yard par-four would fit in perfectly as the fourth member of "the Bear Trap." Unfortunately, since it is not hole 14 or 18 on the PGA National course, it has to stand on its own.
That doesn't take away from the hole's difficulty, though.
The sixth is a lengthy par-four that has a narrow fairway with trouble on both sides. The water that sits to the left all the way down the hole is obviously the scarier proposition, but hitting it to the right is no gimme either. Fairway bunkers are there to take in any shots that stray their way, and, hitting to a green with water lurking to the left, players may find a shot from one of those bunkers to be pretty difficult.
Like most holes on this course, even a drive down the fairway doesn't mean success. Again, water still lurks left of the green, and players may also find the bunkers that are on each side of the dance floor.
On the green, players face a three-tiered surface that makes putting a difficult venture.
This hole played .522 strokes over par last year. With trouble lurking the whole way and a green that is one of the course's toughest, it is easy to see why scores would be so high.
No. 7 Shinnecock Hills
This is not the seventh Shinnecock members see for everyday play, just the one we knew during the 2004 U.S. Open.
Yes, it technically refers to the conditions over a few days rather than over the long term, but this is my list, so deal with it.
Anyway, the 189-yard par-three hole proved to be the breaking point for the USGA. During that 2004 U.S. Open, the course became extremely dry and firm, and the seventh was especially extreme.
The green was as hard as a rock, making tee shots that finished on the surface somewhat miraculous.
Once on the green, though, the fun was just starting.
The putting surface got completely away from the USGA, who resorted to watering between groups to slow down the surface.
Ask Phil Mickelson how he felt about it. Eight feet from the hole, Mickelson barely touched his par effort. Unfortunately, the ball refused to stop, finishing a full 12 feet by the cup and leaving Mickelson (who would make a double bogey five) fuming.
Sergio Garcia put it bluntly. The Spaniard holed his five-footer for par, but if it hadn't dropped, he noted that it would've rolled all the way into the greenside bunker.
The new USGA will not allow the seventh (or the course in general) to get this out of control when the U.S. Open returns to Shinnecock in 2018.
For that short time in 2004, though, a three or lower at the seventh was very rare.
No. 8 Royal Troon
Measuring just 123 yards, the eighth at Royal Troon (called Postage Stamp) is by far the shortest hole on this list. Yet like the 99-yard seventh hole at Pebble Beach, this par-three has befuddled almost all who have played it over the years.
This tee shot is just a wedge for the pros, but with an extremely narrow green, the margin of error of the approach is very thin.
If the tee shot is hit crisply, this hole can be had, but if a player were to hit the ball slightly off, they might have big problems.
The green is too small to hold any but the best shots, and any who miss the green will have a tough time recovering. With five bunkers surrounding the putting surface, especially the two really deep ones in front, players are likely to find one of these hazards if their ball can't quite hold the green.
The eighth at Royal Troon proves that even in a day where technology becomes greater and greater, there are other ways besides distance to challenge the pros.
No. 9 Pebble Beach
The closing hole of the front nine may be one of the world's prettiest. Perched adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, the ninth hole at Pebble Beach is a place many golfers have dreamed of walking over the years.
As for playing the hole, there wouldn't be many takers.
The 505-yard par-four is not a hole to think about birdie. The hole presents one of the toughest approach shots in the world. The fairway is severely sloped to the right, leaving a hanging lie that calls for a fade.
Also, this shot must be judged perfectly.
If one shoots for the left side of the green and the ball comes up even a tiny bit short or fades even a fraction too little, a massive front left greenside bunker is there to gobble it up and leave an almost impossible up and down.
Oh, and if you want to bail out right, your ball will likely end up in the Pacific Ocean.
Despite what Steve Lowery might think (go to 1:42 in the video), the approach shot here is nearly impossible to get on the green, let alone close to the hole.
The green is very fast and contains a great deal of break as well, so even the putting is no easy task.
With all of these features, the ninth hole at Pebble proves to be the ultimate deceptive beauty.
No. 10 Pebble Beach
The 10th is Pebble's third hole already on this impossible course and its second one in a row, and there's good reason for it.
A 495-yard behemoth, this par-four is almost as long as the ninth, and like said hole, the 10th has other weapons at its disposal.
First, the fairway is tilted to left-to-right, forcing players to hit off hanging lies as they go for the green.
Also, there are cliffs that cascade down the whole right side of the hole that lead to this big water hazard called the Pacific Ocean. So, there's that trouble that looms heavily, as tee shots hit out to the right could easily end up on the beach (not a bunker in this instance).
Approach shots face that same danger, as the cliffs are perilously close to the right side of the green.
When the hole is in the front right of the green, this hole is at its most wicked. A cliff hangs right on the line of the flag, just a few yards short of the putting surface. Any player who gets a little too aggressive and hits their shot slightly short finds the thick rough on this cliff or falls down onto the beach, leaving very little chance of coming out of the hole with a par.
Ask Tiger Woods, who left himself in perfect position 123 yards to the pin for his second shot during the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open and promptly dumped his approach in the thick cliff rough and made a very damaging bogey five.
Even if the prudent shot is made, a player isn't in the clear. A safe shot some 20 feet beyond the hole leaves one a lightning-fast birdie putt. During the 2010 U.S. Open, the best pros in the world couldn't figure out how to hit this putt.
For instance, in this position 20 feet above the hole, Phil Mickelson whacked his ball eight feet past the cup, a result that lead him to frustratingly yell "STOP!" as his ball kept trickling further from the cup. And for good measure, he missed the comebacker for par.
This hole causes players a great deal of problems with any hole location, but when the pin is on the front right, the 10th is at its worst.
No. 11 Augusta National
There's a reason why holes 11, 12 and 13 at Augusta have been dubbed "Amen Corner." The three-hole stretch invites disaster and has seen the death of many bids for the Masters title over the years.
It all starts at 11, the toughest hole of the three. Although downhill, at a distance of 505 yards, players can't simply go driver-wedge and run off with an easy par or a birdie.
The 11th tries player patience right from the beginning; more than a few players have pushed the ball into the trees that guard the right side.
A good drive doesn't necessarily mean a good score, though. The downhill factor of the approach shot makes distance control that much tougher, and the pond to the left of the green severely influences players.
In order to avoid a watery second and probably a six, many players hit the ball out to the right, a strategy that Ben Hogan used on purpose back in his playing days.
Yet shots to the right leave most players with less-than-simple up-and-downs and therefore few easy fours.
Finally, once on the green, players are faced with a slippery and complex surface. The front left portion of the green is unbelievably fast, and the back-right portion usually calls for a massive right-to-left break on putts.
It seems that from tee to green, the 11th hole never gives the golfer a break. Too bad the next hole won't let up either.
No. 12 Augusta National
The walk from the 11th to the 12th hole on this "impossible course" is a short one, but players will feel little relief when they reach the 12th tee.
Surprisingly, this par-three hole is only 155 yards, a mere eight or nine-iron for most pros. Yet it is one of the toughest holes in the world, and there are a few reasons why.
First is the angle of the hole. The tee box is offset to the left, creating a weird diagonal from the tee to the green. If put in the middle, the tee box would give players a straight-on shot to the green and much less consternation.
Another point of note for player struggles here is the shallowness of the green. A player must hit their shot within a few yards of their distance in order to keep it on the surface. Otherwise, they likely end up short either in a deep front bunker or in the water, or finish long of the hole in a back bunker that has them hitting back toward the water.
Neither of these options is desirable, as players have a tough time making par from these two spots.
However, the most important defense of the 12th hole is the wind. Yes, the angle and shallow green will challenge players, but for pros, approach shots with a high-iron end up on target a majority of the time.
Therefore, it's the wind that really screws up players at the 12th. This might be Augusta's greatest trick, as the trees surrounding the hole make the wind almost impossible to gauge at the 12th. Oftentimes the flag at the 11th (only 100 yards away) will be moving in the opposite direction as the one at the 12th.
This sort of wind confusion is absolutely the most brutal aspect of this hole. When players have to land the ball within a few-yard frame to hit the green, the uncertainty of the wind makes distance control extremely difficult.
A player could hit a perfectly struck shot and with a misjudge of the wind find his ball well over the green or short in the water.
The seemingly simple hole has flustered Masters participants for a great deal of time and will continue to do so with these three main defenses.
No. 13 Medinah
This hole is long and does not allow for a whole lot of error.
The downhill 13th requires a long-iron or hybrid off the tee, as it measures 245 yards and does not give a player many good options if they miss the green.
Water short of the putting surface is definitely in play, and players can quickly lose two strokes with a mis-hit tee shot.
The green is also surrounded by deep bunkers on every side, making recovery shots difficult and pars less and less of a possibility.
The green is also two-tiered, making putts difficult as well.
This is overall a testy par-three that must be played fantastically to walk away with a par.
No. 14 Pebble Beach
For PGA Tour pros, par-five holes are usually ripe for red numbers. Those who can reach in two can rip one on the green and have an excellent chance at birdie or better. Even those who lay up join the party; after all, a pro with a simple wedge to the green most often hits it close to the hole for a great birdie chance.
The 14th hole at Pebble Beach is a far, far crueler par-five. At 573 yards, the hole doesn't sound incredibly long for a par-five, but due to the hole being significantly uphill, it in reality plays closer to 600 yards.
The tee shot isn't particularly difficult here, although accuracy is still desired to get in good position on the fairway. The second shot is just a setup approach since almost no player has the power to reach this green in two.
So far the hole doesn't sound too bad; it's the third shot where the problem lies. In 2011, the 14th played .341 strokes over par and was tied for the 20th-toughest hole on tour. Considering it was the only par-five among the top-200 toughest holes on tour, that is quite astonishing.
That's how tough the third shot is. The green is tilted and perched up, leaving a player a blind shot uphill, making distance control a tough prospect. More importantly though, the green is split into two shelves.
There is a higher left shelf where the pin sits and a severe drop-off to a lower right shelf on the green. This split only makes the approach shot that much harder; any shot that drifts a few yards right of the pin won't just stop harmlessly 15 feet from the cup.
The ball will catch the slope in the middle of the green and collect all the way to that right bottom shelf (and maybe even off the green). An approach that seemed like a sure-fire birdie now becomes a fierce battle just to save par.
The always affable Paul Goydos once described the approach as "trying to stop a pitching wedge (shot) on a moving school bus."
If you can imagine how tough that is, Goydos' quote pretty much says it all.
No. 15 Atlanta Athletic Club
David Toms' hole in one here in 2001 notwithstanding, the 15th hole of this past PGA Championship and U.S. Open host course has been far from friendly toward the pros.
Now at 260 yards, the par-three hole is brutally long. While the hole is downhill, even the longest hitters are forced to use low-irons from the tee box. A sizable pond also juts out from the right, sending slightly pushed tee shots to a watery grave.
There simply is very little room to navigate the ball on the green. A long-iron or wood is difficult enough to accurately strike on the surface, but with that lake on the right stressing further precision, players feel a tremendous amount of pressure on the tee.
As expected, a great deal of players finish left of the green, far away from the water. Still, even balls that finish left of the green are not a simple up-and-down.
The ball sits down at times in the rough, making for a difficult shot that, if hit incorrectly, can chip the ball right across the green and into the water.
This is precisely what happened to Keegan Bradley on his way to a triple bogey here in the final round of last year's PGA.
The 15th is certainly not a hole to be messed with, and when the hole is on the right of the green, it is very wise to shoot away from the pin.
No. 16 Cypress Point
This hole is 231 yards of sheer terror.
The length of the hole is enough to make it mildly difficult in the first place, but the added factor of having to cover about two football fields' worth of water in the air is enough to scare almost any golfer. If this wasn't tough enough, the course adds in confusing crosswinds just for good measure.
A large body of water plus winds is usually a destructive combination for any player's golf game. Like the ninth hole at Pebble, the 16th has gorgeous views.
It is a brute of a hole though, and without proper concentration and execution, a player's shot will fly far into the waters of the Pacific.
No. 17 St. Andrews
The 18th at St. Andrews' Old Course may be pretty defenseless, but the course's penultimate hole more than makes up for it.
Playing a lengthy 495 yards, the par-four is already tough enough for the average player. Add on to it a less than simple tee shot (which must be played over a hotel and has out-of-bounds to the right), and the hole becomes brutal.
Trying to reach the green is the real nightmare, though. To get it on the green in two, a player must be able to stop a long-iron on a narrow and firm surface.
In addition, the green is heavily fortified both long and short. A gravel road (which players do not get relief from) sits beyond the putting surface, and the penal Road Hole bunker sits just in front for any short approaches.
The Road Bunker is actually the reason St. Andrews' 17th hole beats out others. If the bunker didn't exist, it would mean a clear approach to the green. But with the Road Hole bunker guarding the left-center of the putting surface, players must aim way right of most pins, making close approaches virtually nonexistent.
If one happens to get a little aggressive and find the Road Hole bunker, they are in deep trouble. Literally, the bunker is so deep that players rarely escape in one shot, if the tragic fates of David Duval, Costantino Rocca and Tommy Nakajima are any indication.
Overall, this hole leaves very little margin for error and invites disaster to happen. Fives and sixes here are far more common than threes.
No. 18 TPC Blue Monster at Doral
The contest for which final hole would win out on this list was a three-horse race between Atlanta Athletic Club, Carnoustie and Doral.
AAC's 507-yard par-four finishing hole is long, and players face an approach shot completely over water with no bailout to speak of.
Carnoustie's 18th measures significantly less at 444 yards but brings a great deal of water (and trouble) into play with the inclusion of the Barry Burn that snakes its way throughout the hole. Even a bailout right on the approach shot into the grandstands doesn't necessarily work, as Jean Van de Velde proved with his second in the final round of the 1999 Open Championship.
Despite the challenges these holes present, Doral's 18th wins out. The par-four may not have the length of AAC's (at 467 yards, it is a full 40 yards shorter), but it has been a brutal hole over the years for players.
The tee shot on the 18th at Doral is one of the scariest in golf. The fairway never gets beyond a width of 32 yards and narrows to 25 yards at one point, and a huge lake sits just to the left of the narrow fairway to gobble up any pulls that might occur. A shot to the right isn't a great deal better, as thick rough and trees are sure to make a player miserable.
All of this makes the 18th at Doral one of the toughest drives in golf, as it requires maximum accuracy with huge penalties for any error.
It doesn't stop there; the water runs all the way up to the left side and lurks ominously just to the left of the green. The danger that the water presents has forced more than a few players to shoot away from a left pin position to finish safely on dry land.
This can prove problematic too, though. The bunker right of the green leaves a player with a shot that has them hitting straight toward the water, so there is little relief in missing the putting surface to the right.
Scoring averages at this hole are usually more than a half stroke over par and present players with a great deal of anxiety as they finish up their round.
A few have conquered this hole and the others on this "impossible course" from time to time. Yet, played consecutively, these 18 holes are way too difficult to all be played with relative ease.
Ultimately, even the best players in the world would find this course impossible and not worth the agony to play through.