By Ryan Asselta
The par four. Routinely benign, sometimes repetitive, yet often unforgettable. More than any length on the golf course, it’s the par fours which will likely make or break your round. Let’s face it: A birdie on a par four is just a bit more rewarding, isn’t it?
With that in mind, the premise is simple: If you could create a nine-hole golf course composed of your top par fours in the world, what would it look like?
Remember…it’s MY personal dream nine. Take a look and ask yourself—what’s on yours?
The Riviera Country Club: 10th hole (315 yards)
Pacific Palisades, Calif.
We begin with arguably the best “drivable par four” in golf. I recently had the opportunity to play Riviera in the Genesis Invitational Pro-Am, which gave me a first-hand look at how the 10th hole can produce an eagle just as easily as a double bogey. After watching PGA Tour pro Jason Kokrak take out a 3-wood and land his tee shot 20 feet from the hole on the green, I whipped out my driver—I didn’t come all the way to The Riv to lay up!
Short and right off the tee left a wedge out of the rough to a green protected by bunkers on the front right and narrowly angled, running away from front to back. My ensuing approach had no chance of staying on the green and trickled off to a collection area. After a fine chip, I was able to salvage par, meanwhile Kokrak coolly two-putted for birdie. Certainly, a Jekyll and Hyde hole.
Oakmont Country Club: 3rd hole (428 yards)
I’ve never had the pleasure of playing Oakmont, but I was able to view the iconic course and its infamous church pew bunkers up close during the 2016 U.S. Open. Originally designed by Henry Clay Fownes, the bunkering in between the 3rd and 4th fairways gives the appearance of 12 separate traps, or pews. It has to be one of the most penal spots in golf, especially when the rough that separates the bunkers is in full bloom. A shot out of the sand is nearly impossible as the steep uphill climb to the green presents a blind approach. The 3rd hole perfectly sums up Oakmont as a whole: Beautifully difficult.
Augusta National Golf Club: 10th hole (495 yards)
Arguably on top of my personal list of favorite golf holes ever played, the 10th at Augusta National is a spectacular ride. Anyone who’s ever been to Augusta will tell you the elevation changes are what people are most surprised about. No hole represents that more than the 10th. With the tee box positioned 106 feet higher than the green, tee shots that catch the fairway slope run for miles. Strolling down the hill makes for one of the best walks on the property. To the right is the 18th hole and the Masters scoreboard, to the left a row of ANGC cabins. The approach reveals a green protected by bunkering on the right and a false front. Land the green and you’re set up for a fantastic par. Miss left, like I did, and you’ll be lucky to walk away with a five.
Pebble Beach Golf Links: 8th hole (427 yards)
Pebble Beach, Calif.
The one golf course and hole I simply have to get to. No, I have not been to Pebble, but am confident I will. Right after you play the stunning par-three 7th, a blind tee shot on the 8th hole sets up the dramatic reveal of what Jack Nicklaus has called his favorite shot in all of golf. An approach from the edge of the fairway measures approximately 160 yards over crashing waves to a tiny green that sits well below the fairway. Flanked by five bunkers, the green slopes from back to front, and slightly right towards the cliff line that drops off to the Pacific. It’s so pretty, I’d almost be okay with losing a ball on the 8th at Pebble.
Pine Valley Golf Club: 18th hole (483 yards)
Pine Valley, N.J.
The idea of getting on to play one of the most exclusive golf courses in the country is probably just a pipe dream, but hey a guy can fantasize, right? First and foremost, if you’re playing the 18th at Pine Valley it means you’ve completed a round at what’s consistently ranked as the number one golf course in America. The last hole is a burly finish. If you’re lucky enough to find the fairway from the elevated tee box, you’re left with an uphill approach over bunkers and water. It’s the ultimate way to end what would be considered one of golf’s great bucket-list days.
Shinnecock Hills: 9th hole (485 yards)
Standing on the tee box of the 9th hole at Shinnecock you realize you are someplace special. Founded in 1891, America’s oldest golf clubhouse is set high in the distance and the final vision you have before attempting to hit a drawing tee shot (ideally) to a fairway that slopes right to left and could aid in 20 extra yards of roll.
Unfortunately, the day I played Shinnecock I missed the fairway by about a yard and a half, and could barely see my golf ball. Playing a month prior to the 2018 U.S. Open, Shinnecock’s rough was lush, making the ensuing shots all the more difficult. The uphill approach demands at least a club and a half compensation, and the discipline to avoid a quartet of treacherous bunkers. The green set in front of the clubhouse patio slopes back to front and leaves golfers with a slippery putt if they go long.
Old Course at St. Andrews: 17th hole (455 yards)
St. Andrews, Scotland
Is the “Road Hole” at the Old Course at St. Andrews the most famous par four in all of golf?
If not the most famous, arguably the toughest. A forced carry off the tee over the railway sheds at the Old Course Hotel can play mind games with even the single-digit handicap. Old Tom Morris designed the 17th with angles in mind. Proper angle off the tee leaves golfers with an angle into the green best suited at avoiding the gaping road hole bunker and landing the shallow green. It’s a hole that pops into my head every five years when the Open Championship returns to St. Andrews, which it will again in 2021.
The Captains Course (Starboard): 16th hole (468 yards)
Each and every August my family and I trek north to Cape Cod, Mass., for our annual vacation. Along with hitting the Beachcomber in Wellfleet and taking our boat out to Monomoy Island, a round at the Captains Course in Brewster is an annual tradition. The 36-hole facility has always had a special place in my golf memory box. The Starboard Course is where I shot my lowest score to date, a one-over 73, alongside my dad and good friends Chris and Brian White, both local Cape natives.
With each hole named after a sea captain, Starboard is a pleasant stroll through Cape Cod Pines until you get to the 16th, named after Captain Barnabas Paine. With a string of bunkering up the left side of a fairway that runs right to left, an accurate tee shot is paramount. From there a long iron into a forgiving green gives you a makeable birdie attempt, like it did for me that special day back in 2004.
Caledonia Golf and Fish Club: 18th hole (383 yards)
Pawleys Island, S.C.
My dream nine comes to a close with my all-time favorite finishing hole. Caledonia, just south of Myrtle Beach, has a unique lowcountry feel to it from start to finish. The 18th is on the short side, requiring a hybrid or 3-wood off the tee to avoid running through the fairway into the water which snakes up the right side. A solid tee shot will leave golfers with a wedge or 9-iron approach over water to a green overlooked by the back porch of Caledonia’s clubhouse, which is usually filled with golfers kicking back in rocking chairs and enjoying a post round drink at the 19th hole.