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America’s Great 18s

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After seeing an article in a golf magazine about the perfect 18 holes, I got to thinking about what my favorite 18 holes would be.  After all, I love a good list.  With no offense to the publication in question, I find the typical lists to be a bit too easy to create.  It’s more interesting to me to put together these “greatest hits” courses by hole number.  That requires some digging into the database.  Further, I prefer to limit my lists to courses that I have played.

First I was thinking, and then I started texting – with Jon Cavalier (on Twitter and Instagram @linksgems) and Peter Korbakes (co-founder of Sugarloaf Social Club, on Twitter and Instagram @pgkorbs).  As is the case with everything in golf, creating lists is more fun with buddies.  In short order, we had more great holes on the table than one list could accommodate, so we decided to split up our Great 18 into two Great 18s – Modern and Classic.

UPDATE:  I started a thread on Golf Club Atlas that has yielded additional nominations, and quite a bit of interesting discussion (follow along here).  I have compiled the nominations for all Modern holes from GCA, Twitter, and Instagram and added them below.  Our original Runners Up are asterisked.

(click on images below to enlarge)


AMERICA’S GREAT 18 – MODERNS

#1 – Sand Hills – Par-5

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Photo by Jason Way

An opener should provide a gentle handshake, but not lay down.  It should give hints of what’s to come, without spoiling surprises.  The 1st at Sand Hills checks these boxes, which coupled with the magical land on which it sits, makes for a truly great starting hole.

The angled tee shot allows the player to bite off as much as they feel they can with that first swing.  Blowout bunkers flank the fairway and guard the approach to the green, providing the player with a good sense of the beauty and challenge to come.

The outstanding green sits in the saddle of the hills.  Approaches with elevation change, especially those that are uphill and semi-blind, abound at Sand Hills and deliver suspenseful thrills.

Honorable Mentions – Apache Stronghold*, Ballyneal, Bayside, Boston Golf Club*, Dunes Club, French Creek, Kingsley, Old Macdonald*, Old Sandwich, Streamsong Blue*, Spyglass, Sweetens Cove, Tobacco Road, Wolf Run

#2 – Sebonack – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

We are fascinated by the collaboration between Messrs. Nicklaus and Doak, which yielded some truly great holes.  Beginning with a tee shot between two old growth trees to a rumpled fairway split by massive blowout bunkers, the 2nd is also one of Sebonack’s toughest holes.

But what makes this hole great is its greensite, sliced diagonally into the dunes, protected by a dune that obscures its right side.  The green features strong internal contours and a wicked false front.

Honorable Mentions – Apache Stronghold*, Ballyhack, Ballyneal, Bandon Preserve, Boston GC, Desert Forest, Dismal Red, Erin Hills*, French Creek, Harbour Town, Hidden Creek, Honors Course, Kingsley Club*, Kinloch, Lost Dunes*, Old MacDonald*, Old Sandwich, Pacific Dunes, Radrick Farms, Rock Creek, Rustic Canyon, Sand Valley*, Snake River Sporting Club, Streamsong Blue*, Spyglass, Stone Eagle, Talking Stick North*, Wolf Point

#3 – Bandon Trails – Par-5

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The 3rd at Trails marks the transition from the dunes to an inland forested landscape.  This position in the routing gives it a unique feel, and underpins its greatness.  Stepping on to the tee of this hole proves that it doesn’t take an ocean to create a dramatic reveal.

The third is more than its setting though, featuring a wide fairway with the trademark centerline Coore & Crenshaw hazards that we love.  Two smallish bunkers in the right spots can dictate strategy for 500 yards.

The large green is open to approach through the air or on the ground, with beautifully done contours that blend seemlessly into the surrounds.

Honorable Mentions – Arcadia Bluffs*, Ballyneal*, Black Forest*, Boston Golf Club*, Colorado GC*, CommonGround*, Erin Hills*, Kiawah Ocean, Mauna Kea, Old Macdonald*, Pacific Dunes*, Sand Valley*, Spyglass Hill*, Wade Hampton*

#4 – Bandon Dunes – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The first seaside hole at the original Bandon course, the par-4 4th is a clear sign to the player that the golf here is something special.  The tee shot is played to a pinched fairway between a pot bunker and general nastiness.  Be aggressive and get a better view which brings the greenside bunkers into play, or lay back for an angle that opens the green but obscures the view?  Strategic options…check.

The approach reveals the ocean, and is tough to judge with the staggered bunkers in front and the end of the Earth behind.  To add to the confusion, the option of a running approach up the front right is on the table.  Eyes confused, mind scrambled,  good luck with that golf swing.

Arriving at the green and having the first real interaction with the Pacific is a stirring experience for any golf geek.

Honorable Mentions – Dismal River Red, Dismal River White, Dunes Club*, Old Sandwich*, Pacific Dunes*, Sand Hills*, Spyglass Hill*, Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*, Sweetens Cove, World Woods Pine Barrens

#5 – Boston Golf Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jason Way

This short par-4 is polarizing, and you can put us firmly in the LOVE camp.  In fact, a fair argument could be made that the 5th at Boston GC is the greatest modern short four on the planet.

It begins with a blind drive with two options.  Head out to the left leaving a short approach into the green, which is extremely shallow from that angle.  Going high, bump and running, and even putting are options from that position, but a deft touch for distance is required.  Challenging the nasty right side bunkers off the tee leaves a much better angle into the green and plenty of depth to work with, but the view might be partially obstructed by the rugged bunker mounds.

The 5th takes a strategic plan and execution to conquer.  For those who aren’t clear and confident…well, it’s named Shipwreck for a reason.  Gil Hanse’s work on this hole is unequivocally great.

Honorable Mentions – Arcadia Bluffs, Bandon Dunes*, Blackwolf Run River, Cuscowilla, Old Sandwich*, Streamsong Blue*, Sweetens Cove*

#6 – Marquette Golf Club – Greywalls – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

This is adventure golf at its finest – a clifftop to clifftop par-3 playing to a green set in a bowl of rock, with views for miles.

While this kind of golf risks being overdone, perhaps Mike DeVries greatest achievement at Greywalls was in making holes fitting of the rugged setting, while still being quite playable and fun.

Honorable Mentions – Apache Stronghold*, Bandon Dunes*, Crooked Stick, French Creek, Kinloch, Old Macdonald*, Old Sandwich*, Pacific Dunes*, Pikewood National*, Streamsong Blue*, The Golf Club, Wade Hampton*, Whistling Straits*

#7 – Old Macdonald – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

This hole, which might be our favorite at Bandon, begins with an awkward drive to a rumpled fairway at the foot of an ocean dune.  The thrilling approach is blind up to the top of the dune.  Climbing this hill is like coming downstairs as a child on Christmas morning.

Well played and fortunate approaches come to rest on the green.  For the poorly executed, or plain unlucky, all manner of dreadful outcomes are possible.

Critical choices made in the field can result in greatness.  The collaborative choice among Mike Keiser, Tom Doak, and Jim Urbina of where to locate the green on Old Mac’s 7th is the perfect example.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyneal*, Bandon Dunes*, Crooked Stick, Desert Forest*, Dunes Club*, Harbor Shores*, Old Sandwich*, Sand Hills, Sand Valley*,  Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*

#8 – Ballyneal – Par-5

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Photo by Jason Way

Like waves upon a great body of water, Ballyneal’s 8th ripples and rolls seemlessly from tee to fairway to green.  The fairway of this five-par snakes between fairway bunkers right and short-left of the green, and runs right into a green on the wild side of the Doak crew’s spectrum.

The hole is short enough to goad the player into heroism.  However, the bunkers, uneven lies, and the green itself amount to the rope with which one can hang oneself.  If the bold bunkers weren’t challenge enough, the variety of possible bounces throws the concept of fair right out the window, like many of the greatest holes do.

Honorable Mentions – Bandon Trails*, CommonGround*, Old Macdonald, Pronghorn Fazio, Sand Hills*, Sweetens Cove*, The Rawls Course*

#9 – Erin Hills – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

With its green floating in an ocean of fescue, the 9th at Erin Hills provides the great thrill of watching one’s tee shot float down while praying that it finds a safe landing amongst the sand and the waving grass.

The large green is defended by artful bunkering, offering some opportunity for bailout, but pick the wrong spot and the artful quickly morphs into the nightmarish.  Escape is not guaranteed.

Although the putting surface on the ninth is large, a trough divides it into two sections and makes it play much smaller.  Shots played safely to the middle leave the player with the potential for a real putting adventure.

Honorable Mentions – Bandon Trails, Blackstone, Boston GC, Chambers Bay, Crooked Stick*, Friars Head*, French Creek*, Honors Course*, Monterey Peninsula Dunes, Old Macdonald*, Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*, Stone Eagle

#10 – Chambers Bay – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Chambers Bay is a modern marvel that was made, but often appears found.  The tenth is one of those spots and is the total package of beauty, strategy, and attention to detail.  Starting with beauty, the hole rolls down between the dunes with the sound beyond.

Continuing with strategy, the player can choose a line and distance off the tee to try and gain an advantage, as well as the option of ground or aerial approach into the diagonal green.  The green provides a nice balance of opportunity for creative risk-taking, and peril.

Culminating with attention to detail on and around the green – the contours, the bunkering, the stairs, paths, fescue waving in the breeze.  Like all great holes, Chambers Bay #10 engages both sides of the brain, and stirs to soul.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyhack*, Boston Golf Club*, Colorado GC*, Harbor Shores*, Kiawah Ocean, Monterey Peninsula Shore, Pacific Dunes*, Rock Creek Cattle, WeKoPa Saguaro*, Wolf Run

#11 – Lost Dunes – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The 11th at Lost Dunes provides challenge throughout, playing uphill between bunkers.  The large bunker right, between the 11th and 12th, is both terrific and not where you want to be.

The true greatness of this hole is at the green – a wonderful putting surface set in a magnificent spot in the saddle of a dune.  Large, and beautifully contoured, it is a joy to attack.

Looking back after holing out, the player gets a magnificent view of the property below.  This hole, in this special spot, begins one of the best stretches in all of golf.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyneal*, Bayonne*, Blackwolf River Run, Boston Golf Club*, Cuscowilla, Desert Forest*, Monterey Peninsula, Old Macdonald*, Sand Hollow*, Sebonack*, Whistling Straits, Woodlands CC

#12 – Kingsley Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Greatness can be found in simplicity.  At Kingsley’s 12th, Mike DeVries used restraint in laying this elegant and beautiful hole on the land.  The result is a great par-4 on one of our favorite courses.

This bunkerless beauty ripples and rolls downhill to a green set in a valley.  The fairway flows off the hill right, and the green rolls off a hill left.  The savvy player can use slopes to gain position and advantage.  Subtle contours and breaks on the green and surrounds confuse, confound, and give ample motivation to come back again.

No trip down the twelfth is complete without a pause to look back and appreciate the ground that nature prepared.  It is one of the most scenic spots on a course where breathtaking natural beauty is the norm.  Simply sublime.

Honorable Mentions – Arcadia Bluffs*, Ballyneal, Bandon Dunes*, Black Forest*, Chechessee Creek, Erin Hills*, French Lick Dye, Honors Course*, Old Memorial, Pacific Dunes*, Royal Isabella, Talking Stick North*, The Rawls Course*, Wolf Creek*

#13 – Pacific Dunes – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Bold and beautiful, the 13th at Pac Dunes shoves its greatness in your face.  It runs north along the ocean cliff, packing pulse-quickening strategic options and jaw-dropping natural beauty.  Our favorite hole on one of our favorite modern courses.

The fairway is quite generous, but seems anything but.  The best angle into the elevated green is gained by favoring the left-center of the fairway, which feels flirting dangerously with the cliff.  It’s a real “hike up your knickers” moment in a round at Pacific Dunes.

There is plenty of room to bail out right off the tee, but that position brings bunkers and the enormous dune right of the green into play.  The green itself is no pushover either, with a false front and ample internal contours.  Add to that mix the whipping wind that can affect even short putts, and the 13th is more than able to provide a flatstick adventure.

In terms of rugged, natural, and awe-inspiring beauty the Pacific Ocean and the massive dune conspire to put Pacific Dunes #13 in a category of greatness all its own.

Honorable Mentions – Arcadia Bluffs, Atlanta CC, Butler National, Honors Course, Kingsley Club*, Old Macdonald*, Old Sandwich*, Sand Hollow*, Streamsong Blue*, Wade Hampton*, WeKoPa Saguaro*, Whistling Straits*

#14 – Friars Head – Par-5

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Friar’s Head is one of a small handful of modern courses that is so pure that any of its holes could have been included in the Great 18, but we settled on this par-5 as our favorite.  It snakes, switches back, and rolls uphill creating all manner of interesting lies and angles.

The triangle-shaped green allows for testy pin positions that must be considered from the tee all the way up the fairway to the approach.  The massive dune ridge creates a natural amphitheater for one of the most breathtaking inland green settings in golf.

To cap it off, the 14th has the coolest set of stairs in the game.  The triumphant player ascends proudly to the next tee.  The defeated player crawls on hands and knees.

Honorable Mentions – Black Diamond Ranch, Brickyard Crossing, Butler National, Chambers Bay, CommonGround*, Desert Forest*, Dormie Club*, Erin Hills, Kiawah Ocean*, Kingsley Club*, Lost Dunes*, Old Macdonald*, Radrick Farms, Sand Hills*, Secession, Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*, Talking Stick South*

#15 – Black Diamond Ranch – Quarry – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

As the player stands on the tee of this par-4 preparing to play down into the quarry, it is evident that Tom Fazio pursues his creative vision unapologetically, moving earth and blasting rock until he has what he wants.  The green sits in a sliver of safety with rock above and water below.  Imprecise approach shots are given little quarter down here.

Perhaps the pendulum has swung away from the “hand of man” style of architectire, but we are of the opinion that variety is great and no geek can live on minimalism alone.

Honorable Mentions – Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Chambers Bay*, Crooked Stick, Diamond Springs, Erin Hills*, Friars Head*, Harbor Town, Kingsley Club, Lost Dunes*, Old Macdonald*, Sand Hollow*, Shadow Creek, Shepherds Crook, Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*, The Rawls Course*, TPC Scottsdale, WeKoPa Saguaro*, Wildhorse, World Woods Pine Barrens

#16 – Streamsong Red – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The basis for this bold version of the biarritz was found in the mining spoils and brought to vivid life by the Coore & Crenshaw crew.  With blowout bunkers in front and a steep runoff left, this hole is a next level re-imagination of the classic template.

Situated next to stellar 7th on Streamsong’s Blue course, the 16th is a unique and spectacular spot in golf.  The boldness and scale of this hole is the perfect beginning to the Red course’s special closing stretch.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyneal*, Bandon Dunes*, Bayonne*, Colorado Golf Club*, Desert Forest*, Erin Hills*, Hudson National*, Kingsley Club*, Old Macdonald*, Pacific Dunes*, Poipu Bay, Sand Hills*

#17 – Whistling Straits – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

For visual beauty and drama, it is tough to beat the set of par-3s at The Straits, and the 17th is our favorite.  It plays south along the Lake, exposing it to the oft-stiff wind.  At distances from 165 yards all the way up to 249 yards, this hole is appropriately named Pinched Nerve for the acute pain that it can deliver to players whose tee shots are uncommitted.

The putting surface is contoured just enough that the adventure doesn’t end when the green is reached.  After surviving the test that is The Straits to this point, mustering par feels like a big victory.

Our Modern Great 18 would not have felt complete without a hole from Pete Dye, and for us, the stout 17th at Whistling Straits was a worthy choice.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyhack*, Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Bayonne*, Boston Golf Club*, Dormie Club, Erin Hills*, Forest Dunes*, Friar’s Head*, Manele, Pacific Dunes, Sand Hills*, Sand Valley*, TPC Sawgrass*

#18 – Stonewall Country Club – Old – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Credit Tom Doak and crew for changing Tom Fazio’s original routing for this hole and creating one of the best finishers in golf – modern design with a classic vibe.

The pretty tee shot plays to a wide but well defended fairway, but this hole is all about the greensite, fronted by deep bunkers but open to a ground shot from the left, and sitting mere feet from the old farmhouse and barn.

Honorable Mentions – Bayonne*, Black Forest*, Harbour Town*, Kapalua Plantation, Old Macdonald*, Sand Hills*, Sand Valley*, Sebonack*, Shadow Creek*, WeKoPa Saguaro*


AMERICA’S GREAT 18 – CLASSICS

#1 – National Golf Links of America – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Step on to the first tee box at National and feast your eyes: to your left, the 18th green and Peconic Bay; straight ahead, the beautiful clubhouse and your target fairway; slightly to your right, the iconic windmill.  Macdonald’s Valley template isn’t often seen in true form any longer, but this gem of a hole, with its intricate bunkering and its wild, undulating green sets a perfect tone for a round on one of the best courses in all of golf.

Honorable Mentions – Crystal Downs, Whitinsville, Oakmont, Inverness, Mountain Lake, Skokie CC

#2 – Old Elm Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Quite simply, the 2nd at Old Elm is timeless architectural design. While short in length, the necessity of accuracy looms large.  As technology has rendered helpless many holes designed in the golden age, the 2nd cannot be overpowered merely by 300 yard pops.  The knoll green is small and plays smaller, exacting a price on even near misses – the pressure of the approach puts the golfer in a stressful position back in the fairway.

Honorable Mentions – Myopia, Garden City, Shoreacres, Somerset Hills, Pine Valley, Old Town Club, Philadelphia Cricket Club

#3 – Oakmont – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Given that we have started our course with three straight four pars under 400 yards, I guess that we have made a statement about our perspective on the link between length-based difficulty and greatness.  Not an intentional statement, but there it is.

With regard to Oakmont’s third, it is iconic because of the church pews, and they are really neat.  But they are not what I think makes this hole great.  The way that the hole lays upon the hillside is the first part of its greatness.  The slope of the hill from high right to low left is subtly disorienting.  It looks cool, but it does not look quite right, and that creates an awkwardness that must be overcome to hit a good drive.

The blind approach to the top of the hill makes the kind of demand that we love.  And the green itself, which has a false front AND runs away from back to front is no lay down to hit and hold.  Approaches that come up short leave a tricky recovery, but it is hard to muster up the guts to err on the side of going long when looking up the hill.

Once on the green, the third is gentle by comparison to others at Oakmont which means that the player who rises to the tee-to-green challenge is rewarded with a legit opportunity to hole a putt.

Honorable Mentions – Olympia Fields CC North, LACC North, Kittansett, Wannamoisett, Camargo, Chicago GC, NGLA, The Country Club, Pine Valley, Pasatiempo, Piping Rock

#4 – Fishers Island – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

If any one hole captures the greatness of Fishers Island, it’s this one.  Before teeing off, players note the day’s pin position on a pegboard.  Options abound off the tee, and players hit anything from driver to mid-iron, depending on their chosen line and the wind, aiming at the alps hill at the end of the fairway.  That hill makes the approach shot blind.  The hole culminates in the best punchbowl green in all of golf, one that must be seen to be believed.  The walk over the alps hill, when this green first comes into view, is one that no golfer will ever forget.

Honorable Mentions – Chicago GC, Bethpage Black, Inverness, Myopia, Seminole, Pinehurst #2

#5 – Merion – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

A simple yet extremely difficult hole, Merion’s fifth begins with a tee shot to a canted fairway sweeping left toward a small creek that runs the length.  Aggressive tee shots challenging the creek will have the better approach.  The green is a masterwork of simplicity and terror, with a steep slope toward the creek.  Any approach with right to left movement into this green risks winding up in the hazard, and putts from above a left pin often meet the same watery fate.

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Honorable Mentions – Crystal Downs, Chicago GC, Fishers Island, Pinehurst #2, Riviera, Old Town Club, Mountain Lake, Philadelphia Cricket Club

#6 – Eastward Ho! – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The 6th hole at Eastward Ho! is one of the most spectacular par 4s in American golf.  Plunging sharply downhill through a valley created by some of the most severely sloping fairways you’ll ever see, the 6th plays shorter than its yardage but is far from easy.  The elevated green sits hard on the water’s edge, providing panoramic views of the bay and the small islands in the distance.

Honorable Mentions – The Creek Club, Shoreacres, Olympia Fields CC South, Seminole, Riviera, Lawsonia, Roaring Gap Club, Pebble Beach

#7 – Lawsonia Links – Par-3

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Photo by Jason Way

Any hole that was built by burying a large piece of machinery is great in our book, but the 7th at Lawsonia is more than just an epic construction story.  It embodies the combination of enormous scale of greens and hazards with subtle genius green contours that Langford & Moreau designed into nearly every hole on the course.

There is plenty of green to work with from the tee, but it doesn’t look that way relative to the massive drop-off right.  That causes a tendency to bail out left.  Balls that find the bunker left are no picnic either, with overzealous explosions risk running across the green and right down to the spot the player was attempting to avoid in the first place.

This a great hole, and it isn’t even our favorite on the course.  Count us among Lawsonia’s devotees.

Honorable Mentions – Chicago GC, Ekwanok, Kittansett, Maidstone, Crystal Downs, Pebble Beach, Inverness

#8 – Pebble Beach – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Words on their own cannot properly describe the majesty of the 8th at Pebble.  Hitting blind, the hole kicks off with a flare for links golf.  Upon reaching the crest, the player is met with a jaw-dropping vista that few, if any, holes in the game can replicate. With winds whipping, and a thrilling approach looming, the iconic eighth defines timelessness for its players.

Honorable Mentions – Crystal Downs, Orchard Lake, Essex County Club, Blue Mound, Prairie Dunes, Maidstone, Wykagyl, Pine Valley, Riviera, Old Town Club, Yale

#9 – Myopia Hunt Club – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Much of the rest of Myopia has a very simple and elegant style to it.  This one-shotter, with its wild bunkering, is an explosion of artistic flair.

The green too is unique in my experience.  Oriented slightly on an angle to the tee and extremely narrow, it is one of those greens (like the 2nd at Kingsley and 17th at Sand Hills) that is easiest to hit the first time, when the player isn’t fully aware of just how small the target is.

Honorable Mentions – Oakmont, Milwaukee CC, Yale, Maidstone, Shinnecock, Pebble Beach, Onwentsia, Fishers Island, Pinehurst #2

#10 – Shoreacres – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

With the tree clearing and fairway widening undertaken by Brian Palmer and crew, an argument can be made (and we would probably make it) that this is the best Road Hole template in America.

The depression down the right, with its beautiful contours, plays the role of the hotel.  Misjudged tee shots that find this low area of rough can recover, but have almost no chance of holding the green, which is elevated and kept firm.

The right must be challenged though in order to get an angle into the green that provides any hope of holding.  A long bunker playing the role of the road awaits unsuccessful attempts at the frontal assault.

The road hole bunker fronting the green is not as difficult as other MacRaynor versions, but it still dictates strategy, and provides ample challenge for those unfortunate enough to find it.  Like the original, a long left bailout option exists at SA #10 in the form of a closely mown runoff, but taking this route leaves the player with a testy bump, chip, or putt up to a green that is typically lightning quick.

This hole at Shoreacres, perhaps more than any other, cannot be overpowered and rewards the player who combines strategic thinking with savvy execution.

Honorable Mentions – Shinnecock, Milwaukee CC, Prairie Dunes, Riviera, Winged Foot West, Chicago GC, Pine Valley, Pebble Beach, Yale, Kirtland CC

#11 – The Country Club – Par-5

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Just like the TCC, our Great 18 does not reach its first three-shotter until the 11th, and this one is wonderful.

Snaking downhill between rock outcroppings, over a creek, and then back up to a green set above a series of staggered bunkers, the 11th encapsulates the timeless beauty and depth of character of The Country Club.  It also provides the player a chance to decide between conservative and aggressive plays on the tee, and on the second shot.  Thoughtful aggressiveness is rewarded with a legitimate chance at birdie.  Recklessness is punished – as it should be.

Honorable Mentions – Merion, Essex County Club, Kittansett, Camargo, Shinnecock, Plainfield CC, Fishers Island, Seminole, Mountain Lake, Olympia Fields CC South, Brookside Canton

#12 – Old Town Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Options abound at Old Town.  At the twelfth, the player must decide whether to play up the high left side of the fairway, leaving a sidehill approach that is shorter but blind to the green, or to play right to a lower, flatter part of the fairway further back from which the green is visible. The variety of the landforms and terrain at Old Town is staggering, and they are on full display on this great hole.

c12-oldtown1-jcHonorable Mentions – Oakmont, Essex County Club, Prairie Dunes, Wannamoisett, Shoreacres, Skokie CC

#13 – Pine Valley – Par-4

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Photo by Peter Korbakes

Likely the purest hole at the Valley.  It is said Crump did not move any land to find the 13th – he simply took out a few trees, spread some seed, and put a tee in the ground.  Demands are plentiful from the choice of a strategic line off the tee, to the heart pounding approach, to the extreme caution necessary while on the dance floor.  When it comes to natural holes, few exceed the 13th.

Honorable Mentions – Orchard Lake, Essex County Club, Onwentsia, Kirtland CC, Seminole

#14 – Crystal Downs – Par-3

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Photo by Jason Way

What makes this one-shotter great is the green.  It is packed with subtle contour and canted, a combination that can provide just as much misery as its more overtly severe back-nine sibling, the 11th.

What makes this hole one of our all-time favorite short threes is the much improved setting.  The green sits on a perch behind and among wonderful MacKenzie/Maxwell bunkers, and appears slightly crowned from the tee.  Tree clearing on the ridge behind the green has created an infinity effect, and a gorgeous view from this back corner of the property.  Put it all together, and it is as once breathtakingly beautiful, and terrifying.

Honorable Mentions – Maidstone, Seminole, Olympia Fields CC North, Brookside Canton, Skokie CC

#15 – Sleepy Hollow – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

An Alps/Punchbowl amalgamation, the combination of features found on this hole are unique.  The fairway is generous but canted rather substantially from high left to low right, and the long approach shot is entirely blind with the green sitting some 20-30 feet below.  As the player crests the fairway, he is rewarded with the breathtaking view of the punchbowl green, with the sixteenth green behind and the Hudson river valley far below.

Honorable Mentions – NGLA, Canterbury, Brookside Canton, Skokie CC, Roaring Gap Club

#16 – Cypress Point Club – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

“It is the most spectacular hole in the world and the most thrilling … 200 yards of wild sea and rocky coast.” – Robert Hunter

The most famous Par-3 in the world, the 16th hole at Cypress Point Club is so captivating, that upon seeing it for the first time, a golfer reimagines what is possible, as fantasy becomes reality before his very eyes. In fact, this hole is so staggeringly gorgeous that its considerable strategic merits are often overlooked.

The hole offers not one, not two, but three valid lines of play from the tee – a 200+ yard carry straight at the green, a 100 yard carry on a line up the fairway between a grove of cypress trees and the green, and farther left still, to the left of those trees, an even shorter carry. In match play, the significance of these options cannot be overstated.  The green itself is huge and receptive to well-struck shots, and the fairway will direct good shots on a more conservative line closer to the green.

Alister Mackenzie rightfully gets credit for the gem that is Cypress Point, but the 16th also owes its brilliance to Seth Raynor, who originally routed the hole, and visionary Marion Hollins, who insisted over Mackenzie’s objections that the hole remain a par-3.

Honorable Mentions – Old Elm, Shinnecock, Myopia, NGLA, Sleepy Hollow, Merion, Canterbury, Kirtland CC, Skokie CC, Roaring Gap Club, Philadelphia Cricket Club, Pasatiempo

#17 – Prairie Dunes – Par-5

C17-PrairieDunes-JW.jpg

Photo by Jason Way

This lay of the land five-par plays beautifully uphill over rumpled ground, bringing to mind thoughts of the 8th at Crystal Downs.

Maxwell’s genius is evident in both his restraint tee to green, and the green setting itself.  With a nasty bunker left and a steep drop-off right, the player finds himself between Scylla and Charybdis trying to judge the wind and distance properly to land safely on the green.

The adventure doesn’t end when the approach finds the green, which is brilliantly contoured and separated into distinct sections.  The wind quickly blows away any relief as the player attempts to navigate his ball safely into the hole.

Honorable Mentions – NGLA, Essex County Club, St. George, Seminole, Old Town Club, Yale, Olympia Fields CC North, Roaring Gap Club, Orchard Lake CC

#18 – Essex County Club – Par-4

C18-EssexCounty-JC.jpeg

Photo by Jon Cavalier

We conclude this adventure with my favorite of all classic courses played to date.

Home holes that return to the clubhouse have a special place in our hearts, and none do so more dramatically than the great finisher at Essex County.  Recent tree removal and restoration work here by Superintendent Eric Richardson and his staff have revealed the beauty of the topography, as well as the view of the outstanding clubhouse.

The boldness of Donald Ross’s vision manifested in the twists and turns of the fairway, and the sublime creekside green setting are unparalleled.  The green provides one last taste of The Donald as well – canted, subtly crowned and contoured, it is the kind of putting surface that takes a lifetime to master.

Honorable Mentions – Pebble Beach, Yale, Oakmont, Milwaukee CC, Inverness, Garden City

BONUS HOLES

#2 – Somerset Hills – Par-3

During our discussions, Jon made his strongest case for a change to the selections with regard to the 2nd on our Classic course.  He is a big fan of Somerset Hills, and believes Tillie’s Redan to be among the finest holes Tillinghast ever built.  He lost out to Peter’s and my Old Elm homerism, but he is right – this is a beautiful golf hole.

SomersetHills2-Short-JC.jpeg

Photo by Jon Cavalier

#16 – Pasatiempo – Par-4

We originally selected this hole as our 16th, and then Jon played Cypress Point.  We figured that Dr. Mackenzie wouldn’t mind if we bumped one of his for another.

Our original comments on Pasatiempo’s 16th.

It is said that Pasatiempo’s sixth is one of the good Doctor’s all-time favorite holes.  It’s hard to argue with the creator.  Cresting the hill to discover where one’s tee shot came to rest, the player is met with a view of this all-world tiered green that seems to be melting into the recently restored barranca.  It is obvious from the fairway that the approach must be placed both on the correct tier and below the hole – exhilarating and terrifying!

c16-pasatiempo-jc

Photo by Jon Cavalier


 

No list is worth its salt if it doesn’t create a debate.  What did we miss?  Leave your comments here or hit us up on Twitter and Instagram.

4 thoughts on “America’s Great 18s

  1. Great article, thanks for your effort.

    Like

  2. Good fun…#’s 3 and17 at Philadelphia Country Club with their history and architectural merit have to be part of a conversation at least

    Like

    • Thanks for chiming in Charles. I haven’t played that course yet, and I don’t think Peter has either. I’m relatively certain that Jon has, so we will have to bust his chops for the omission.

      Like

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