My personal “Most Difficult” list
My two sons, who I believe love their father dearly, have an annoying habit of saying, “Yes, Dad, we know…” whenever I say something that they may have heard from me before – which, according to them, is all the time. Often, the “we know” is followed by the exact same words I’m about to articulate, before I’ve said them. So, granted, they may have a strong case.
A case in point is when we stand on the first tee of the delightful Beaumaris Golf Club, in Muskoka, which all of us have had the privilege of being members of, for many years. The boys will, sometimes in unison, say “yes, Dad, we know… this is the hardest opening hole in the world”, before I’ve even started with “y’know, this…” It’s quite irritating that they pre-empt this grave pronouncement, but I believe the statement is factual nonetheless.
For the record, the 1st hole at Beaumaris is 190 yards dead straight, to a green that’s over a low hill. The green is slightly elevated, about 15 feet wide and crowned like an old Donald Ross green. Hitting a dead straight long iron or hybrid for your first shot of the day is always a challenge, so you (that is, I) miss the green 100 times out of 100. Chipping to a 15-foot wide crowned surface, usually from long grass to the right or the left, is exceptionally delicate, for your second shot of the day. You (that is, I) usually walk off the 1st with your first double bogey or worse of the day.
Which leads me to thinking of some of the other “most difficult” features that I’ve encountered in over 60 years of playing this stupid game, on over 300 courses. Here, for your enjoyment, argument, or comparison, are some of the ones that pop to my mind:
Most Difficult Drive: 2nd hole, Old Course, Wolf Creek Golf Resort, Red Deer, AB
I played this course once about 25 years ago, and still shudder at the vivid memory of standing on the 2nd tee. (I believe I’m correct on the hole number… I couldn’t quite tell from their website.) A howling west wind in my face made me feel like a Viking sailor looking out towards Iceland, but there was an alley of about 20 feet wide between tall stands of trees, that seemed like 200 yards long to reach the fairway. I don’t remember how I did, but in retrospect, I should’ve just skulled three wedges to reach the short grass.
(Second most difficult drive: Highway D177 from Venasque to Gordes, France.)
Most Difficult Second Shot: 17th hole, Port Carling GC, Muskoka
Tom McBroom must have been in a really bad mood the day he designed this par 5, which I concede is a great hole, but which I hate because I may never have taken less than 7 on it. The drive has to be good, and long, to be able to turn the corner of the sharp dogleg left. But you/I then have to avoid a large lake on the right of the ensuing fairway, and dense forest to the left. The fairway also narrows as you proceed to the green, roughly 240 yards away from your 240 yard drive. It’s like trying to thread a needle from the next room. I have over-drawn my ball into the woods about 40% of the 100 times I’ve played this hole, compared to the 60% of the time I’ve hit the ball straight into, or bounced into, the water.
Most Difficult Bunker: Greenside right, The Postage Stamp – 8th hole, Royal Troon, Scotland
Three strikes and you’re out… either sideways, or with a jolly good under-handed toss.
Most Difficult Chipping: Sara Bay, Sarasota, FL
Here are those Donald Ross greens again… 18 of them, all shaped like upside-down cereal bowls. Hit your 8-iron in, watch it land on the green then roll off to the side, or the back, or the other side, or the front. Chip up, and watch it slide off the other side. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Have a martini.
Most Difficult Green: 16th hole, The National GC, Woodbridge, ON
I’m not a huge fan of The National, partly because it’s always been just too tough for me. Case in point, the 16th green, which I’ve reached in two several times, then four-putted for double. Way too severe a slope, on greens that seem to run about 20 on the stimp.
(Runners-up: 17th hole at Muskoka Lakes, and 17th at Rosedale GC in Toronto, which I’ve been saying, for decades, they should blow up and re-design.)
Most Difficult Water Hole: 17th hole, Tournament Players Club, Ponte Vedra, FL
Yup, probably the most famous modern water hole in golf. If you have the ability to block the water out of your mind, it’s just a straightforward 7- or 8-iron to a wide green. But neither I, nor anyone I know who’s played the hole, has HAD that ability, nor the skill to be able to hit a golf ball with knees knocking severely. A great hole, a fun hole, every golfer should play it… but always have a sleeve of balls handy.
(Runners-up: The next hole – number 18 at TPC. And number 18 at Carnoustie – not much water here but it just keeps getting in your way… right, Jean Van de Velde?)
Most Difficult Course: The Medalist, Hobe Sound, FL
Played this once, about a month after it opened, in 1995. Designed and built by Greg Norman, which explains its personality. It was like playing golf on spray-painted concrete. Even playing from the whites, you’re hitting four-irons across water, usually in gusty Florida winds, to bunker-surrounded hard-pan greens. Good thing the caddies don’t carry firearms, or I might’ve used one on myself. Or on the designer.
And just so you don’t think it’s all negative, here’s a happy note to end on:
Most Fun-to-Play Hole: 6th hole, Mountains Course, Bighorn GC, Palm Desert, CA
From the tips, this is a 505-yard par 4… yep, par 4. The tee is 180 feet above the hole. You/I would play it from its 469-yard tee blocks, but even at that, it’s reachable in two because of the downhill slope. Because of the elevation, your drive has a l-o-n-g hang-time, and in the air, it looks like it could reach Arizona. There’s desert and rattlesnakes on either side of the fairway. Just a great hole to play, and a very satisfying par.