Ranking the 10 Most Difficult Tasks in Golf
Few sports provide such a swirled blend of elation and frustration as the game of golf. From first-timers to seasoned pros, challenges await with each trip to the course.
King George V, who reigned over the United Kingdom, British Dominions and India for 25 years, described the ebbs and flows of an 18-hole adventure with a notable quip.
"Golf always makes me so damned angry," said the man who led his country through the horrors of World War I.
Indeed, the game can be vicious enough to bring a king to his knees.
Even at its highest level, golf has the ability to humble greats and punish hopefuls. The PGA Tour features a feared list of treacherous tasks on various continents.
While you're certain to come up with countless other nightmarish scenarios from courses across the globe, here's our top 10 most difficult endeavors that tend to keep even the greatest players in fits on a frequent basis.
10. Charting the Tricky Layout at Congressional
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The Congressional Country Club ranked third among the toughest PGA Tour courses last year. Its Blue Course is loaded with challenging and curvy par fours, with notoriously tough early tests on the second and fourth holes.
Competitors sank just 12 eagles in 2012, while averaging a score of 2.046 above par.
The 12th hole is specifically knee-buckling. It warranted a "bird" from competitor D.H. Lee at the 2013 AT&T National.
The AT&T National is an annual event, and the course has hosted the U.S. Open three times, most recently in 2011.
9. The Beautiful but Dangerous 16th Hole at Cypress Point
Tee shots don't get much more scenic than the one that awaits golfers on the 16th hole of Cypress Point Club. The course, located near Pebble Beach, Calif., is adjacent to the sprawling Pacific coastline and takes its competitors to water's edge.
The 16th hole forces you to clobber a 200-yard carry over the Pacific, which sounds like a tough enough task on its own. Factor in an abundance of unpredictable crosswinds and you have the makings of a menacing par three.
Sure, this hole is a beast, but when you take a moment to soak in its surroundings, it's apparent that you're playing one of the premier par threes on the planet.
8. The Unique Challenges of Merion Golf Club
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The suburban Philadelphia course is cramped and tests the touch of its visitors. Merion hosted the 2013 U.S. Open, a rain-soaked affair that resulted in high scores and frustrated competitors.
Justin Rose won the title with a one-over par, and only three golfers completed the tournament with a score better than five-over. Regardless of the rain, Merion tends to be a meandering path for its visitors.
Sloped fairways give players fits, and wavy greens routinely leave competitors second-guessing putts.
7. Encoutering Jack Nicklaus' Bear Trap at the Champion Course of PGA National
You have to enjoy Jack Nicklaus' flair for the dramatic here. Just before the 15th tee at the Champion course at PGA National Resort and Spa is large rock with a plaque slapped on it.
The plaque is adorned with a quote from Nicklaus, who redesigned the course:
"It should be won or lost right here."
This welcomes players to the three-hole stretch coined The Bear Trap. Holes 15, 16 and 17 present serious problems for competitors.
Home to the Honda Classic since 2007, the course's punishing portion has quickly gained notoriety.
According to pgatour.com, since 2007, only 20 players have survived four rounds through the trio of holes without suffering a bogey along the way.
The 15th hole features regular crosswinds that send shots plummeting into a lake. The 16th hole includes an irregularly large fairway bunker, canal and slanted green that sends errant putts crashing into sand.
The 17th hole is armed with a steep-sided green that dooms golfers' best intentions. It's enough to make you yearn for the clubhouse.
6. Clearing the Final Obstacle at Whistling Straits
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The 18th hole at Whistling Straits is a 489-yard par four featuring a massive bunker complex to the left of the fairway and is essentially a designed mess. A controversial finish at the 2010 PGA Championship called its sporadic sandy patches into question.
The trap-filled course, located in Wisconsin, concludes with a confusing 18th hole. It starts with a semi-blind tee shot and continues onto a fairway surrounded by a vast wasteland of hazards.
The green is guarded by a series of bunkers, and its pin is located in the left corner. Putts from the right travel downhill and often leave competitors dumbfounded.
This hole is not for the faint of heart.
5. Embarking on an Island Tour at TPC Sawgrass
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This southern Florida gem saves its best (or worst, depending how you look at it) for last.
The par-three 17th hole is a 132-yard journey that appears easy on paper. But that's without factoring in the island green.
Golf balls continue to meet their fate in the bottom of a lake that surrounds the pin. For onlookers, the result is enthralling.
“It’s do-or-die, and I think spectators love that,” Luke Donald told PGA.com.
Once competitors conquer the island, it's onto an extremely difficult 18th hole. The par four is hugged by water on the left side throughout, challenging players' precision unlike many holes in America.
4. 18th Hole at Doral Golf Resort
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This 467-yard water-filled monster of a par four features an array of obstacles en route to the final hole. Located in Miami's northern outskirts, the course features plenty of obstructive palm trees, which are particularly prevalent on the 18th hole.
Bunkers line the right side of the fairway, and a slanted green awaits.
Many golfers opt out of an approach for par because of the detriments that have derailed hopes of risk-taking golfers.
"It's one of the best par-5s on the PGA Tour," Zach Johnson told USA Today reporter Steve DiMeglio. "It's the hardest hole on the planet, especially with a left-to-right wind coming into you. I know it's not technically a par-5, but the first hole there is a par-5, and 18 always has a higher stroke average than the first hole. The 18th is just one of those holes that scares you."
3. Spending Sunday Paired with Tiger Woods
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The red polo may not warrant as much spine-tingling fear as it once did, but Tiger Woods still knows how to hunt on Sundays. His fashion tradition is part of a psychological war that Woods has waged against his competitors for years.
The 14-time major champion is quite simply a closer, and the red shirt mystique is only a fraction of what makes it so hard to go stride-for-stride with Woods on the final 18. Tiger draws the largest gallery at any tournament, and that group reaches a frenzied state by Sunday, presenting an increased dose of pressure for whoever shares his spotlight.
Woods spends Sundays wearing the same scowl we've seen on the face of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant so many times in the fourth quarter. He's a man who feeds off adrenaline and emotion, which peaks during the final stretch of each tournament foray.
Tiger has led or tied for first place after three rounds on 65 occasions in his professional career. He ultimately claimed the title in 56 of those instances.
In a sport that hinges so heavily on mental fortitude, intimidation is a big edge.
2. Escaping the Road Hole Bunker on 17th Hole at St. Andrews
The "home of golf" is holy territory for the sport's aficionados. The Road Hole Bunker adds to the attraction of this centuries-old Scottish treasure.
The 17th-hole hindrance is among the most revered and reviled holes on any course in the world. Part of the 455-yard par four that features a blind drive, this bunker is legendary.
It's occasionally referred to as "the Sands of Nakajima," one of golf's great monikers. Japanese golfer Tommy Nakajima needed four swings to escape Road Hole during the 1978 British Open, costing him a chance at the Claret Jug.
The outer rim is a stone wall, which acts more like an unforgiving fortress when the ball comes to rest against it.
1. The Back Nine at Augusta National
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The journey down the home stretch at Augusta National is a rite of passage for any aspiring champion. Loaded with historic rigors, the course's back nine really does make or break green jacket dreams.
Holes dubbed "White Dogwood" (11), "Golden Bell" (12) and "Azalea" (13) comprise the revered and romanticized Amen Corner. Countless promising afternoons have met a watery grave at this hallowed portion of the course.
Once you work your way out of that mess, "Firehorn" (15) looms large. The 530-yard par five tests the patience of even the most powerful drivers and guards its green with water.
The list of victims on Augusta's final nine is filled with famous figures.
Rory McIlroy made plenty of noise through three-and-a-half rounds at the 2011 Masters and appeared primed to track down a stunning victory. The wheels came off on the 10th hole, where he triple-bogeyed and left viewers cringing across the country.
Greg Norman coughed up a six-shot lead at the 1996 Masters, succumbing to Augusta's fearsome finish. And then there's Ray Floyd, who three-putted on the 18th hole at the 1990 Masters and eventually splashed his ball on the ensuing second hole of a playoff against Nick Faldo.
Rest assured, this arduous stretch at Augusta is in the back of every golfer's head when they wake up on Sunday at the Masters.