From time to time, in golf and in life, its good to get outside of your comfort zone. Way outside.
Its good to test yourself, to throw yourself into that burning ring of fire, to tee off from the tips (the hardest tee box), on a cold windy day, on a hard golf course like I did this weekend. To help you discover what youre really
made ofand on the 8th hole and a couple of lost balls, I started thinking of some of the hardest golf courses I have encountered. I wanted to share my list of the 10 Hardest Golf Courses.
These are courses that grab you by the collar on the first tee, slap you around for five hours and then reluctantly agree to let you limp your sorry carcass back into the clubhouse for resuscitation.
They are courses meant for drag-out, high-stakes battles at high noon. Courses where they should sell I survived a round atT-shirts in the golf shop. Fields of bad dreams.
This is not a scientific or even definitive ranking. Its my list of layouts that have battered and bruised me, ruined my scorecards and made me want to weep
If you survived one of these courses, tell me all about it.
THE OCEAN COURSE
Kiawah Island, S.C. | 7,356 YARDS / PAR 72
Pete Dye, 81, has been torturing golfers for half his life, and the Ocean Course, strung along the Atlantic coastline with fairways and greens perched above sand, sea oats and sweetgrass, is perhaps his most Dye-abolical design. (Eight of our top 50 were created by the man they call the Marquis de Sod.) The Ocean has the highest combination of Slope Rating (155) and Course Rating (79.6) in America, according to the U.S. Golf Association. With forced carries over marshes, endless waste bunkers and roll-resistant Bermuda grasses, the Ocean is a rare course that can bring tears and fears even to tour prosit was dubbed Looney Dunes after multiple mishaps in the 1991 Ryder Cup. For the rest of us, it kicks sand in our faceliterally when howling winds turn club covers into windsocks. Play it in the mornings when its walking only. You cant cross the Rubicon in a golf cart.
THE INTERNATIONAL (THE PINES)
Bolton, Mass. | 8,325 YARDS / PAR 73
It has pounded its chest as the longest golf course in the land since 1957, only once adding new back tees when someone dared to challenge its supremacy. The numbers are laughable: 8,325 yards, par 73, with a Course Rating of 80. The closing hole is 656 yardsand its not even the longest par 5 on the course. Theres also a par 6, the 715-yard fifth hole, and the par-3 seventh is 277 yards. Length isnt its only overindulgence: The fifth green is 91 yards long and takes more than an hour to mow, and the 11th, a modest 590-yard par 5, has 24 bunkers. If you plan to play it from the tips, be sure you have a three-day weekend.
KOOLAU GOLF CLUB
Kaneohe, Hawaii (Oahu) | 7,310 YARDS / PAR 72
With parts of the course receiving 130 inches of rain a year, this is target golf at its soggiest. You wont need a caddie so much as a backcountry guide. The roughs are tropical rain forests, the hazards mostly uncharted ravines filled with jungle and undiscovered reptilian life forms. Typical of the courses unsubtle presentation, the 474-yard, par-4 18th features two long forced carries over canyons plus a 330-yard bunker off the tee and a 220-yard bunker to the green. Legend has it that the course record was once 63lost balls. Koolau used to have a Slope Rating of 162, even though the maximum possible is 155.
PGA WEST (STADIUM COURSE)
La Quinta, Calif. | 7,266 YARDS / PAR 72
Using moguls, pot bunkers and lumpy liesa style he called his grenade-attack look Pete Dye designed the Stadium Course to play mind games with the worlds best players, and he won. In the late 1980s, PGA Tour players successfully petitioned for its removal from the Bob Hope Desert Chrysler Classic because it was too hard for them, the sissies. Relegated for years mostly as a video-game monster, PGA West has re-emerged as a Q school final exam for aspiring tour pros. With holes like the island-green 17th called Alcatraz, its no wonder the late Jim Murray summed up PGA West with these words: You need a camel, a canoe, a priest and a tourniquet to get through it.
OAKMONT COUNTRY CLUB
Oakmont, Pa. | 7,255 YARDS / PAR 71
No kidding, this is the only place where the USGA asked the club to slow down its greens for a U.S. Open. At the 1935 Open, Gene Sarazen putted off a green into a bunker, prompting Ed Stimpson to invent a tool to measure green speeds, the infamous Stimpmeter. Problem is, no green at Oakmont has enough flat spots to use it. The club used to post estimates of the green speeds each day. Theyve now stopped that, but the old chalkboard sign still exists, etched with a ghostly image of the number 13. The club hosts its eighth Open in June when the greens and bunkers will inflict much pain. (The Church Pews bunker has been deepened, with new back benches added, to catch more sinners.)
BETHPAGE STATE PARK GOLF COURSES (BLACK)
Farmingdale, N.Y. | 7,386 YARDS / PAR 71
At one time, the Black was what public golf courses were like when we were kids, with hardpan fairways, crabgrass greens and pockmarked tees. After being revamped by Rees Jones for the 2002 U.S. Open, its in much better shape, but still big and brawnya 6-mile hike over hill and dale where no carts are allowedwith massive bunkers and tiny greens, several of them hidden from view, even from the center of some fairways. The Blacks magic is that it makes us all feel like kids again, inadequate to the task. Its New York tough.
TOT HILL FARM GOLF CLUB
Asheboro, N.C. | 6,543 YARDS / PAR 72
This is where the late Mike Strantz perfected Extreme Golf and proved that golf courses dont need to be long to be murderous. Smashed from solid rock, holes plunge down mountainsides, jump creeks and climb canyon walls. Rock outcroppings congregate along the top edges of many bunkers. Boulders squeeze approach shots and frame greens as well as tees. Stones line Betty McGees Creek, which intrudes on 13 holes. Hand-stacked rock walls even wind along several fairways. At Tot Hill Farm, a round without a ricochet is a major accomplishment.
WHISTLING STRAITS GOLF CLUB (STRAITS)
Haven, Wis. | 7,362 YARDS / PAR 72
Dire Straits would be a better name. Given the opportunity to transform an abandoned Army bombing range along Lake Michigan, Pete Dye produced a blend of Ballybunion and Beirut, with ragged 70-foot-high faux dunes peppered with a million bunkers, some the size of your golf bag, others the size of the clubhouse. When Petes wife, Alice, urged him to create harder holes that even the pros would double bogey, he added more bunkers and some railroad ties. So much for Alice being the gentler half of the team.
PINE VALLEY GOLF CLUB
Pine Valley, N.J. | 6,999 YARDS / PAR 70
Long regarded as the best golf course in America, Pine Valley leads the league in intimidation. It might have a lot more green grass these days, but still, the turfed areas are just slivers compared to the acres of sand, with gnarly, twisted pine trees thrown in for good measure and hazards like Hells Half Acre and the infamous D.A. funnel-shape-bunker on the par-3 10th (the D stands for Devils; you can figure out the A). The great writer Henry Longhurst put it best: Your ball is either on the fairway, in which case it sits invitingly on a flawless carpet of turf, or it is not. If it is not, you play out sideways till it is. Brutally toughbut wed never turn down an invitation to play it.
TOBACCO ROAD GOLF CLUB
Sanford, N.C. | 6,554 YARDS / PAR 71
This is Mike Strantzs version of Pine Valley, as seen through a funhouse mirror. Bunkers become craters, greens become sinkholes. The sand hills are taller and more eroded, the pits are steeper and deeper. Some greens are three times as wide as they are deep, and others are twice as long as they are wide. Whats not distorted is that there are five blind shots at Tobacco Road. That makes it cotton-pickin hard