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Peter Pallotta

I often play a modest public course from the 1960s that I like for what it is - an easily walkable course that's 6400 yards long built (and gently built up) from a relatively flat farmer's field with a good mix of lengths and directions and shapes of holes.  The course manifests - again, in a modest/understated way -- the principles and decisions of basic strategic architecture: a touch of risk-reward here, a smart run-up shot there, a bit of visual deception here and there, and optiions off the tee (length and direction) most times. BUT - everything is quite straightforward, everything is right out in front of you. And in that context/setting, I find that my two favourite holes on the course are the two hardest ones (hard both in the playing, and on the scordcard/ranking) -- because in this context/setting they happen to be the most interesting holes on the course.  They are holes 3 and 4 - the 3rd being a very long Par 4 dogleg-left, with the inside corner protected by a large and deep bunker and the outside corner protected by rough and a pond.  It took me a while to realize -- counter-intuitively -- that I score best on the hole when I play a 3 wood (instead of driver) off the tee, and then follow that up with a 5 wood or 3 or 4 iron that comes in low and bounces up the fairway and onto the green (one that is open at the front except for a bunker front right).  The 4th is a modest length Par 3 that is totally over water -- and into the (gentle) prevailing wind -- except for a bail-out area of closely-cut fairway short and right, with a bowl-shaped green that slopes sharply in front down to the water and equally sharply down towards the back, with tall grass and a fence hard behind it.  Again, it took me a while to realize that, if the tees where back, the bail-out area is really the only place from which to make par (for me at least); while if the tees were up, I had a short enough club in my hand that I could and should fire for the back of the green, knowing that I'd never go over it but that the shot would be coming in high enough to land and stay on the top of the bowl.
Again, for me these are flat-out hard golf holes - but I find that amidst a sea of unspectacular "strategic" holes they stand out as the most fun and interesting.

Do folks have similar experiences?



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Most golfers [especially golf professionals] tend to equate the hardest holes with being the best holes, or the most interesting.

I think it's a matter of what stands out.  On a relatively poor course, chances are, as you say, the tough holes are the standouts.

By comparison, on many tough championship courses, what we long for is a bit of a break ... so often a good short par-4 is the highlight of the course.  Indeed, I think that generally, if you find a course where the standout holes are NOT the hardest holes, that is probably going to be a great course.


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 I will give one example that agrees with your premise. The Porky Oliver Golf Course in Wilmington, Delaware was originally Wilm. CC, so it was designed as a special course. It was called "Greenhill" when I played it in the 70's and was public and not maintained well. However, #4 ( if my memory is correct!) was an gently uphill long par four that required one to aim their drive for the right side to avoid running down to the left and losing distance. Then the approach kicked severely left making getting on the green a challenge. It was by far the hardest hole to score on but the most interesting on a modest but fun course.
AKA Mayday


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I think it also depends on what your definition of hardest is.  A short four with a wild green can be the most interesting as well as have one of the higher scoring averages although not technically hard off the tee..
Golf is a game. We play it. Somewhere along the way we took the fun out of it and charged a premium to be punished.- - Ron Sirak


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This is the thinking that built the game...everyone likes to make a par WHEN THEY FEEL THEY'VE EARNED IT. A hole that's just hard enough to force strategic thinking and good (not perfect) execution is ideal. The course with the most of these holes is going to be the most enjoyable.

While Winged Foot is undoubtedly a great course, the execution has to be near perfect to make a par.
On the flip side, there are courses that yield low scores too easily and suffer because of it. Easy pars and birdies are certainly fun, but don't quench the thirst for a challenge we all want.

George Pazin

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For me, it's all about how a hole is hard. If it's hard because of a diagonal tee shot over a lot of water to a narrow fairway, I'm probably not going to be a fan. If it's hard because you need to be on the correct side of the fairway or green to have a realistic shot at par, especially if it allows you a chance to get up and down for par if you're on the right side, then I will enjoy the challenge and like it.
Big drivers and hot balls are the product of golf course design that rewards the hit one far then hit one high strategy.  Shinny showed everyone how to take care of this whole technology dilemma. - Pat Brockwell, 6/24/04

David Harshbarger

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This is the thinking that built the game...everyone likes to make a par WHEN THEY FEEL THEY'VE EARNED IT. A hole that's just hard enough to force strategic thinking and good (not perfect) execution is ideal. The course with the most of these holes is going to be the most enjoyable.

Jim, this is one of the best, most succinct statements of what makes a golf hole great.  Well said.
The trouble with modern equipment and distance—and I don't see anyone pointing this out—is that it robs from the player's experience. - Mickey Wright

Kirk Gill

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The thing that strikes me in your post, Peter, is that this is a course you play often. That, to me, is so different than the one-off courses we have a chance to play here and there. There's always those few holes that seem to bite you in the arse every time. But those times that you par that hole or birdie it...........that is the essence of golfing satisfaction !
"After all, we're not communists."
                             -Don Barzini

Jason Baran

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George's point is the standout one - it's all about HOW a hole is hard.  For me, I particularly enjoy holes that don't appear to be overly difficult at first glance, but experience learned through playing them teaches that they require very strong execution to maximize the likelihood of making a good score.  Holes that stand out in this regard are Creek #6, Shinnecock #10, and Bethpage #6.  They all feature tee shots that aren't particularly difficult, but, if not executed properly, make pars very difficult.  Second shots all require strong execution or an intelligent miss.  Missing in certain places on each of them basically disqualifies you from making a par.  Inter-hole elevation changes on each of them require consideration of not just proper club choice, but ball flight and spin as well.



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