The 8 Greatest Risk/Reward Holes on the PGA Tour’s West Coast Swing

For nearly a century, the PGA Tour’s West Coast Swing has reliably delivered drama in massive doses, thanks in part to venues that brim with exciting risk/reward holes. From history-soaked layouts such as Riviera and Pebble Beach to modern-day TPC spreads, what each has in common is at least one superb example of a risk-laden hole that provides a palpable reward.

Here are the eight greatest risk/reward holes on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing.

Riviera Country Club (Pacific Palisades, Calif.)10th hole, 315 yards, par four

No longer the vexing, “Should I go for it or not?” decision it was even a decade ago for the pros—they all go for it now—the question these days revolves around where to miss the green if they do miss it. For mortals, the hole remains stellar for options. Few have the discipline to approach the green from the proper angle, which calls for a lay-up drive to the far-left side of the fairway—especially when the hole location is back-right on this shallow, diagonal green corseted by bunkers. When the pin is on the left, unprotected by the fronting bunker, the temptation is to go straight at it—even if you fall short. However, that open portion of the green slopes away to the back, making a straight-on approach that much exquisitely tougher.

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Riviera Country Club, 10th hole (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

TPC Scottsdale, Stadium Course (Scottsdale, Ariz.)17th hole, 332 yards, par four

Bunkers, angles, and water left of and in back of the funky green, which sports an index finger of putting surface back-left, all conspire to complicate—and entice. Andrew Magee aced this hole at the 2001 WM Phoenix Open by ricocheting his ball off another golfer’s putter, the only par-four hole-in-one in PGA Tour history. Said co-designer Tom Weiskopf: “The lure for the big hitter is a chance at an eagle putt. The risk for the errant drive is water left of the green, and a swale to the right. We’ve also rewarded the shorter hitter, letting him use his short-game expertise to handle the bold contours of the green. The exciting aspect to this hole is that so many things can happen—there are so many different ways to play it.”

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TPC Scottsdale (Stadium), 17th hole (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Pebble Beach Golf Links (Pebble Beach, Calif.)18th hole, 541 yards, par five

One of the game’s most recognizable holes, the 18th at Pebble Beach arcs to the left around Stillwater Cove. A huge cypress tree 270 yards from the back tee patrols the right-center of the fairway and out of bounds edges the right side of the hole. To reach in two, the golfer must navigate the ocean left and a massive cypress tree and yawning bunker short-right of the green. Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner and a fine course designer, nicely summarizes the risk/reward aspects of Pebble Beach’s 18th: “The drive epitomizes perfectly a simple, but highly effective strategic principle: the more you ‘take on’ a hazard, the easier every subsequent shot becomes. But play away from the trouble and the angle for the next shot gets worse, something that is true on Pebble’s 18th both off the tee and for the second shot.”

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Pebble Beach, 18th hole (photo by Evan Schiller)

Torrey Pines, South Course (La Jolla, Calif.)18th hole, 570 yards, par five

The reachable (for some), pond-guarded 18th has provided oodles of dramatic moments over the years, most of them tied to Tiger Woods. To have a chance to reach in two, the tee shot must find the fairway. A drive struck 275 to 350 yards needs to avoid dense rough and any one of five flanking bunkers. It’s not a hard hole, with birdies outnumbering bogies by 4-to-1, but if you’re seeking an eagle, or need to get it close to the front-left hole location, it provides supreme risk/reward, thanks to a green that slopes hard to the water.

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Torrey Pines, 18th hole (South) (photo courtesy Torrey Pines)

Kapalua, Plantation Course (Maui, Hawaii)14th hole, 301 yards, par four

Home to the PGA Tour’s The Sentry (Tournament of Champions), this 1991 Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw creation features heavily sloping, extra-wide landing areas draped atop a former pineapple plantation. Not as wide is the drivable 14th, which narrows considerably from 100 yards in, going from 41 yards wide to 24 yards wide at the 50-yard mark. It’s only 285 to the front of the green, but the hole plays slightly uphill, usually into the wind or crosswind and concludes with a small, 3,500-square-foot, plateaued putting surface. It’s always tempting to go for it but miss the green anywhere but short and you’ll do well to make 4.

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Plantation Course at Kapalua, 18th hole (photo by Dave Sansom Photography)

PGA West, Pete Dye Stadium Course (La Quinta, Calif.)16th hole, 600 yards, par five

Pete Dye’s West Coast follow-up to TPC Sawgrass is the notorious home to The American Express, the event that was long known as the Bob Hope Desert Classic. Mountain backdrops, an island-green par-three 17th, and brutal, watery closing holes on each nine highlight the course. What’s unique here, though, is the insanely deep (19-foot) pit that starts 45 yards short of the 16th green on the left side and extends all the way to the putting surface and beyond. Anyone risking a second shot that hopes to get close or onto this slender green could well find this bunker of horror.

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PGA West (Pete Dye Stadium Course), 17th hole (Photo by Matt Hahn)

Spyglass Hill Golf Course (Pebble Beach, Calif.)4th hole, 370-yards, par four

One of Robert Trent Jones’s most unforgettable creations is this slight-on-distance, long on everything else two-shotter. A fairway that progressively narrows and slopes right to left toward the Pacific Ocean and a long (55 yards), slender (10 yards), diagonal green tucked into flora-topped dunes force thoughtful tactics and execution. On a direct line, the green sits 310 yards away and it’s 290 to carry the dunes. During Dustin Johnson’s heyday, he would often aim at the right greenside bunker and smash a draw to a narrow gap just short of the green. He won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2009 and 2010, but his chances for a three-peat evaporated after he hooked his tee shot here into an ugly lie in the dunes, on his way to a quadruple-bogey 8.

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Spyglass Hlil, 4th hole (Photo courtesy Pebble Beach Company)

Waialae Country Club (Oahu, Hawaii)18th hole, 551 yards, par five

There’s nothing terribly difficult about this sharp dogleg left if you’re looking for a one-putt birdie or two-putt par. If you’re hoping to get home in two, however, with a crack at an eagle, the risks are elevated exponentially. A 300-yard carry is required to carry a large fairway bunker on the inside elbow of the dogleg but play it to the right of that bunker and the straight or faded tee shot risks running through the 30-yard-wide fairway into the rough. For golfers who gamble with precisely the right distance and shot shape, an easy approach awaits.

Have you played any of these West Coast holes? Tell us about your strategy in the comment section.

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