“Putting greens are to golf courses what faces are to portraits,” said pioneering American architect Charles Blair Macdonald. Indeed, it is the infinite variety of golf’s ultimate targets that makes for endless fascination. “Nothing is more enjoyable than to play to a beautifully designed green,” said Robert Trent Jones, who recognized that shaping, contour, and setting lead to memorability.
A handful of holes feature greens that will linger particularly long in memory. Here are the 10 most extraordinary greens in American golf.
7th hole, Ballyneal Golf Club—Holyoke, Colo.
“This short par four features the most unusual green we’ve ever built, though not the most difficult,” says Ballyneal’s architect, Tom Doak. “The left side of the green is mowed partway up a very steep slope, with fairway grass above that; while on the right side two bunkers eat into the margin of the green, giving it something of an ‘E’ shape. If you wind up on the wrong arm of the ‘E’ it is possible to putt off the bank on the left where the flag is, an option which is also extended to approach shots from the far right of the fairway.”
The 7th at Ballyneal, featuring Tom Doak’s “E Green,” based on the 7th at Crystal Downs, is beautiful any time of day (or night), and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to play, especially at the end of a tantalizingly drivable short par-4. It’s as good a match play hole as there is. pic.twitter.com/qzclgndFfs
— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) May 9, 2021
9th hole, Oakmont Country Club—Oakmont, Pa.
Played as a par five for members—mercifully—the 9th hole serves up not the scariest green on the course, but the most distinctive. The back half of this enormous green is actually the club’s practice putting area, which remains in play during a round. Sloping back to front, the regular portion of the green is sectionalized by three plateaux, with the far-right raised portion, known as the “Piano Bench” or “Piano Top,” the nastiest. A putt from the middle of the green must traverse several valleys on its downhill, left-to-right journey to reach the hole, but if rolled too hard, will exit the green.
7th/15th holes, Desert Mountain Club (Cochise)—Scottsdale, Ariz.
Architect Jack Nicklaus introduced the double green concept to Desert Mountain with his Renegade design in 1987, an homage to the Old Course at St. Andrews. For his next course there in 1988, Cochise, he melded the double green concept with the hottest design gambit of the 1980s: the island green. The result is golf’s only double island green, a unique signature that houses the putting surfaces for the par-three 7th and par-five 15th holes. It may be a gimmick, but it’s a visually stunning gimmick that’s a joy to play in both directions.
7th hole, Crystal Downs Country Club—Frankfort, Mich.
Perched on a bluff that peers down on both Lake Michigan and Crystal Lake, Crystal Downs employs a combination of stirring breezes, thick fescue roughs, wildly undulating terrain, and fiendishly quick, contoured greens to keep the very best players chasing the elusive par of 70. Perhaps most fiendish is the green at the short par-four 7th. Dues paying member Tom Doak describes the green complex as “a boomerang-shaped green nestled in a half-blind dell.” He notes that while eccentric, the green isn’t unfair, because an ingeniously played putt can be steered around the curve in the green.
On this St. Patrick’s Day, one of my favorite greens in golf: the 7th at Crystal Downs. This boomerang green by Alister MacKenzie is so bold that it must be seen to be believed, but it’s so perfectly designed and built that 90 years later, it still measures up among the best. pic.twitter.com/X1D4sM8khR
— LinksGems Golf Photos (@LinksGems) March 18, 2019
17th hole, Landmand Golf Club—Homer, Neb.
Located in the northeast corner of the Cornhusker State, roughly 10 miles south of Sioux City, Iowa, Landmand’s 7,200-yard par-73 layout sprawls with abundantly roomy fairways up to 100 yards in width and features a set of greens that are as enormous—yet varied—as any collection of putting surfaces in the game. Most notable is the rollicking 30,340-square-foot dance floor at the 315-yard par-four 17th. This 2022 homage from architects Rob Collins and Tad King is to Sitwell Park’s once legendary 18th green in England, designed in 1914 by Alister MacKenzie. At Landmand’s 17th, one can comfortably drive the green—and still make double bogey.
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6th hole, The Riviera Country Club—Pacific Palisades, Calif.
The drivable par-four 10th rightly grabs “greatest hole” honors at Riviera, and the uphill 18th is the club’s most recognizable, but for one-of-a-kind features, the donut-shaped, two-tier, back-to-front-sloping 6th green takes the prize, thanks to the pot bunker jabbed into its mid-section. This George Thomas original from 1927 requires players to putt around the bunker or even chip over it, a daunting task even for seasoned PGA Tour pros. Twenty-two yards deep and 40 yards wide at its maximum, the green serves up four separate putting quadrants that surround the six-yard-wide pot bunker. Almost a century after its debut, this green remains weird—and fun.
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1st/8th/17th holes, The Reserve Vineyards and Golf Club (North)—Aloha, Ore.
Tucked away in the friendly sounding western Portland suburb of Aloha is the 36-hole Reserve Vineyards and Golf Club. The Bob Cupp-designed North course debuted in 1997 and while not as stern a challenge as its South sibling, it does possess the most memorable green, a 43,000 square-foot behemoth that services holes 1, 8, and 17. The main portion of the octopus-shaped putting surface stretches across two hole corridors, 8 and 17, with both holes playing north to south. A lake fronts that section of green, but run-ups are possible at both holes. The “head” of the octopus serves the 1st hole, which runs east to west.
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4th hole, Spyglass Hill Golf Course—Pebble Beach, Calif.
Framed by the Pacific Ocean on the left and sand dunes everywhere, the 4th at Spyglass is drivable under the right conditions, but only the foolhardy would give it a go, thanks to its one-of-a-kind putting surface. The right-to-left-sloping fairway leads to a 10-yard-wide sliver of green tucked into the dunes and placed on a front-right to back-left axis. The lower front portion of the green features a false front tongue, while the upper back portion falls away at the rear. A fold creases the green’s mid-section. It all spells attractive trouble at one of the most special greens in golf.
9th hole, Yale Golf Course—New Haven, Conn.
C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor—with help from Charles Banks—created the exhilarating Yale layout in 1926 and its quirks have held up beautifully, with holes that zig, zag, climb, and drop over rocky, forested slopes. The unforgettable “Biarritz” hole, the 213-yard par-three 9th, features a 60-yard-long double plateau green that’s divided front to back by a five-foot-deep trench. You can see every ripple from a tee box that’s elevated 60 feet above Greist Pond. Macdonald and Raynor built many stellar Biarritz template holes, but according to Tom Doak, “the length of the hole and the great front hole location between the swale and the pond in front put (Yale’s) Biarritz in a class of its own.”
16th hole, Pasatiempo Golf Club—Santa Cruz, Calif.
Its architect, Alister MacKenzie, called Pasatiempo’s par-four 16th “the finest two-shot hole I know.” The 16th hole at this 1929 design demands a blind, layup drive for most, to a left-tilting fairway that edges a barranca with OB and homes to the right. The approach is struck from a downhill, sidehill lie to a severely elevated, scary-fast, three-tier green guarded in front by a massive, multi-lobed bunker. MacKenzie had no peer for crafting dramatic greens, as multiple examples at Augusta National illustrate, but this putting surface at Pasatiempo might be the most daring and imaginative of all.
What extraordinary greens in the U.S. did we miss? Tell us what makes your Top 10 in the comment section.