The Biarritz is perhaps the most memorable example of a template hole in golf: A par three that stretches between 210 and 240 yards to a very long green with a prominent swale three to five feet deep cutting across it.
The original design was found at The Biarritz Course in France, with brothers Willie and Tom Dunn laying out a unique hole called “the Chasm” that played over the Bay of Biscay. It was intended to test a player’s long game, demanding a shot that had to finish on the right side of the swale. Unsuccessful attempts were often left with a very long and testing putt, often followed by several others.
Once you’ve played a Biarritz, you won’t soon forget it.
Unfortunately, they’re a bit of a rarity in today’s game. While the recognizable features of the now-gone original were brought to the U.S. a century ago by architect C.B. Macdonald and his disciples, Seth Raynor and Charles Banks, they’re found today primarily at older, private clubs. Typically, the elongated green—up to 80 yards deep from front to back—is flanked by narrow bunkers. In some cases, the flat area before the swale plays as fairway rather than green, but the Biarritz hole challenges a player’s accuracy, whether it’s running a shot through the swale or attempting a precise aerial approach with anything from a mid-iron to a 3-wood.
For those who have experienced a Biarritz and ended up in that swale, that’s where the real fun (or folly) begins. While some designers have employed the Biarritz style beyond par-three holes, the following is a lineup of some of the finest U.S. examples of one of the game’s greatest templates:
Yale Golf Club (Conn.)—9th hole
Perhaps the best-known and most-photographed Biarritz in the U.S., the stunning 9th hole at Yale plays from an elevated tee over a pond to a two-tiered green that’s more than 60 yards deep. In describing the hole, Banks (a Yale grad who supervised construction of the course) said only the back part beyond the “groove” was the “green proper,” but the pin is put on both halves today, making the hole play significantly differently depending on placement.
Piping Rock (N.Y.)—9th hole
Macdonald first employed the Biarritz template as the closer of the first nine at this private club on Long Island. A differentiator for this version is that the forward section is maintained as fairway and guarded by a front bunker, while the back (larger) section of the green juts out on the left side.
Speaking of firsts, the par-3 9th at Piping Rock – the first Biarritz template ever built by C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor, the first Biarritz par-3 I ever saw, and as far as I know, the first Biarritz green built in the U.S. Suffice it to say, this hole leaves an impression. pic.twitter.com/S8pIjhnWmE
— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) March 17, 2021
Shoreacres (Ill.)—6th hole
Depending on pin position, the prototypical Biarritz at Shoreacres can play anywhere from about 160 yards to more than 235 yards, and possibly a bit longer if the breezes pick up off Lake Michigan. Raynor bisected the deep green with a swale that’s almost six feet deep, adding dimension to a relatively flat section of the course’s routing.
You are correct – 6 at Shoreacres is a Biarritz par-3. pic.twitter.com/Ea8JgvAi9D
— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) July 9, 2017
Forsgate Banks Course (N.J.)—17th hole
One of the finest, but unheralded Biarritz holes in the game, the 17th on Forsgate’s Banks Course in Central New Jersey has severe flanking bunkers alongside a green that’s about 75 yards deep. The back tier of the putting surface takes it up another notch, with a horseshoe thumbprint that adds yet another challenge.
Chicago Golf Club (Ill.)—3rd hole
The tough start at ultra-private Chicago Golf Club features the Biarritz early in the routing, immediately after Raynor’s version of the Road Hole. With the swale in front of the putting surface, the hole plays almost 220 yards and the run-up area in front can feed balls in a variety of directions.
Friday night lights: Chicago Golf Club
A spectacular sunset over Seth Raynor’s 219yd Biarritz par-3 3rd, which ends one of the toughest three-hole starts in golf. The Long 4th, Leven 5th & Double Plateau 6th are visible left, while the Road Hole 2nd makes a cameo stage right. pic.twitter.com/fO2xdYVRpM
— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) February 1, 2020
Fox Chapel (Pa.)—17th hole
Recently redone by Fazio Design, the last and longest par three at this Pittsburgh-area private club has an elevated tee that offers an exceptional view of a green that’s 85 yards long. A new framing bunker fronts the massive putting surface, providing added challenge when the pin is up front or for those whose strategy is to run the ball in.
Old MacDonald (Ore.)—8th hole
One of the rare public examples—at Bandon Dunes on the Oregon coast—this long par three plays from just about as elevated a tee as you’ll find on a Biarritz hole. Tom Doak designed the green with a pitch from front to back as well, encouraging players to land the ball just in front of the swale and run it to the hole when there’s a rear pin position.
The Creek (N.Y.)—11th hole
In terms of combining scenery and difficulty, it’s hard to top The Creek’s Biarritz, which is uniquely built on an exposed inlet in the Long Island Sound and has walking bridges for access. Instead of flanking bunkers, water beckons for wayward shots to the well-contoured green that’s about 80 yards long.
The 11th hole, featuring a 200ft long Biarritz island green, at The Creek Club on Long Island pic.twitter.com/0bS6oK75Tt
— Michael Wolf (@bamabearcat) February 27, 2018
Old White at The Greenbriar (W.Va.)—3rd hole
Steve Elkington said PGA Tour players would joke that a school bus could be laid down sideways in the swale at Old White’s first par-three hole and it wouldn’t be visible from the tee. Nicknamed the “Valley of Sin,” the trench that splits the putting surface is another of the few Biarritz examples that public golfers (resort guests) can experience.
— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) July 20, 2016
Fishers Island (N.Y.)—5th hole
With the Long Island Sound looming to the right, the Biarritz 5th hole at Fishers Island plays dramatically uphill to a multitiered green that’s surrounded by bunkers. On the back end of the green, Raynor also incorporated a ridge in the putting surface that runs perpendicular to the swale, making par even more challenging.
Elkridge Club (Md.)—13th hole
Raynor uniquely included a “thumbprint” depression on the front section of the Biarritz green at this private Baltimore club, adding an extra level of difficulty when the pin is cut before the swale. Although slightly downhill, this hole can play almost 250 yards when the pin is tucked in the back.
Whippoorwill Club (N.Y.)—8th hole
Banks added the Biarritz template when he retooled this under-the-radar Donald Ross design in the 1920s. Whippoorwill’s downhill 8th hole is framed by mature trees behind the green and backed by a small pond and waterfall, and also features protective bunkers with a little more curve around the undulating green and a tee shot that plays over a road.
The par-3 Biarritz 8th at Whippoorwill Club plays over the aptly named Whipporwill Crossing Road off the tee – make sure you don't top it! pic.twitter.com/YTlW8EoVeu
— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) March 28, 2017
Which Biarritz hole is your favorite? Are there other examples not included here that you like best? If so, why?