Some of the world’s most revered holes (and courses) are equally famous for exceptionally challenging predicaments and hazards that golfers are sometimes confronted with. Those perilous places are so well known—or, in some cases, so diabolical—they can even solicit excitement from players who are eager (and cautiously optimistic) to escape from them.
Here, we’ve highlighted nine such places—areas with awkward lies and brutally tough hazards—that will require your very best Houdini impression.
TPC Sawgrass (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.)
The walking path to/from the green at hole 17
When you get to the tee box of the world’s most famous 17th hole, you may find yourself hoping that you can simply keep your ball dry. If you’re the type who winds up being lucky and unlucky at the same time, your hopes will be realized if your ball comes to rest along the thin strips of rough that line either side of the walking path leading to and from the green. Such was the predicament that Matt Kuchar found himself in during the 2015 Players Championship, ultimately having to pitch back onto the green with a one-handed, backward swipe at the ball.
If you’re the type whose lucky break is actually more unlucky than fortuitous, you could find yourself just beyond the walking path on the grassy knoll behind the green, as Will Mackenzie did in 2015. In that scenario, Mackenzie showed off his deft short game, pitching his ball onto the artificial turf of the path a couple yards from the green, where it bounced twice and rolled to within a few feet of the back-left hole location.
Whistling Straits (Kohler, Wis.)
Any of the steeply sloped fescue-covered embankments
During the first day of team play at the Ryder Cup last September, Jordan Spieth found himself in a precarious spot on the Straits course’s 17th hole—his ball buried in thick, fescue-like grasses perched halfway up a steep vertical embankment. According to NBC on-course commentator Jim “Bones” Mackay, Spieth was about 12 feet below the level of the green, attempting to hit a pitch shot onto the putting surface. “This is hit and hope for certain,” Mackay said at the time.
Spieth memorably pulled off the shot, though he needed to run down the entire slope—almost into Lake Michigan—to regain his stability after making the swing. Although Spieth’s recovery immortalized the 17th hole, the Straits course is teeming with similar fescue-covered embankments, both along the edges of the fairways and around the greens of several holes. Fortunately, most aren’t quite as steep as what Spieth faced on number 17.
Royal Troon (Troon, Scotland)
The Coffin Bunker
Despite the fact that the 8th hole at Royal Troon carries a stroke index of 18 on the scorecard, the par three is terrifying thanks to the Coffin bunker guarding the left side of the green. While standing on the back tees, which play only 123 yards, the green looks tiny because, well… it is. At only 14 yards from side to side at its widest point, shots that miss the surface have a good chance of finding one of five bunkers, including the aforementioned Coffin, which according to Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, the executive director of championships for the R&A, is aptly named. “You go in there and you could possibly stay in there forever,” he says.
So while it’s a major feather in your cap should you hit the green in regulation at the Postage Stamp, it’s almost a more impressive accomplishment if you can say you survived the Coffin bunker—especially if you manage to get up and down for par.
Pebble Beach Golf Links (Pebble Beach, Calif.)
The pebble-strewn beach left of the fairway on hole 18
There’s an old adage that timing is everything. Such can be the case on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach, especially when players bite off a bit more than they can chew with their tee shots hugging the interior of the dogleg on the left toward Carmel Bay. Players who do so might find their balls resting in playable lies on the beach below the rocks, but only when the tide is out. Successful recovery shots hit from that beach—especially those that put a ball on the fairway—deserve to be talked up with enthusiasm afterward. And if you should manage to par the hole or even birdie it from that initial position, as Brandt Snedeker did during the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2019, you should probably buy the first celebratory round.
A bit of advice on another perilous spot at Pebble: It’s probably best to avoid trying to be a hero if your drive at the par-four 8th hole comes to rest a bit too close to the cliff’s edge—something Mr. Spieth might reconsider after his heart-pounding par at the 2022 AT&T.
The Old Course (St. Andrews, Scotland)
Across Old Station Road on the backside of the green on hole 17
Ben Crenshaw once explained—likely facetiously—why the Road Hole on the Old Course at St. Andrews is the world’s most difficult par four. In the two-time Masters champion’s opinion, it’s because the hole was originally designed as a par six. Regardless of its origins, the hole is arduous due to the fact that the green is guarded by a small, yet cavernous pot bunker in the front and Old Station Road, which is in play, along the back. “So many things happen that aren’t going to happen anywhere else,” Bob Tway once said, “just because of the uniqueness of the hole.”
Such was the case during the third round of the Open Championship in 2010, when Miguel Angel Jimenez had to hit a carom shot off the stone wall just beyond the road. The Spaniard pulled it off, essentially flopping his ball back onto the putting surface with an assist from the ancient stone edifice. It’s a low percentage shot to be sure, but so is successfully hitting out of the Road Hole bunker, especially for the average amateur. If I had to pick between those two recovery scenarios, I’m taking plenty of club with our approach shot—a bank shot off the wall is just too memorable a shot to pass up.
Oakmont Country Club (Oakmont, Pa.)
The “Church Pews” bunker on holes 3 and 4
Measuring 102 yards long, 42 yards wide, and 26,000 square feet in area, the sand-and-native-grass-strewn hazard that commands your attention down the left side of the 3rd and 4th holes at Oakmont was at one time—almost 100 years ago—six separate bunkers. By the time Oakmont hosted the U.S. Open in 1935, however, those six bunkers had been interconnected, leaving six grassy berms in the center. Over time, the unique-shaped hazard expanded until it reached its current configuration: a series of 12 “pews” planted exclusively with fescue grass.
Today, those grassy embankments make for awkward stances should a player’s ball come to rest on any of them. But the four to five yards of traditional bunker in between each pew isn’t any more forgiving, as the soft white sand is prone to producing buried lies. Ultimately, any shot that winds up in the Church Pews will lead to a challenging recovery. Consequently, golfers who manage to salvage par from them are all but certain to deem it a miracle.
Pine Valley (Pine Valley, N.J.)
The “Devil’s Asshole” bunker on hole 10
Every other locale on this list lives up to the “perilous” moniker in that those areas are full of risk and danger (from a scorecard perspective, anyway), but escaping from them with a respectable score intact is not insurmountable. Such is not the case for the pot bunker on the 10th hole at Pine Valley, a hazard appropriately known as the Devil’s Asshole.
What’s the “scariest” bunker you’ve seen on a golf course?
These four give me nightmares: 1) the Road Hole bunker on No. 7 at NGLA; 2) the Devil’s A**hole fronting the 10th at Pine Valley; 3) the huge blowout on 4 at Sand Hills; and Travis’s coffin left of 18 at Garden City. pic.twitter.com/Jven2rZY8h
— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) August 2, 2019
Over the years, the par three, which plays only 142 yards from the members’ tees and 161 yards from the very back, has made lists of the scariest holes and the unluckiest ones all for this one cavernous bunker. Allegedly, it’s impossible to escape the bunker hitting in the direction of the green. For that reason, this sand-filled hazard may be better situated on a list of the most futile places from which to play. If you’re ever lucky enough to play Pine Valley, we hope your luck doesn’t run out on the 10th hole. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Stadium Course at PGA West (La Quinta, Calif.)
Greenside bunker on the 16th hole, “San Andreas Fault”
Leave it to Pete Dye to create a greenside bunker that not only terrifies average amateurs but frustrates the best players in the world. The 16th hole at PGA West is aptly named “San Andreas Fault”—a procession of deep bunkers runs down the entire length of the fairway on the left-hand side, culminating in a greenside bunker that is best described as a canyon. “Golf is not a fair game,” Dye once declared, “so why build a course fair?”
This greenside bunker adheres to that philosophy—its base is almost 20 feet below the surface of the green. To give you an idea of just how challenging a shot hit from this bunker can be, consider what one of the Golf Channel broadcasters said during recent coverage of The American Express: “This is like putting a bunker in your front yard,” he said, “and trying to hit it on the roof of your two-story house.”
Augusta National Golf Club (Augusta, Ga.)
Among the trees and pine straw on hole 13
If you find your ball positioned on the pine straw just inside the tree line on the right-hand side of “Azalea,” the 13th hole at Augusta National, we must first congratulate you for managing to gain entry into a club so exclusive that its course tops the bucket lists of at least 99 percent of the world’s golfing population. As for the predicament that you’ll likely face with your second shot on that famous par five, if you have a gap through the trees that offers you an angle to the green, you’ll be tempted to go for it as Phil Mickelson did, hitting a 6-iron to less than 10 feet from the hole during the final round of the Masters in 2010. It’s a low percentage shot, but unless you’re in the middle of your best-ever round, we say go for it. After all, the chances of you getting to play a second round at Augusta National are probably lower than the odds of pulling off the shot, so this will likely be your one and only opportunity to give it a go.
What perilous places do you want to play a shot from?