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Punch Shot: What's the scariest hole in golf?

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Halloween is upon us, which means costumes, trick-or-treaters, pumpkin-spiced everything and spooky stories. That got us thinking about the scariest holes in golf. Our writers weigh in:


Let’s read the fine print very carefully: It’s not asking for the “best” hole or the “toughest” hole; it’s asking for the scariest one.

My first thought went to the peninsula green at TPC Sawgrass’ 17th hole, but really, how scary is a hole that you can attack with a pitching wedge? My next thought went to the eighth hole at Pebble Beach, which Jack Nicklaus has called the “most intimidating second shot in golf,” but I still don’t know if I’d categorize it as scary.

No, for that honor we must travel to the Legend Golf and Safari Resort in South Africa, which features something called an “Extreme 19th” hole. It’s a 630-yard par-3 with a teebox 1,400 feet above the green that is only accessible by helicopter. Yes, you read that correctly: A 630-yard par-3. Photos from the tee make it look like you could fall off the edge of the earth with a clumsy swing.

I won’t admit that I’m scared of heights, but I will say that I’d rather swim from tee box to green at Sawgrass’ famous par-3, ducking the gators in that water, rather than take my chances 1,400 feet above the ground.


One of the great thrills of my otherwise ordinary golfing life was playing Augusta National the day after the 2012 Masters. Playing from the member tees but firing to the same hole locations as Bubba and Co. on Sunday, I grappled with many of the same tough questions: Why is it so difficult to breathe on the first tee? Is triple a good score on 11? Am I going to pinball this tee shot on 18?

And the most obvious question: What the heck am I going to do on 12?

Bar none, it’s the scariest hole in golf – 150 yards of pure terror, from the precision required on the tee shot to the deft touch on the greens.

The first player in our group caught a gust of wind, his ball hitting the bank short of the green and kicking back into Rae’s Creek. Double. The second guy flushed his shot over the back of the green, onto a downslope near the bunker, a spot so dead it might as well have come with a body bag. Triple.

Somehow, I sent a pitching wedge to the back of the green (and two-putted for par!), and there is no moment in golf quite like watching that tee shot fly through the air for what seems like an eternity. The nausea subsides eventually – just in time for the walk across the famed Hogan Bridge.


I don’t think it gets much scarier than the 16th hole at Cypress Point.

It combines all the factors that can make a player weak in the knees: long par-3, small margin for error, and, oh yeah, water. As in, the Pacific Ocean.

With winds whipping off the coastline and waves crashing at a player’s feet on the tee, the hazard separating green from tee can make it seem like you’re trying to hit Alcatraz from the Golden Gate Bridge. The cliffs also wrap around the back left of the green, just in case you thought there might be any semblance of a viable bailout area.

No. 16 at Cypress is also often discussed as one of the most scenic holes in all of golf, but as any married man can attest, sometimes beauty and fear can go hand-in-hand. 


The 12th hole at Augusta National may be the most mercurial in all of golf. That’s why it’s the scariest. That pocket of Amen Corner seems to have its own climate, and it drives players nuts. You’ve seen how club selection befuddles them, how it can be such maddening guesswork, with players scratching their heads seeing the flag on the 11th green blowing in one direction and the flag on the 12th green blowing in the opposite direction.

It’s a scary hole because invisible forces can inflict so much pain on perfectly good shots. A good swing, a flush strike, can be batted down into Rae’s Creek, or pushed into the azaleas, or whisked into trouble over the green. The fear is in the helplessness felt with a ball on its way to god knows what. 


While the line between what makes a golf hole demanding as opposed to scary is in the eye of the beholder, there are a few elements that clarify the transition.

Visual intimidation, a steep cost for lack of execution and proximity to the finish line all factor into the equation, and the 17th hole at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, has it all.

There may be more difficult tee shots in the game, but there is no more intimidating phrase in golf than, “Just aim at the ‘O’ in the Old Course Hotel sign.” The drive at the penultimate hole must begin out of bounds and aimed precisely at a wall that towers some three stories high.

If, and that’s a big if considering the width of the fairway, your drive safely finds the short grass and not, say, the Jigger Inn which looms just to the right of the hole, that’s when things really get scary.

Depending on the wind, players will have a mid- to short-iron into a narrow green with a road and a wall waiting if you go long. And the infamous Road Hole bunker – where many solid rounds have gone to die (see Duval, David, 2000 Open Championship) – awaits for those unfortunate enough to come up short.

It may not be the toughest hole in major championship golf, but it’s certainly the scariest.