10 Fabulous 4th Holes

By the time the Fourth of July rolls around each year, golf in America is in full swing. On the PGA Tour, three of the year’s four majors have been decided. In cities and towns across the country, clubs are getting ready to host their club championships. Playing conditions are ideal, the days are long, and the ball’s flying farther in the warm, humid air. It’s prime time for golf.

To commemorate the Fourth, here’s a list of some of the best 4th holes in America, from east to west.

Yale Golf Course, New Haven, Conn. (437 yards, par four)

C.B. Macdonald and his then-protégé Seth Raynor clearly had the Road Hole at the Old Course in St. Andrews in mind when they designed this hole, also called “Road.” Here, though, instead of steering your tee shot over the corner of an old railway shed, you take on the edge of a pond that juts into the fairway from the right. And rather than facing the perilous Road Bunker to the left-front of the elevated green, there’s an equally troublesome pit on the front-right—with ribbon bunkers behind the green to catch approach shots that don’t hold the putting surface.

4th holes
(photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

Bethpage Black Golf Course, Farmingdale, N.Y. (517 yards, par five)

The 4th at Bethpage Black isn’t a long par five by modern standards, but don’t think that makes it easy. The hole climbs steadily uphill and has bunkers everywhere. Off the tee, you need to avoid a meandering bunker on the left. Your second shot has to carry another long, sinewy bunker cut into the face of a ridge to advance to the upper part of the fairway, from which point your semi-blind approach shot will need to avoid two more bunkers to reach the green, which has steep drop-offs to the left and rear.

Pine Valley Golf Club, Pine Valley, N.J. (445 yards, par four)

If you think the 4th at Bethpage Black has a lot of sand, the 4th at Pine Valley is a virtual trek through the Sahara. The tee shot is mostly blind over an other-worldly landscape of sand and scrub, with more sand in the form of cross bunkers at the end of the fairway. From there, your second shot is to one of the course’s larger greens, which is open to run-up shots but has a false front and pitches from front to back.

Merion Golf Club (East Course), Haverford, Pa. (622 yards, par five)

Merion’s East Course has a long and proud major championship history, and the 4th here, the second and last of the course’s par fives (for men), illustrates why. Again, you’re faced with a blind tee shot, this time to an undulating fairway that slopes severely from right to left. The ball will almost certainly be above the feet of right-handed golfers on their second shots. You’ll need to avoid a large fairway bunker as you proceed downhill toward a dime-sized green entirely ringed by hairy-lipped bunkers.

4th holes
(photo by Gary Lisbon)

The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra, Fla. (384 yards, par four)

Though it’s the shortest par four on the course, the 4th plays as the sixth-most difficult and calls for strategy off the tee. The fairway is guarded by rough-covered mounds on the left and a winding bunker on the right. From the tee it’s a narrow target—especially in a crosswind—and can cause even the best players’ nerves to fray (as Bryson DeChambeau showed in the 2021 Players Championship, when he topped his tee shot into water). Your second shot has to carry a water hazard that hugs the front and left sides of the green and avoid bunkers behind. The three-tiered putting surface can yield birdies, but also provides for some devilish hole locations.

Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga. (240 yards, par three)

The first of Augusta National’s knee-knocker par threes, “Flowering Crabapple” is a hilltop-to-hilltop tester that calls for a long iron or fairway wood to a wide but shallow green that’s severely sloped from back to front. Bunkers guard the green on the left and front-right, but even if you manage to hit this green, your work has only begun—especially if you’re faced with a speedy, downhill putt. In the last round of the 2021 Masters, it played as the third-toughest hole with a 3.278 stroke average.

The Straits Course, Kohler, Wis. (494 yards, par four)

It’s the No. 1 handicap hole on the course that will host the 2021 Ryder Cup Matches—and the views that “Glory” offers are as monumental as the challenges it presents. Set right on the windswept edge of Lake Michigan, this hole meanders between the lake shore (which is bordered by a series of Pete Dye’s trademark bunkers) and a phalanx of fescue-covered mounds on the right (with yet more bunkers). The fairway slopes toward the water, and anything too far left could leave a long, blind shot to a green with a steep drop-off on the left (and yet more bunkers).

4th holes
(photo courtesy Destination Kohler)

Erin Hills, Erin, Wis. (439 yards, par four)

The 4th at Erin Hills, site of the 2017 U.S. Open, calls for accuracy from start to finish. From the elevated tee, you’ll need to thread your way between a deep fairway bunker on the right and a hill covered with dense rough on the left. Depending on the wind, big hitters may also have to contend with another expansive bunker in the center of the fairway. Your second shot is slightly uphill to a shallow green with a nasty bunker in front and wetlands behind. Whether you’re playing in the Open or not, you’ll be happy with a par here.

Bandon Dunes, Bandon, Ore. (443 yards, par four)

From the tee of this David McLay Kidd-designed, dogleg-right stunner, a pot bunker at the elbow of the dogleg is your target. Lay up just short of that and you’ll have 150 yards to the green, which is protected by two pot bunkers on the left and the shore of the Pacific Ocean immediately behind. The wind will often be in your face off the sea, so a low runner toward the right side of the green may be a good strategy. Knowing when to play the ground game is a good skill to have at Bandon, and this example is just one of many.

Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif. (326 yards, par four)

No course gets more accolades for its dramatic ocean frontage than Pebble Beach. This hole, the course’s shortest par four, is where players first get a view of sparkling Carmel Bay. Looking at the scorecard, you might think it would be a pushover—even drivable. But few will attempt that. The tee shot has to carry a cross-bunker, avoid the beach on the right, and evade more bunkers on the left. If you do find the fairway, your second shot to a microscopic green surrounded by more sand won’t be an easy one. Keep that approach shot below the hole; the green slope s from back to front, making it receptive to wedge shots but trouble for anyone who goes long.

What is your favorite 4th hole in golf?