The Top 10 Scariest Shots in Golf

Pleasurable excitement, the cornerstone of every good golf hole, is one thing. White-knuckled terror is another. Here’s our pick of the top 10 scariest shots in golf…

Bethpage State Park (Black)
Farmingdale, N.Y.
No. 17, Par three, 207 yards
On a public course with U.S. Open credentials venerated for its extreme difficulty, one hole stands out as the most daunting of all. There is no ocean to imperil the tee shot at No. 17, but the sunken green at this exacting one-shotter is encased in a Sahara-like sea of sand. Flashed-face bunkers rise to the brink of the shallow, figure-eight-shaped green, there to bury timid efforts. Tangled rough behind the green gobble shots that go long.

CarnoustieCarnoustie Golf Links (Championship)
Angus, Scotland
No. 6, Par five, 578 yards
Stern and bleak, this ancient links hard by the North Sea is defined by its classic “Long” hole, No. 6. Seemingly flat and featureless, the fairway is interrupted in the landing area by three cavernous bunkers, their squared-off sod faces flared like nostrils. Off to the left are the Elysian Fields, but players must flirt with out of bounds up the left side to find them off the tee. Because Ben Hogan faded his drives onto this narrow strip of fairway during the 1953 British Open, this stingy hole is known as “Hogan’s Alley.”

Cyprus PointCypress Point Club
Pebble Beach, Calif.
No. 16, Par three, 233 yards
The most famous hole at Cypress Point, Alister MacKenzie’s masterpiece, was the brainchild of club founder Marion Hollins, a national amateur champion who insisted that the dazzling oceanfront acreage opposite 17-Mile Drive be dedicated to a knee-knocking, all-or-nothing par three. The tee shot, one of the most intimidating in the sport, must carry a broad expanse of pounding surf and weathered rocks and barking sea lions to find a sizable green ringed by bunkers.

Mauna KeaMauna Kea Golf Course
Big Island, Hawaii
No. 3, Par three, 272 yards
One of the world’s great seaside par threes, this breathtaking stage set, courtesy of Robert Trent Jones, plays from a lava promontory across a broad inlet of the Pacific to a huge kidney-shaped green bisected by a ridge and girdled by bunkers. When the trade winds blow, even great players can perish here. In a “Big Three” exhibition held in 1964 to mark the layout’s debut, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer reached the green, but Gary Player failed to make the 250-yard carry over the sea.

Pebble BeachPebble Beach Golf Links
Pebble Beach, Calif.
No. 8, Par four, 427 yards
Pebble’s most dramatic hole, stretched along the fabled “Cliffs of Doom,” is a one-of-a-kind par four that asks for a blind drive up the face of a hill followed by a bold approach over an oceanic chasm, with the surging sea and a lonely beach standing between golfer and target. The steeply pitched green, ringed by bunkers and wiry rough, is very slippery. Jack Nicklaus has called the second shot on No. 8 “the most dramatic second shot in golf.” For the less accomplished, other adjectives apply.

Pine Valley Golf Club
Clementon, N.J.
No. 5, Par three, 238 yards
Forget the short par-three 10th hole and its infernal cone-shaped pot bunker, a.k.a. the “Devil’s Asshole.” The scariest shot on the nation’s most penal course is found at No. 5, “where only God can make a three,” according to club lore. An uphill test faced into the prevailing breeze, the lusty tee shot here must carry a pond, a rutted road, and forbidding ragged bunkers to reach a sprawling green that drops off on both sides to evergreens and sand.

St AndrewsSt. Andrews (Old Course)
St. Andrews, Scotland
No. 17, Par four, 455 yards
The villainous Road Hole has shredded more scorecards and decided more matches than any other hole on earth. Assuming the drive has found the angled, rippling fairway, the approach is played to a long, narrow, raised green defended on the left by the deep, sheer-walled Road bunker, a terrifying little sand pit; and to the right by a pebbly lane backed by a stone wall. With a hybrid club or long iron in hand, the prospect is a subtle blend of temptation and fear.

TPC SawgrassTPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium)
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
No. 17, Par three, 137 yards
There’s no place to run or hide on this fear-inducing, shiver-me-timbers one-shotter. That’s because the target at Pete Dye’s cyclopean creation is a bulk-headed green in the middle of a lake that effectively shrinks to half its size on a windy day. Revered and reviled by pros and hackers alike, No. 17 on the original stadium course is the ultimate on-or-gone hole. Need proof? More than 100,000 balls splash into the lake each year.

PGA WestPGA West (TPC Stadium)
La Quinta, Calif.
No. 16, Par five, 600 yards
“Golf is not a fair game, so why build a course fair?” That is designer Pete Dye’s rationale for his brutally difficult, confidence-sapping torture track set below the Santa Rosa Mountains in greater Palm Springs. Every hole is a disaster waiting to happen, none more so than the massive 16th. The long, trench-like bunker that guards the left side of the green, a.k.a. the San Andreas Fault, is nearly 20 feet deep and can bury the unwary.

TurnberryTrump Turnberry (Ailsa)
Ayrshire, Scotland
No. 9, Par four, 458 yards
“The Donald” has plans to revise this panic-inducing firebreather, but it hardly needs enhancement. The championship tee on this spectacular hole, called Bruce’s Castle for the ruins of the Scottish king’s fortress, is a vertiginous platform set atop a craggy pinnacle that rises from the boiling sea. With the wind howling off the Irish Sea, the tee shot must carry over 200 yards to reach a hog’s back fairway marked by a stone cairn.