Every golfer has a bucket list of courses that he or she hopes to play. Similarly, they all aspire to someday test their mettle (and their luck) hitting shots that have been made famous at those golfing destinations.
The focus here is on tee shots, and I’ve selected a trio of opening shots from heralded par threes, par fours, and par fives that are likely to be at or near the top of many golfers’ lists.
No. 12, Augusta National Golf Club (Augusta, Ga.)
It’s not often that people want to be perplexed, yet those who dream of playing a round at Augusta National are essentially hoping for it, since confusion and indecision often characterize the mental states of golfers who stand on Golden Bell’s tee box. Golfers who prepare to play the world’s most famous 12th hole will first look out across Rae’s Creek to the hourglass-shaped green—a scant 3,200 square feet of pristine bentgrass—and then glance up at the tops of the Georgia Pines that protect that back corner of the course, searching for any indication of the wind’s direction.
Augusta National – No. 12
Golden Bell – Par-3 – 155yds
Perhaps the most famed par-3 in golf, Golden Bell is just 150-some yards through a mysterious and beguiling wind to an angled, kidney-shaped green across Rae’s Creek.
Has any hole produced more major championship drama? pic.twitter.com/yGyEi4bqHU
— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) April 10, 2020
In the past, Golden Bell has been the stage where in 2020 defending Masters champion Tiger Woods dunked three balls in the water and walked off the green with a 10, and it left 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed declaring that the best strategy is to “get on your hands and knees and pray.” Even Jack Nicklaus acknowledges that the famous par three is equally infamous for the emotional states that stricken so many golfers who play it. “Number 12 was always uncomfortable to play—even though, without wind, 12 may be the easiest hole on the golf course,” the Golden Bear once said. “With a little bit of a breeze, it may be the toughest.”
No. 17, TPC Sawgrass, Stadium Course (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.)
It’s arguably the most famous and the most intimidating 137-yard shot in all of golf, even though the 17th on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass can play shorter—or longer—depending on where the tee markers are placed. The intimidation factor is easy to explain given all the water that surrounds the green. In fact, the water is often the only thing that players seem to see, which speaks to the brilliance of the hole’s design. After all, the 17th green isn’t particularly small—it measures 78 feet in depth and it’s just about that same distance wide. Given its surroundings, however, that putting surface can be awfully hard to hit, even for the best players in the world. Back in 2007, for example, 50 balls found a watery grave during the first round of The Players Championship.
Amateurs who are fortunate enough to tee it up at 17 must also face the added pressure that comes with playing such a famous hole. “When people hear that you played the Stadium Course,” says Tom Alter, vice president of communications for the PGA Tour, “the first question that everyone asks is, ‘How did you do on 17?’”
No. 8, Royal Troon Golf Club (Troon, Scotland)
A shot of 123 yards from elevated tees is all that’s needed to hit the middle of this green. With the slope adjusted—and in benign conditions—players may need to hit even less than that. Being that Royal Troon is perched directly on the western shores of southern Scotland, however, it’s not often that golfers enjoy benign conditions. Typically, they’ll face a confronting wind, which makes that tiny green—only 14 yards at its widest point—even more difficult to hit. And that’s not even factoring in the five cavernous bunkers that surround the putting surface.
The hole was originally known as Ailsa, since the tee box offers an unobstructed view of a rocky islet with that name; however, it acquired its current “Postage Stamp” moniker when William Park, writing in Golf Illustrated, described the green complex as: “A pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a postage stamp.” Needless to say, hitting the green in regulation is a victory worth bragging about, especially considering the perspective held by Martin Cheyne, Royal Troon’s captain. “There is nowhere to go, there is no bailout area,” he says. “You’ve got to make sure that the ball lands exactly where you want it.”
No. 17, The Old Course at St. Andrews (St. Andrews, Scotland)
If you’re not careful, when you stand on the 17th tee box on the “Road Hole” in St. Andrews your thoughts could easily skip ahead to that devilish pot bunker that guards the front left portion of the green. Your thoughts might also drift to the tightly mown collection area over the back of the putting surface and the challenging proposition that comes with pitching on from those short-sided sections around the green. Of course, the prospect of having to possibly bank your shot off the stone wall on the opposite side of Old Station Road, as Miguel Angel Jimenez deftly did during The Open in 2010, is terrifying… unless you can pull it off.
Any of those thoughts are potentially calamitous because they’ll distract you from the shot at hand, which is no less intimidating. For the best angle into the 436-yard hole’s narrow green, golfers need to position their drives down the right side of the fairway. And that means that unless they can curve their tee shots like Bubba, they need to hit their drives over the former railway sheds, which are now a part of the Old Course Hotel. “Sometimes there’s nothing more thrilling than to hit your ball and see it fly over something,” golf course designer Bill Coore once said. “That’s a thrill that’s not forgotten.”
No. 4, Old Head Golf Links (Kinsale, Ireland)
The current lighthouse situated on the headland south of Kinsale on Ireland’s southern coast was built in 1853, and it provides a picturesque backdrop to the 4th hole at Old Head—not that the 427-yard par four is lacking for scenery. The hole is aptly named “Razor’s Edge,” for a fine line inevitably exists down its noticeably pitched fairway sloping from right to left. Land your drive too far to the left and you could watch helplessly as the ball trundles over the cliff’s edge and plummets into the Celtic Sea.
Aggressive players who are willing to flirt with disaster to set up a short iron or wedge into the hole’s elevated green can use that historic lighthouse as a target line, but such a route offers little margin for error. The safer shot off the tee is farther to the right, where the slope often brings balls back to the middle of the fairway. The challenge that players face at the start of this hole in some ways accounts for that tee shot’s iconic status, but its true claim to fame is the setting in which it’s located. After all, the 4th hole at Old Head is one of the most photographed golf holes across all of Ireland.
No. 18, Merion Golf Club, East Course (Ardmore, Pa.)
The drive on No. 18 at Merion Golf Club is iconic less for the hole’s appearance from the tee and more for the challenge that players face—not to mention the heroic accounts of one of the sport’s greatest ball strikers who played the hole almost 75 years ago. Let’s start with the challenge. This par four measures 521 yards from the pro tees, though the members’ tees are thankfully almost 75 yards closer. That’s important, given that from the back tees, players must hit uphill drives that carry at least 252 yards to reach the start of the fairway. And like Merion’s final green, the 18th fairway is turtle-backed, so it’s far from a guarantee that balls which initially land on short grass will also come to rest there. Also, the longer a player’s drive, the more likely it is that they’ll be faced with a downhill lie for their second shot, which plays to a slightly elevated green.
As for the hole’s history, Ben Hogan famously returned to the U.S. Open in 1950 after a near-fatal car accident the year before. Coming to the 72nd hole, Hogan needed par to force a playoff. After positioning his drive in the left-center of the fairway, he striped a 1-iron from about 220 yards, hit the green in regulation, and two-putted for a four (he went on to win the 18-hole playoff the next day). Should players find the short grass with their drives on 18, they might want to consider tapping the plaque in the fairway that marks the location of Hogan’s famous 1-iron. After all, Justin Rose did so during the final round of the 2013 U.S. Open, then hit a pin-seeking 4-iron that helped him win his first major championship.
No. 18, Pebble Beach Golf Links (Pebble Beach, Calif.)
“The brain tries to be an accommodating mechanism. It will try to send the ball in the direction of the last thing you look at or think about,” writes Bob Rotella in Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect. “If your last thought before striking the ball is, ‘don’t hit it in the pond,’ the brain is likely to react by telling your muscles to hit it in the pond.”
Such a psychological obstacle is at the core of the tee shot on Pebble Beach’s concluding hole, where the “pond” on the left is gigantic and has a name: the Pacific Ocean. The dream is to send a drive directly toward the cypress tree, which stands resolute in the center of the fairway—provided, of course, that your ball doesn’t hit the tree or end up stymied behind it. Doing so is not an easy task, especially when the waves are crashing against the rocky shoreline down the entire left side of the hole. In this scenario, not thinking about the ocean is almost impossible.
Should you hit a well-placed drive, you might have the opportunity to hit another iconic shot on Pebble’s 18th—going for the green in two. Tiger amazingly pulled it off during the U.S. Open in 2010. Partially blocked by that aforementioned cypress tree, Woods hit a hard cut with a 3-wood that actually started out over Carmel Bay. It likely goes without saying, but if you get the chance to go for this green in two, I don’t recommend taking that same approach.
No. 18, The Plantation Course at Kapalua (Kapalua, Hawaii)
Measuring 599 yards from the regular tees—which is still 80 yards closer than the tour tee box—the closing par five on the Plantation Course may seem like too much of a monster for the tee shot to be that aspirational. But when you consider that the hole plays dramatically downhill, the fairway is more than 80 yards wide, and the trade winds are typically blowing at players’ backs, the 18th suddenly seems far more gettable. It also becomes a hole where personal best driving distances can be achieved. Want proof? In 2004, Davis Love III hit the longest recorded drive on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era: 476 yards.
Should you hit a bomb off the tee, you’ll likely be tempted to go for the green in two, which is iconic in its own right. That shot will be far more difficult than your previous one, since it requires a forced carry from a downhill lie. In 2011, Bubba Watson pulled it off, hitting driver off the deck from 305 yards out.
No. 7, Pine Valley Golf Club (Pine Valley, N.J.)
A quick survey of Pine Valley’s membership would likely reveal that the 7th hole leads to a disproportionate number of bogeys or worse. Shooting par at the 7th will almost always feel like a birdie. And if you should be fortunate enough to circle a number on your card after completing the hole… well, you’ll gain entry into a relatively exclusive club.
Not surprisingly, finding that type of success on the 7th at Pine Valley starts with a good drive. While it’s positioned on the golf club’s flattest parcel of land, the 7th hole is the longest—measuring more than 630 yards from the back tees—and it’s famous for its expansive natural bunker, which bisects the fairway about 300 yards from the members tees and 340 yards or so from the back tees. That bunker—strewn with tufts of natural grass and scrub-like bushes—stretches about 160 yards in length and is appropriately named “Hell’s Half Acre.”
Hell’s Half Acre, among the most famed and feared hazards in all of golf, guards the 580yd par-5 7th at Pine Valley. Covering a 100yd swath beginning 300yds from the green, the hazard puts immense pressure on the tee shot, which must be well-placed. A true three shot hole. pic.twitter.com/gCKI0DBDC0
— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) August 28, 2019
Some might argue that the more iconic shot at Pine Valley’s 7th hole is clearing Hell’s Half Acre with your second shot, but I disagree. The pressure that golfers face on the tee, knowing that their only hope for a good score rests in hitting a solid drive, makes this tee shot iconic—especially if it allows you to possibly brag about the score that you ultimately record.
What iconic tee shots would you most like to hit? Let us know in the comments section below.