Toughest Set of Par Fours

It’s neither length nor configuration alone that makes for a tough par four. It’s any combination of those two traits, plus lack of width, invasive bunkers, adroitly placed water hazards, terrain, wind, and the severity of the green complexes, including extra-speedy or wildly contoured greens.

We’ve identified the 10 toughest sets of par fours in golf, based on a sole factor: Which courses feature the greatest number of two-shot holes that serve up the potential for double bogeys—or worse—on a “normal” weather day?

Kiawah Island Resort, Ocean Course (Kiawah Island, S.C.)

A blend of wind-whipped tidal marsh carries, scrub-topped dunes, and undulating greens pairs with 7,876 muscular yards to form a relentless mix of gorgeous scenery and gargantuan challenge. While architect Pete Dye softened his greens and their surrounds over the years, the Ocean Course remains among the toughest tests in the country.

The fun starts at the short, 390-yard 3rd, where the green sits atop a flattened sand dune next to the marsh and falls off steeply on all sides. Rated the toughest hole on the front nine, the 484-yard 4th features a split fairway, two marsh carries, and a rippled, shallow green backdropped by sand dunes. On the back side, the 497-yard 13th asks for a drive as close to a right-side tidal canal as possible to obtain the best angle into the green, while the 505-yard 18th wows with glimpses of the Atlantic as it arcs around substantial dunes and zigzags through sandy waste areas. When the wind freshens, look out.

Oakmont Country Club (Oakmont, Pa.)

No trees, no water, few forced carries, and huge greens normally add up to a sea of red numbers for the game’s best, but not here. Not with the ferocity of these greens (which they actually slow down for U.S. Opens), a lethal combination of speed, contour, and firmness, plus brutal rough and more than 200 bunkers.

The terror train leaves the station at the 482-yard par-four opening hole. If the ditch on the left doesn’t derail you, the green itself will. The front of the putting surface pitches toward the fairway, while the rest of the green actually pitches toward the back. Others in the horror hall of fame are the 428-yard 3rd, menaced by the dreaded Church Pews bunker complex and by a severely canted green. Late round nightmares include the 499-yard 15th, with additional Church Pews and the rugged 18th, at 484 yards, its green perched on a small rise.

Winged Foot, West Course (Mamaroneck, N.Y.)

Narrow, rough-pinched fairways, small, maddeningly contoured, propped up greens (recently restored by Gil Hanse), cavernous bunkers bracketing those greens, and a procession of rugged par fours define the trouble here. On a “difficulty” scale of 1 to 10, Jack Nicklaus once rated Winged Foot West a 12. No argument here.

The 7,426-yard par-72 layout (par-70 for majors, with two short par fives converted into, you guessed it, long, hard par fours) opens with par fours of 451 and 475 yards and closes with par fours of 469 yards and 460. In between is mostly more of the same. Any questions?

Pine Valley (Pine Valley, N.J.)

Uniquely marvelous and merciless, Pine Valley serves up multiple forced carries on holes that hopscotch from one island of turf to the next, amid trees, sand, and scrub. Hit it crooked and freakishly hard recoveries await, resulting in a back tee rating of 76.6, with a slope of 155. Even from the regular tees, the slope is an ego-crushing 153.

Pine Valley isn’t the horror story it once was, but it remains a brute. Take the 368-yard 2nd hole. With its green perched atop a ledge and surrounded by sand, it can induce terror in the average player. In reality, it’s pretty fair, but when the mind tries to take in the forbidding, uphill forced carry, the 368 yards seem like 468. The dogleg-left, 486-yard 13th and the 483-yard 18th, which calls for an all-carry approach over water and five bunkers to an elevated green, are two additional rip snorters.

Bethpage, Black Course (Farmingdale, N.Y.)

The Black scares golfers with a sign at the first tee: “Warning—The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers.”

The first fist to the golfer’s mouth comes at the 478-yard 5th, which plays uphill to a plateau green.  After surviving such tests as the 460-yard 9th, and the 502-yard 10th, you reach the 501-yard 12th, at one time the longest par four in U.S. Open history. The only hole harder during the 2002 U.S. Open was the 478-yard 15th, possibly the toughest par four in golf. The fairway twists to the left and the approach must locate a green elevated by some 50 feet—a heart attack waiting to happen for walkers. Deep rough and a huge bunker are cut into the slope fronting the green and the putting surface is one of the most wicked on the course; smallish, with two tiers.

Desert Mountain, Renegade (Scottsdale, Ariz.)

Once called “the most versatile course in the world,” Renegade has only eight par fours, yet it still makes our list. That’s because its architect, Jack Nicklaus, once said that it might be the sternest test of golf he’s ever seen, possibly owing to the fact that he didn’t break 80 during the Grand Opening in March 1987.

What makes Renegade unique are the multiple play combinations, with seven sets of tees, two separate greens for many holes, and two separate flags on the same large green on others. The short (white) flags are more easily accessible via softer contours on and around the green and occasional run-ups are permitted. Forced carries are the only way to reach the longer (yellow, or gold) flags, which are inevitably tucked behind a bunker, on green surfaces with steeper fall-offs and surrounded by desert.  From the longest (Gold) tees to the farthest (gold) flags, Renegade stretches more than 8,000 yards. The course starts with three par fours, measuring 439, 468, and 488, and eventually you’ll encounter the 507-yard 8th and the 521-yard 13th, the latter rated as the number one handicap hole.

Royal County Down (Newcastle, Northern Ireland)

This 1889 Old Tom Morris creation is defined by golf’s most fearsome looking bunkers—deep, with the fear factor amplified by the densely whiskered edges. Towering sandhills cloaked in dense gorse, tangled heather, no fewer than six blind shots, and relatively narrow fairways further burnish County Down’s credentials as one of the most demanding tests of driving anywhere.

Ranked as the hardest holes on the course by stroke index (handicap) are four par fours—the 429-yard 8th, the 446-yard 13th, the 475-yard 3rd, and the 468-yard 15th. It’s almost impossible to imagine this quartet is tougher than the number five stroke index hole, the 486-yard, par-four 9th. The daunting tee shot asks for a sure, trusting drive into a blind fairway eighty feet below that is framed by gorse-covered sand hills.

Carnoustie (Carnoustie, Scotland)

Long acknowledged as the toughest Open rota track, and among the hardest courses in the world, “Car-nasty” earns its nickname via its gargantuan length (for a links) of 7,400 yards, its reliably ferocious winds off the North Sea, its 112 punishing bunkers, and its ditches and streams (burns) that typically send scores soaring.

At 460 yards, the 17th is the hardest hole at Carnoustie and is nasty whether conditions are calm or calamitous. Its name, “Island,” comes from the sanctuary of fairway where most drives land, which is surrounded by a loop of the Barry Burn. The fairway progressively narrows, making a layup off the tee a prudent play, but leaving a frighteningly long approach. A fistful of other par fours are similarly harsh, depending on the wind, including the 461-yard 2nd, the 474-yard 9th, the 465-yard 10th, the 503-yard 12th, the 472-yard 15th, and especially the 499-yard 18th, as Jean Van de Velde can attest.

French Lick Resort, Pete Dye Course (French Lick, Ind.)

This 8,100-yard, steroid-injected Pete Dye track plays atop ridges and through valleys amid the rolling countryside of southern Indiana. Rough-covered sidehill lies and a fistful of volcano bunkers will drain any golfer—except perhaps Colin Montgomerie, who captured the 2015 Senior PGA Championship here. From the tips (80.5 rating, slope of 151), the front nine par fours average 474 yards, the back nine a mere 455. With no fewer than four par fours measuring at least 513 yards, many golfers would rather be in an actual volcano than to climb in and out of the volcano bunkers.

Shinnecock Hills (Southampton, N.Y.)

Venue for five U.S. Opens since 1986, with a sixth on the way in 2026, Shinnecock boasts a heavily undulating William Flynn design and a location adjacent to Great Peconic Bay. Wind is a near-constant factor amid ball-gobbling, fescue-framed fairways that resemble a British links.

Toughest of all at the 2018 U.S. Open was the 519-yard 14th hole, which plays slightly uphill to a saddle green. In the first round, more than half the field made bogey or worse. Next in difficulty was the 500-yard 3rd hole, followed by the head-scratching 10th. At only 415 yards, it seemed gettable. It wasn’t. Add the uphill, 485-yard 9th, its green elevated 45 feet above the fairway, the nearly-as-hard, 485-yard 18th, and the two hardest holes for members’ play (the 491-yard 6th and the 469-yard 12th) and you have a murderer’s row of handsome scorecard killers.

What course do you think has the toughest par fours?