12 of the Best Biarritz Holes in the U.S.

The Biarritz is perhaps the most memorable example of a template hole in golf: A par three that stretches between 210 and 240 yards to a very long green with a prominent swale three to five feet deep cutting across it.

The original design was found at The Biarritz Course in France, with brothers Willie and Tom Dunn laying out a unique hole called “the Chasm” that played over the Bay of Biscay. It was intended to test a player’s long game, demanding a shot that had to finish on the right side of the swale. Unsuccessful attempts were often left with a very long and testing putt, often followed by several others.

Once you’ve played a Biarritz, you won’t soon forget it.

Unfortunately, they’re a bit of a rarity in today’s game. While the recognizable features of the now-gone original were brought to the U.S. a century ago by architect C.B. Macdonald and his disciples, Seth Raynor and Charles Banks, they’re found today primarily at older, private clubs. Typically, the elongated green—up to 80 yards deep from front to back—is flanked by narrow bunkers. In some cases, the flat area before the swale plays as fairway rather than green, but the Biarritz hole challenges a player’s accuracy, whether it’s running a shot through the swale or attempting a precise aerial approach with anything from a mid-iron to a 3-wood.

For those who have experienced a Biarritz and ended up in that swale, that’s where the real fun (or folly) begins. While some designers have employed the Biarritz style beyond par-three holes, the following is a lineup of some of the finest U.S. examples of one of the game’s greatest templates:

Yale Golf Club (Conn.)—9th hole

Perhaps the best-known and most-photographed Biarritz in the U.S., the stunning 9th hole at Yale plays from an elevated tee over a pond to a two-tiered green that’s more than 60 yards deep. In describing the hole, Banks (a Yale grad who supervised construction of the course) said only the back part beyond the “groove” was the “green proper,” but the pin is put on both halves today, making the hole play significantly differently depending on placement.

9th hole, Yale (photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

Piping Rock (N.Y.)—9th hole

Macdonald first employed the Biarritz template as the closer of the first nine at this private club on Long Island. A differentiator for this version is that the forward section is maintained as fairway and guarded by a front bunker, while the back (larger) section of the green juts out on the left side.

Shoreacres (Ill.)—6th hole

Depending on pin position, the prototypical Biarritz at Shoreacres can play anywhere from about 160 yards to more than 235 yards, and possibly a bit longer if the breezes pick up off Lake Michigan. Raynor bisected the deep green with a swale that’s almost six feet deep, adding dimension to a relatively flat section of the course’s routing.

Forsgate Banks Course (N.J.)—17th hole

One of the finest, but unheralded Biarritz holes in the game, the 17th on Forsgate’s Banks Course in Central New Jersey has severe flanking bunkers alongside a green that’s about 75 yards deep. The back tier of the putting surface takes it up another notch, with a horseshoe thumbprint that adds yet another challenge.

17th hole, Forsgate (photo by Jim Krajicek)

Chicago Golf Club (Ill.)—3rd hole

The tough start at ultra-private Chicago Golf Club features the Biarritz early in the routing, immediately after Raynor’s version of the Road Hole. With the swale in front of the putting surface, the hole plays almost 220 yards and the run-up area in front can feed balls in a variety of directions.

Fox Chapel (Pa.)—17th hole

Recently redone by Fazio Design, the last and longest par three at this Pittsburgh-area private club has an elevated tee that offers an exceptional view of a green that’s 85 yards long. A new framing bunker fronts the massive putting surface, providing added challenge when the pin is up front or for those whose strategy is to run the ball in.

17th hole, Fox Chapel (photo by ©Russell Kirk/Golflinksphotography.com)

Old Macdonald (Ore.)—8th hole

One of the rare public examples—at Bandon Dunes on the Oregon coast—this long par three plays from just about as elevated a tee as you’ll find on a Biarritz hole. Tom Doak designed the green with a pitch from front to back as well, encouraging players to land the ball just in front of the swale and run it to the hole when there’s a rear pin position.

8th hole, Old Macdonald (photo courtesy Bandon Dunes Golf Resort)

The Creek (N.Y.)—11th hole

In terms of combining scenery and difficulty, it’s hard to top The Creek’s Biarritz, which is uniquely built on an exposed inlet in the Long Island Sound and has walking bridges for access. Instead of flanking bunkers, water beckons for wayward shots to the well-contoured green that’s about 80 yards long.

Old White at The Greenbrier (W.Va.)—3rd hole

Steve Elkington said PGA Tour players would joke that a school bus could be laid down sideways in the swale at Old White’s first par-three hole and it wouldn’t be visible from the tee. Nicknamed the “Valley of Sin,” the trench that splits the putting surface is another of the few Biarritz examples that public golfers (resort guests) can experience.

Fishers Island (N.Y.)—5th hole

With the Long Island Sound looming to the right, the Biarritz 5th hole at Fishers Island plays dramatically uphill to a multitiered green that’s surrounded by bunkers. On the back end of the green, Raynor also incorporated a ridge in the putting surface that runs perpendicular to the swale, making par even more challenging.

5th hole, Fishers Island (photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

Elkridge Club (Md.)—13th hole

Raynor uniquely included a “thumbprint” depression on the front section of the Biarritz green at this private Baltimore club, adding an extra level of difficulty when the pin is cut before the swale. Although slightly downhill, this hole can play almost 250 yards when the pin is tucked in the back.


Whippoorwill Club (N.Y.)—8th hole 

Banks added the Biarritz template when he retooled this under-the-radar Donald Ross design in the 1920s. Whippoorwill’s downhill 8th hole is framed by mature trees behind the green and backed by a small pond and waterfall, and also features protective bunkers with a little more curve around the undulating green and a tee shot that plays over a road.

Which Biarritz hole is your favorite? Are there other examples not included here that you like best? If so, why?