Like those useless exams in school that merely assess your ability to memorize loads of information, purely physical shotmaking tests often leave strategy and fun out of the process. The mind is only asked to deal with the pressure of executing difficult shots already mapped out by the architect. Cognitive powers need not apply.
An ideal course should test one’s thinking throughout, but never more so than at the conclusion of the round, often with the outcome of the match in the balance. On the final hole, the ability to think clearly and make good decisions under pressure should be tested as much as any other attribute. Room must be left open for heroic and imaginative play, allowing for the type of wild swings that define the most exciting finishes to matches and majors.
For reasons unknown, the lengthy, taxing two-shotter has
become synonymous with a round’s conclusion, especially at most modern layouts, even when short par 4s and reachable par 5s create far more compelling finishes for a greater array of players.
So our ideal finish is not a long par 4; but it is well bunkered. It finishes close to the clubhouse so an audience can assemble to witness the occasional tight match or to enjoy the sight of golfers savoring the final moments of their round. The conclusion of the round is far more pleasing to spectate, as well as take part in, than the scene of tortured, tense souls preparing to tee off—another reason our concluding hole sits closer to the clubhouse than the first tee does.
Finishing close to the clubhouse sometimes means out of bounds might be in play, which is fine as long as it isn’t so contrived that it discourages bold shotmaking.
Our concluding hole should be defined by one key design trait. Perhaps it’s a deep swale that swallows balls like quicksand, yet somehow still allows for the occasional recovery so remarkable that a glimmer of hope remains. Dramatic for all is a second shot with a short iron to a small, tightly bunkered green.
Two such ideal finishers come to mind: the devilish 347-yard 18th at Olympic and the unforgettable 354-yard finish to Donald Ross’ Inverness Club design (pictured). Both play out in front of the clubhouse and feature steeply sloped putting surfaces where both major championships and thousands of friendly wagers have been settled.
Inverness’ 18th gets the edge because of a wicked right fringe area that defies gravity and awaits unsuspecting shots. It is also a bit closer to the clubhouse.
At Inverness, whether it is Bob Tway holing out from a greenside bunker in the last round to beat Greg Norman in the 1986 PGA Championship, George Von Elm twice making birdie to force a pair of 36-hole playoffs against eventual winner Billy Burke in the 1931 U.S. Open, or members reveling in the evening sun while watching their fellow golfers wrapping up a tightly contested four-ball match, there is nothing more we could ask of a finishing hole.
Next: Ideal Grillroom