Tiger Woods once asked me, “Has anybody ever built harder courses than Pete Dye?” I replied, “Nobody has ever built courses that are more visually intimidating than Pete Dye.” Tiger shot back, “Exactly.”
Indeed, Dye himself stated, “My overall philosophy is to make the hole appear more difficult than it really is.” In reality, Pete Dye designed dozens—no, hundreds—of holes that both look hard and play hard.
Here are Pete Dye’s nine scariest holes.
TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium), Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.—17th hole, 137 yards, par three
There isn’t a par three anywhere that induces sweaty palms and an elevated heart rate like the 17th at TPC Sawgrass. Pete Dye’s most legendary design is only a short iron from the tips, but to hit and hold its mildly undulating, breeze-addled, apple-shaped island green requires perfect distance and trajectory—and perhaps a little help from above. Forty years after its debut at The Players, the 17th remains the single scariest hole in golf.
TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium), Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.—18th hole, 462 yards, par four
The banana-shaped 18th looks nearly as intimidating—but plays much harder—than its pint-size predecessor. The hole favors a drive down the left side to achieve the best angle to approach the green, but the further left you go, the greater the risk of splashing into a huge lake. Adding to the discomfort are the railroad ties that form a sharp edge to the lake which creates an intimidation factor that exceeds the actual danger. The “safe” drive to the right leaves a lengthy approach from a poor angle, or worse, can scamper into the trees. The hole looks mean and plays meaner.
PGA West (Stadium), La Quinta, Calif.—9th hole, 452 yards, par four
Another of those holes where you stand on the tee, gaze at the green, and wonder, “How on earth am I going to get there from here?” It’s called “Reflection,” for the mountains behind the green that are reflected into a large lake, a hazard that extends up the entire right side of the dogleg right. A massive waste bunker that edges the water and more Dye bunkers fortified by railroad ties make this more work than fun, but there’s great satisfaction in walking away, somehow, with four… or five.
PGA West (Stadium), La Quinta, Calif.—17th hole, 168 yards, par three
Dye was skeptical about replicating his Sawgrass island green in the desert, but colleagues, the developers, and PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman convinced him otherwise. Backdropped by mountains, the hole differs from its Florida cousin in that it’s lined with rocks, rather than railroad ties. Additionally, “Alcatraz” is longer by 30 yards and its green is significantly larger and less undulating. Yet, even with an elevated tee and a more visible target, it can induce the shakes in almost anyone, especially in a breeze.
Whistling Straits (Straits), Sheboygan, Wis.—17th hole, 223 yards, par three
Maxing out at 249 yards, this spectacular hole features massive sand dunes and bunkers submerged 20 feet below the green. Yank it left and you might find Lake Michigan. Fade it short or right and more tangled grass and a large, elevated bunker cut into a sand dune await, yet right is the preferred miss because of the nightmares that lurk to the left. The ideal play is to carry the dune bunker and land it on the right-third of the green, as the contour will direct the ball to the left from there. Much easier said than done.
Whistling Straits (Straits), Kohler, Wis.—18th hole, 515 yards, par four
The name of the hole, “Dyeabolical,” is an apt description for this hot mess of grass, sand, and water. Redesigned several times over the years, the home hole at Whistling Straits still induces fear and confusion at the tee box. Those were the sensations that caused Argentine star Eduardo Romero to state that when he stepped onto the tee at the 2007 U.S. Senior Open, his “hands start shaking.” The risky play is to take on a 270-yard carry over bunkers to the left-side fairway, but a drive running too far could find Seven Mile Creek. The daunting approach must clear a curling arm of that same creek and find the proper portion of an 18,000-square-foot putting surface. Yikes!
Blackwolf Run (River), Kohler, Wis.—16th hole, 620 yards, par five
Dye once wrote, “Many times I will nestle a winding creek or lake by the green to tantalize the golfers with an approach that provokes the proper anxiety.” Mission accomplished here, Pete. As Dye described it, “the Sheboygan River winds into the hole up by the left side of the green, catching a hook or pulled shot. The green is protected by a single linden tree (editor’s note: it is gigantic), which grows just at the bend of the river and squarely in line with many of the approach shots to the green.” The hole is called “Unter Der Linden” but perhaps a better name would be whatever the German equivalent for “double bogey” is.
Casa de Campo (Teeth of the Dog), La Romana, Dominican Republic—17th hole, 422 yards, par four
How can a hole so beautiful be so terrifying? When it’s the 17th at Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog. Dye described the hole as “a long par-four that winds left to right along the coastline to a small green perched along the rocky cliffs.” In 1974, after he faded his tee shot into the Caribbean, current broadcaster Gary Koch had other descriptions, when competing for the U.S. in the World Amateur Team Championship. “This course will come out of nowhere,” said Koch to reporters, “and it will throw you down and stomp on your head.” In describing the 17th, Koch’s depiction was better than most.
French Lick Resort (Pete Dye Course), French Lick, Ind.—16th hole, 301 yards, par three
When was the last time you played a 300-yard, par three with water? You can do it here on the 16th, part of an 8,101-yard Pete Dye creation in southern Indiana. Yanked drives will leave you clinging to a sidehill of rough and it might be easier escaping an actual volcano than merging unscathed from Dye’s volcano bunkers. At the 16th itself, once your brain accepts the sheer length called for on a par three, there’s that pesky lake to swallow any pushed shot, plus two greenside bunkers to the left that will punish the bailout. Fear factor? 10/10.
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What are the scariest Pete Dye holes you’ve played?