In golf, fear is the great paralyzer, the ultimate impediment to planning and completing a proper shot. If you’re scared, you’re done. Golf designers, often in concert with Mother Nature, prey on fearful players, toying with their frailties. No golfer needs extra demons this Halloween, but in the spirit of trick-or-treat, here’s our selection of the top 10 most frightening holes.
10. Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Bandon Trails)
No. 14, 325 yards
Built by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw on an interior site a half-mile from the sea, the Trails is overshadowed by the resort’s three other courses, portions of which are perched high above the Pacific. But none of Bandon’s other courses presents an approach as scary as this short, controversial par four. Drift right off the tee, and you’re faced with a blind shot over gaping sand pits to the shallowest portion of the smallest green on the course. Miss this slippery hilltop squib by just a fraction, and you’ll need an adding machine to tally your total.
9. Kiawah Island Golf Resort (Ocean)
Kiawah island, S.C.
No. 17, 221 yards
Easily the scariest hole on one of America’s most grueling courses. Pete Dye, the “Marquis de Sod,” virtually ensures that players will go home unhappy after tackling this diabolical one-shotter. With deep bunkers on the left and a bulk-headed pond in front and to the right of the elongated green, there is virtually no bail-out here. Just ask Mark Calcavecchia, who shanked his tee shot here during the 1991 Ryder Cup matches played on the Ocean Course. As if the bare-knuckled challenge is not enough, the lake is a breeding ground for water moccasins, a poisonous snake. Leave your ball retriever in the bag.
8. Old Head Golf Links
Co. Cork, Ireland
No. 17, 628 yards
If you haven’t previously suffered a bout of vertigo on this windswept links etched across a peninsula 300 feet above the sea at Ireland’s southern tip, No. 17 may be the hole that gets you. At about 175 yards from the green, the right side of the fairway drops precipitously down a rocky cliff to the foaming sea far below. The green itself, while shored up on the right, is pushed to the brink of the bluff. The Old Head’s fiercest hole is both a dizzying prospect and every slicer’s nightmare.
7. Royal Portrush Golf Club (Dunluce)
Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland
No. 14, 210 yards
Native son Rory McIlroy probably never trembles on the tee of Calamity Corner, this dangerous par three’s nickname, but everyone else does. The hole plays uphill to an exposed green swept by fiendish crosswinds. On the left are hillocks of thick, clotted rough. To the right is a slicer’s graveyard: a 75-foot-deep chasm choked with knee-high vegetation. This yawning maw quickly devours any shot with even a hint of left-to-right spin. Recovery from this pit of perdition is fruitless. Mark an ‘x’ and move on.
6. Trump Turnberry Resort (Ailsa)
No. 9, 449 yards
Called Bruce’s Castle for the crumbled ruins of the Scottish king’s fortress nearby, the championship tee on this formidable hole is a small platform set atop a rock pinnacle that rises from the crashing sea. “A man stands alone with his panic,” is how Henry Longhurst described a golfer’s prospects from this vantage point. With the wind howling off the Irish Sea, the tee shot must carry nearly 200 yards to reach a hog’s back fairway marked by a stone cairn. Hit the cairn and you’ll owe your caddie a bottle of whisky. Assuming you haven’t perished from fright on the tee.
5. Pine Valley Golf Club
No. 10, 146 yards
“There is room on this earth for one Pine Valley,” wrote Peter Dobereiner in Down the Nineteenth Fairway, “just as there is a place in the entertainment industry for the horror film, the ghost train and the chamber of horrors.” The shortest hole on the nation’s most penal course calls for an unerring short-iron shot to a raised, undulating green girdled by a ragged sand pit to the left; and by a deep, cone-shaped pot bunker at the front right corner. This is the “Devil’s Asshole.” The only escape is backwards.
4. Cypress Point Club
Pebble Beach, Calif.
No. 16, 233 yards
On an Alister Mackenzie-designed course accurately described as the game’s Sistine Chapel, it was club founder Marion Hollins, a U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, who insisted the glorious oceanfront setting on the west side of 17-Mile Drive should be given over to a heroic, all-or-nothing par three. (Mackenzie wanted a short par four). The tee shot here must carry a wide expanse of surging surf, striated rocks, and a few lounging sea lions in order to find and hold a sizable green encircled by bunkers. Scary, but incomparably exhilarating.
3. The Old Course
St. Andrews, Scotland
No. 17, 461 yards
The notorious Road Hole on the game’s seminal links has wrecked more scorecards and humbled more champions than any other hole on earth. The drive at this terrifying two-shotter is blind to a rippling fairway that swings right and leads to a long, narrow, tabletop green. Eating into the green on the left is the deep, sheer-walled Road bunker, the game’s most infamous sand pit. To the right is a pebbly lane backed by a stone wall. A subtle blend of temptation and fear, the Road Hole has endured centuries of onslaught. It usually emerges the victor.
2. Augusta National Golf Club
No. 12, 155 yards
No hole at the home of the Masters strikes more fear into the hearts of players than this one-shotter. With the winds swirling off the tall pines that surround the hole and a water-guarded green as narrow as the Hogan Bridge players cross to get there, doubt plagues amateurs and pros alike from the minute they walk onto the tee until their ball lands on the green, or more likely, in Rae’s Creek, the azelas in back, or a bunker.
1. TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium)
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
No. 17, 137 yards
There’s no place to run or hide on this man-eating, fear-inducing midget. The target at Pete Dye’s cyclopean creation (it was actually his wife Alice’s idea) is a bulk-headed raft in the middle of a lake that tends to shrink in size on a windy day. Revered and reviled by pros and duffers alike, No. 17 at the original TPC is the ultimate do-or-die hole. How do most players cope with the shiver-me-timbers challenge? Not well. More than 100,000 balls are drowned in the lake each year.