By Erik Matuszewski
When golf architect Brian Curley was pitching ownership about his vision for the fourth course at Siam Country Club in Pattaya, Thailand, he stressed the need for something unique and exciting to stand out.
The result: The Wall of Death.
To the right of the green at the par-five 15th hole at Siam’s Rolling Hills is a 20-foot deep bunker with a double wall of eight-foot long concrete sections that are sculpted, stained, and embedded in the ground to look like railroad ties. The hazard is about two feet deeper than the infamous bunker at the Stadium Course at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., and the slope of the wall is offset from the edge of the green by about 18 feet, making the recovery for an errant approach shot even more difficult.
“I have been pushing with the concept of being different, having not just a great course but features that people talk about and want to go out of their way to tackle,” says Curley. “At the time, I was also, as usual, battling a song in my head (Richard Thompson’s Wall of Death, also covered by R.E.M.) and it just hit me. The double railroad tie idea is something I always wanted to do and it worked here.”
The upper wall of the ‘Wall of Death’ is almost vertical, while the lower wall has more pitch so a golfer won’t accidentally ricochet a shot back into his or her face. There is a short offset between the two levels, in the event someone took an unceremonious tumble from the top, and the grass is now mowed tight to ensure balls don’t hold up on the slope.
While many well-known courses have well-known features—think the “Hell Bunker” and the “Road Hole” at St. Andrews, “Hell’s Half Acre” at Pine Valley, or the “Church Pews” at Oakmont—can a single design element create must-play intrigue on a golf course? Following are a handful of unique, must-see features on golf courses outside the U.S.:
Tail of the Whale
“3b” isn’t exactly the catchiest name for one of golf’s most stunning holes. No, “Tail of the Whale” is much more fitting for the world’s only natural island green, which sits on a rocky outcropping in the Pacific Ocean. The extra hole at Pacifico Golf Course at Punta Mita in Mexico is an absolute show-stopper, playing almost 200 yards from the beachfront tees. At low tide, golfers can drive their carts to the green across a stone path in the sandbar, while an amphibious golf cart will shuttle players when the tide is up. Depending on the timing, guests can even play this memorable hole by itself.
The Dell at Lahinch
There’s almost no chance an architect today would replicate what Old Tom Morris created at the 5th hole at Lahinch: a par-three with a completely blind tee shot over a 30-foot tall mound in front of the green. It’s a surreal sight when standing on the teeing ground for the first time, with only a white stone atop the grassy hill to mark the day’s pin placement. While just over 150 yards from the back tees, the hole plays into a prevailing wind and also features a shallow green that’s backed by another towering dune that some players, especially locals, will try to use as a backboard.
Katathong’s 17th Green
Nestled among three stunning misty mountains in southern Thailand is the Katathong Golf Resort & Spa, built on the site of a former tin mine. Rusting relics and other memorabilia from the mining era remain throughout the golf course, but the most memorable feature is the par-three 17th hole. Seemingly innocuous on the scorecard at 156 yards from the white tees and 178 from the blues, the green is perched atop a 100-foot plateau. If that isn’t daunting enough, an unforgiving, sheer cliff face leads a good number of players to take their next shot from the drop zone closer to the green.
The Wall at North Berwick’s 13th
The West Links at North Berwick is one of the oldest and quirkiest golf courses in the world. It’s also one of the game’s most endlessly enjoyable layouts—a masterclass in golf architecture. The par-four 13th encapsulates that in a single hole: “Pit.” Other ancient stone walls grace North Berwick, but this one, just inches from the smallest green on the course, is defensively angled at a diagonal to most approach shots. If you’ve been among those golfers who have been stymied by the wall, consider yourself fortunate to have had the experience. But as the course’s website reminds, “Don’t argue with the wall—it’s older than you.”
Smoke your drive right down the middle of the first hole at El Camaleon at the Fairmont Mayakoba and you might find yourself in a cavernous bunker affectionately known as the “Devil’s Mouth.” This sinkhole, formed by the collapse of surface limestone, is the most famous of several cenotes on the Greg Norman design and is far bigger than it appears in pictures—encompassing about 600 square feet of the opening fairway. Common to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, cenotes were occasionally used by the ancient Mayans for sacrificial offerings. There’s no question this unique hazard has claimed many an offering from golfers through the years.
What are some other must-see features from golf courses around the globe?