In theory at least, the best golfers in the world aren't intimidated by forced carries and postage stamp-sized greens the way that weekend hackers are.
The golfers of the PGA Tour are rarely ever so intimidated by a course or a particular hole that they, say, chili-dip a tee shot. However, it's impossible not to think that the persistent view of the ocean at a course like Pebble Beach or Harbour Town doesn't quicken the pulse of even the most seasoned tour player.
Here are the 10 most intimidating courses on the PGA Tour.
The scary things about Firestone, in addition to the 9,000-yard par-five 16th (okay, 670-yard), are the rough and the trees. Every tee shot seems to be downhill, making every tee ball appear as though it could fly forever and find the deep stuff—truly bad shots almost necessarily lead to tree trouble.
Traditional east coast-style small and undulating greens are difficult to find when playing an approach from the rough and are tough to navigate, even with a well-placed shot from the fairway.
If you're not accurate, you're in for a long day, as the 70.695 scoring average on the par-70 course indicates.
Beyond the famous final hole, Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club and Lodge is an intimidating golf course. Players last year shot an average of 73.176, 1.176 strokes over par.
The PGA Tour's website says the following about the 17th hole: "The elevated tee is 221 yards from a green that's surrounded by water on three sides while bunkers protect the left." Birdie is a difficult proposition at the second-to-last hole and the 18th, as mentioned, is exceedingly difficult.
From the 461-yard opening hole, to the approach shot, to a green guarded by water and imposing rocks, Mr. Palmer's Bay Hill is a stern test.
"Hogan's Alley" is an intimidating track for a variety of reasons. The kikuyu rough is difficult to manage, as are the poa annua greens. The prospect of two unfamiliar types of grass, absurd as it sounds, is something that seems to frighten tour professionals.
With a 72.622 scoring average last year, Riviera was one of the toughest courses on tour. This year, with greens that seemed to be rolling at around 13 on the stimpmeter, the 7,300 yard course was a challenge, as well.
It's not often that a hole seems to get inside the head of tour professionals, but the 315-yard, par-four 10th does just that year after year. As the course's website states, "the 10th ranks among the world’s great short par fours, its timeless strategic challenge having perplexed golfers for more than eight decades."
Both the 14th and the 15th holes at Harbour Town are amongst the most intimidating on tour. With the closing holes running along the water and a daunting tee shot facing players at the 18th, it's not surprising that the scoring average during the RBC Heritage last year—72.28—was more than a stroke over par.
The course, is "repeatedly selected by the PGA TOUR professionals as one of their favorites."
The players may enjoy teeing it up at Harbour Town, but that doesn't make the course any less bewildering. The course is relatively short at under 7,000 yards but forces players to think on every shot. The greens are well manicured but exceedingly difficult. These factors combine for a challenging golf course where a minor mistake can become a major problem, and a golfer can easily find himself playing from the beach—literally.
"The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers."
Perhaps the warning sign near the first tee of Bethpage Black doesn't intimidate tour professionals. After all, all the courses they play are "extremely difficult."
However, with a scoring average nearly a stroke over par last year (71.71), the Black Course is a serious test. The prospect of the course's gnarly three-and-a-half-inch rough claiming one's errant tee shots surely gives players pause on the tee. Additionally, almost all the greens (which roll in excess of 12 on the stimpmeter) are well-bunkered.
The 207-yard, par-three 17th is a great example of the intimidating shots players face at Bethpage. Bunkers surround a wide green, which the elevated tee shot and length of the hole make more difficult to hold with an approach shot.
The margin for error at the penultimate hole—and most of Bethpage, really—is very slim, and mistakes are severely punished.
Jack Nicklaus' 220-acre masterpiece is a true test for every facet of a PGA Tour professional's game. Of course, playing under the watchful eye of the Golden Bear doesn't help the degree of difficulty any, which is already quite high. Muirfield Village plays as one of the most challenging courses on tour, year after year. In 2012, the scoring average at the Memorial Tournament was 73.67—higher even than the Masters.
The 12th hole is arguably the most scenic and the most intimidating at Muirfield Village, and with a stroke average of 3.30 last year, it's one of the most difficult par threes on tour. Standing on the tee box, it must look like your tee shot is destined for either the sand or the water—an intimidating prospect, indeed.
Not to be outdone, the 16th at Muirfield Village was the toughest par three on tour last year and was the site of this incredible flop shot by Tiger Woods, the execution of which had to be a profoundly intimidating prospect.
If it weren't for the fact that the joviality of the pro-am format seems to extend to the course setup and pin placement, Pebble Beach would be an even more intimidating course. True, of the three courses on which players compete during the AT&T National Pro-Am, Spyglass is the most difficult (72.581 scoring average). Pebble, for its part, played slightly under par last year, with the field averaging 71.857 strokes.
The closing holes, particularly the par-three 17th and the par-five 18th, are an intimidating end to a round, and the beckoning sound of the waves of the Carmel Bay have compelled many a golf ball to take a plunge.
The wind off the ocean is a constant concern for players and a variable that can become quite intimidating in its own right.
The field scoring average at TPC Sawgrass last year was 0.466 strokes over par. On the back nine, the 14th (with a waste bunker running along the left side of the fairway) and 18th holes (with water along the entire left side) are tremendously intimidating prospects.
Of course, any discussion about how intimidating TPC Sawgrass is necessitates mention of the 17th hole. Whether you view it as a silly over-hyped gimmick or a brilliant golf hole, the reality is that a shot that is routine in practice rounds becomes increasingly difficult during the latter rounds of a professional golf tournament.
The site of the Honda Classic saw a 71.86 scoring average by the field last year, which is nearly a stroke over par.
Regarded as the "toughest course in Florida" by the PGA, the course is only a little over 7,000 yards but boasts a course rating of 75.2.
With the famed "Bear Trap" (holes 15-17) to contend with to finish a round, competitors cannot simply coast into port. Managing Director of the club Joel Paige said the stretch is "the toughest three-hole stretch anywhere in the world."
While Mr. Paige may be somewhat partial, what's clear is that PGA National in general, and the Bear Trap in particular, are intimidating prospects.
Tiger Woods' AT&T National tournament has seen some of the highest scores on tour since its inception. Last year, the field scoring average for the tournament was a staggering 73.04.
The 233-yard, par-three second hole is one of the most difficult par threes on tour, with a scoring average of 3.26. The six bunkers that protect the sloping green make finding the putting surface difficult.
Likewise, the 489-yard 11th is one of the tour's most intimidating holes. The daunting par four produced a 4.405 average score last year, making it the eighth most difficult hole on tour.
Finishing on a 500-plus yard par four is no picnic, either.
All in all, Congressional is a course that can easily get inside a player's head, and the record shows the high scores that often result.
Augusta National is a difficult track, to be sure; the 7,435-yard course played a stroke-and-a-half over par last year (73.5). The greens are both subtly undulating and incredibly fast; approach shots the slightest bit off target are often severely penalized.
The premium placed on shotmaking and course management forces a player to stay in absolute control. Additionally, local knowledge is at a premium. Not only do players have to execute their chosen shots they must choose appropriate approach angles and optimal places to putt from to every pin.
However, much of the intimidation factor of Augusta is due to the fact that, well...it's Augusta. How could any player not be intimidated when worshiping at the Cathedral of Golf? The pervasive Masters mythology and milieu have to be intimidating, even for seasoned veterans.
*all statistics courtesy of PGATour.com and the PGA Tour Media Guide