10 of Golf’s Scariest Opening Tee Shots

Any first tee can spook you. What happens on the first hole sets the tone for the whole round, so it’s only natural to be nervous when it’s your turn to blast away. That’s why many course designers make their opening holes gentle affairs—to help ease you into your round.

But there are some courses where the anxiety factor gets dialed-up from the get-go—courses with opening holes you’re wary of from the minute you confirm your tee time.

Here’s a list of some of the world’s tougher opening tee shots. They all have different reasons for making my list, but in the end they share one thing: the ability to make your hands tremble, palms sweat, and blood pressure spike before you’ve even taken your first swing.

1. Ballybunion Golf Club (Old Course)—par four, 408 yards: For players who fade (or, let’s be honest, slice) the ball, any opening hole that doglegs to the left or presents trouble to the right is going to get knees knocking. The first hole here amps up the drama by having not just out of bounds on the right, but a graveyard. Add in a little left-to-right wind off the Atlantic, and this hole (nicknamed “Tombstones”) may write the epitaph for your round before it’s hardly begun.

2. Royal Lytham & St. Annes—par three, 206 yards: There aren’t many opening shots that have nine bunkers to terrify you with. But then again, not many courses begin with par threes. Royal Lytham is famous for its bunkers (206 in all), and the long first hole is famous for being the one where Ian Woosnam made bogey instead of birdie in the final round of the 2001 Open Championship because there were two drivers in his bag. When Woosnam’s caddie, Myles Byrne, noticed the problem, he told Woosnam: “You’re going to go ballistic.” Woosnam did.

Golf's Scariest Shots
(Photo by Kevin Murray)

3. Oakmont Country Club—par four, 482 yards: The long, downhill first hole at Oakmont is a fitting prelude to what this stern U.S. Open track has in store for you. Off the tee, you’ll be greeted by a narrow ribbon of fairway with a row of five bunkers partially hidden on the left, and three more bunkers and trees (including big oaks) on the right. You can’t see the green from the tee and knowing that the hole will only get more difficult the closer you get to its severe putting surface makes finding the fairway off the tee mandatory. Good luck!

4. Oakland Hills Country Club (South Course)—par four, 431 yards: While we’re on the subject of oaks, the opening hole at Oakland Hills also has all the qualities of a scorecard-wrecker—beginning with the tee shot. The fairway here is guarded by three bunkers on the left, one on the right, and trees on both sides. Then there’s the rough, which you absolutely must avoid. It’s thick, wiry stuff, and more than one player who’s found it off the tee has wound up wearing out his wedge on this hole.

5. Tara Iti—par four, 390 yards: The primary feature of this dogleg-left opener is the gaping bunker at the elbow, which dares big hitters to carry it and forces shorter hitters to bail out right. Tara Iti could be the sandiest course on the planet, so anything off the fairway is likely to find a sandy lie. But what makes the opening tee shot here hardest may be the fact that non-members can only visit this amazing club once. So, you better make your opening tee shot—and every shot—count.

Golf's Scariest Shots
(Photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

6. Machrihanish Golf Club—par four, 425 yards: The club’s logo features an oystercatcher, and your opening salvo here may very well sail over the heads of a few of these cute seabirds as it traverses a corner of the beach—which is in play should you not reach the fairway. With the prevailing wind off the left, this tee shot terrorizes both slicers and hookers, who may, in their zeal to hit a long, low runner, find water instead of land.

7. Augusta National Golf Club—par four, 445 yards: It’s called “Tea Olive,” which is a dainty name for such a punishing hole. Historically, this slight dogleg-right has played as the sixth most difficult hole in the Masters. Your first challenge is to get your tee shot to the top of a steep hill; your second is to avoid the deep bunker on the right and trees on the left. Four-time major winner Ernie Els made a nine here once (though mostly with his putter).

8. Ardglass Golf Club—par four, 335 yards: As at Machrihanish, your opening shot here will have to carry a corner of the sea, except that in this case it’s a rocky shoreline and there’s no chance of hitting two from the beach. You’ve got a ton of room on the right but taking the safe route will leave you a longer shot into the small, seaside green. A big part of the challenge here is keeping your mind on your work; Ardglass’s first tee is one of the golf world’s most scenic spots.

9. Crystal Downs Country Club—par four, 460 yards: The opening hole at Crystal Downs plays downhill. And that’s the only easy thing about it. From its elevated starting point, you can clearly see the large bunker on the right—and the way the canted fairway kicks everything in that direction. You can’t overpower this hole—or this course. Find the fairway and be happy with bogey.

10. The Old Course at St. Andrews—par four, 376 yards: With a double fairway in front of you that’s 126 yards wide, this should be the easiest tee shot in golf. But that stately building behind you, the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, has eyes. And you know it. Players are to be forgiven if they flub their opening shots here. The pressure of beginning a round on the game’s most historic course is palpable. Just ask Ian Baker-Finch, who hooked a tee shot all the way through the adjacent 18th fairway and out of bounds in the 1995 Open.

What do you think is golf’s scariest opening tee shot? Let us know in the comment section.

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