As he did with the Los Angeles Country Club’s North course, site of the 2023 U.S. Open, George Thomas Jr. preferred to kick off his course designs with a par five. So did post-World War II design great Dick Wilson, who started Bay Hill and Doral’s Blue Monster in that fashion.
While a surprising number of acclaimed courses open the round with a par five, only a handful can be considered truly superb holes. Here are the 12 best opening par fives in golf.
The Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, Calif.—503 yards
George Thomas started his other L.A. masterpiece, Riviera, with a par five, and while it’s mostly a pushover for the pros at the Genesis Invitational these days, it’s always thrilling, thanks to a tee box perched perilously close to the clubhouse and seven stories above the fairway. Out of bounds left, a barranca that bisects the fairway, a fronting bunker, and a sloping, cashew-shaped green that wraps itself around that bunker create sufficient challenge for most mortals.
Sand Hills Golf Club, Mullen, Neb.—549 yards
As an introduction to what a golfer will experience during the rest of the round, while also setting a high bar for architecture, Sand Hills’s opener has few peers. The tee shot whisks you over massive sandy blowouts, straightaway to start, followed by a jog up the hill to a plateau green that’s fronted by beguiling contours and framed by sand hills and artistically sculpted bunkers.
Royal County Down Golf Club, Newcastle, Northern Ireland—539 yards
Draped atop a rippled ridge that overlooks the curve of Dundrum Bay, the first hole at Royal County Down sets the tone for a day filled with stern shot challenges and stunning scenery. Tall dunes on the left separate the hole from its fabled parallel sibling, the 9th, and up ahead lie two large pot bunkers, the one on the left 117 yards from the front of the green, the one on the right 61 yards from the front. They are to be avoided at all costs, but when the wind howls, which is often, they act as magnets. Although the green is fairly benign, four more bunkers and a layer of mostly impenetrable rough make a score of five well earned.
Spyglass Hill Golf Course, Pebble Beach, Calif.—597 yards
Fog-enshrouded and library quiet, the silence on the first tee at Spyglass is disturbed only by golf balls echoing off the enormous pines that pinch the fairway. Tour pros and amateurs alike approach this hole with trepidation. It’s through the woods for the drive then a hard left turn toward the ocean, amid countless deer, downhill/sidehill lies, and an elevated green fortified by a trio of sprawling Robert Trent Jones bunkers.
The opening quartet at Spyglass Hill easily ranks among my favorite starts. The par-5 1st (left) sweeps down from the forest to the dunes; the par-4 2nd plays over a rumpled fairway; the par-3 3rd is an oceanfront stunner; and the par-4 4th might be the best hole RTJ ever built. pic.twitter.com/VIdCNQtlDG
— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) February 7, 2020
Diamante (Dunes), Cabo San Lucas, Mexico—534 yards
Mexico’s top-ranked course boasts a fistful of truly distinctive holes; among the more underrated gems is the opener, which features a new elevated tee complex set well to the left of the old one. What awaits hasn’t changed—a wide, mostly friendly fairway with only a tiny pot bunker in the center causing trouble for a too-straight drive. A pulled drive, however, can find bunkers, dense tree cover, or even one of the massive dunes that gives the course its name. The hole then moves slightly uphill and around the dune as it twists to the left.
Trump Doonbeg, Doonbeg, Ireland—561 yards
Doonbeg’s out of the gate hole is not only one of the best starting par fives in golf, it’s among the finest opening holes of any kind. An elevated tee yields a stunning panorama of beach and sea. Shaggy sandhills frame both sides of the fairway, while a nest of bunkers on the left and pinching the second shot landing area keep the risk/reward gambler in check. Its feel-good vibe continues all the way to a green that’s nestled into an amphitheater of giant dunes and framed by bunkers on either side.
Hooper Golf Course, Walpole, N.H.—456 yards
Of the many talented Golden Age golf architects, Wayne Stiles is one of the most underrated. Certainly, that’s what course connoisseurs take away after dueling with 9-hole Hooper Golf Course. Situated in the southwestern portion of the state, the 96-year-old, 3,033-yard par-36 Hooper wows with autumn scenery, but dazzles year round with its superb variety and dramatically undulating terrain. The fun starts early at a very reachable par five, which architect Tom Doak likens to a roller coaster ride, for its early thrill factor. With the fairway arcing along a deep hollow to the left and with stellar views of Vermont’s forested hills in the backdrop, it’s easy to see why Doak is smitten.
An afternoon dip over to Hooper Golf Course, a Wayne Styles and John Van Fleek design in New Hampshire. Some insane terrain, coupled with a really exciting set of greens, and some New England charm. A rock wall is always a welcome sign. Certainly among the best 9 holes I’ve seen. pic.twitter.com/D6jjoxIo9Q
— Andrew Harvie (@drewharvie) October 27, 2022
St. Enodoc Golf Club (Church), Cornwall, England—528 yards
Designed by James Braid in 1907 in the furthest reaches of southwestern England, St. Enodoc oozes charm from every pore. Jim Finegan chronicled the first hole so beautifully, we’ll defer to him: “The 518-yard [now 528] opener is a jewel—a modestly elevated tee, consecutive blind shots over one of the most outlandish humpty-dumpty fairways imaginable (or unimaginable), then an eighty- to ninety-yard pitch to an unbunkered but tiny plateau green with a steep falloff at the left. In the distance is the first of many transfixing views for which St. Enodoc is justly celebrated, this one disclosing the widest part of the Camel estuary merging with the Atlantic Ocean.”
Cabot Links, Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada—540 yards
Cabot Cape Breton’s original course is a 2011 Rod Whitman design that wowed from day one thanks to its rippled, imaginatively crafted layout with holes overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence. While the first hole lacks some of the drama as others that follow, it’s a terrific start. Usually into the wind, the right-to-left affair swings around a gigantic bunker, and the second shot landing area is menaced by bunkers on either side. Still, it’s the Prestwick-like, humpy-bumpy area left of the green that adds much character, making recoveries dependent on both touch and imagination.
True Blue Golf Club, Pawleys Island, S.C.—624 yards
Mike Strantz’s brilliantly creative 1998 design south of Myrtle Beach packs a wallop right off the bat. A healthy marsh carry starts the round, a hazard that extends farther down the left side of the fairway. Yet, it’s the serpentine waste bunker to the left and a smaller one to the right that will see more action. The green is isolated by deep bunkers and a horseshoe-shaped creek that curls in front of the putting surface. Five is not only an acceptable score here, but an excellent score.
Castle Pines Golf Club, Castle Rock, Colo.—644 yards
The longtime home of the PGA Tour’s International (1986–2006), this Denver-area, 1981 Jack Nicklaus design blasts you with length and scenery out of the box. Remarkably, the hole can be comfortably reached in two, as it plays downhill for its entire journey and at 6,220 feet, a well-struck drive will travel forever. Making things uncomfortable are the downhill lies faced for the second and perhaps third shots, as well as three bunkers that frame a green bisected by a ridge. Always of comfort are the stellar views of the Rocky Mountain Front Range that greet the golfer on the first swing of the day. A new breed of PGA Tour stalwarts will experience the hole in 2024, when the BWM Championship touches down here.
Quaker Ridge Golf Club, Scarsdale, N.Y.—527 yards
This quiet club across the street from Winged Foot dates to 1916, but today’s design bears the 1926 imprint of A.W. Tillinghast, with a sympathetic restoration starting in 2002 from Gil Hanse. It proved a terrific canvas for the 1997 Walker Cup and the 2018 Curtis Cup, where competitors opened the competition with a superb risk/reward par five, one menaced by a gaping, 15-foot-deep cross bunker 50 yards short of the green and by a putting surface that slopes severely from back to front.
Tillie’s Treasure: Quaker Ridge Golf Club. First designed by A.W. in 1918 and refined in the 1920s, this 1997 Walker Cup venue is an NY classic and always ranks among the favorites of golfers in the area. QRGC is a rarity in that it charms and challenges in equally high measure. pic.twitter.com/9j4boKnwpN
— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) June 8, 2022
What other opening par fives should be on this list? Let us know in the comment section.