It’s March 1966. I’m among the gallery at the Doral Open in Miami to witness the era’s dream pairing of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
My angst peaked when they reached the 12th hole, a 610-yard lollapalooza that was one of the longest on tour. Jack led off by crushing a high draw over the distant fairway bunker on the right, the ball catching the down-slope and bounding down the fairway. Snorting like a defiant bull, Arnie took his address and nailed a low, laser-like drive straight down the middle.
With me on their heels like an excited Chihuahua, we arrived at Arnie’s ball 315 yards out and Jack’s five yards beyond. Palmer whacked a 3-wood within wedge distance of the putting surface. Jack lined up his shot and peered into the distant sunlight at a green protected by a deep bunker that normally dissuaded any notion of getting home in two.
At that moment I witnessed the longest fairway I’ve ever seen. With a full carry of 290 yards to the green, Jack flushed a 3-wood that seemed to reach the clouds and shoot even higher, as if boosted by a rocket launcher. The ball finally plunged to the green and rolled off the back edge. Those of us privileged to see that shot liken it to a golfer’s version of being at Woodstock.
Doral Golf Resort & Spa, Miami
But hear ye this: the 12th isn’t even the toughest hole on Doral’s TPC Blue Monster course. Nay, ‘tis the 18th that even golf carts fear to tread. Long considered the most fearsome finishing hole on the PGA Tour, Doral’s par 4, 467-yard 18th combines the need for great length, great accuracy and great humility.
The main bugaboo is disgustingly obvious: The entire left side of the hole abuts a huge, bass-filled lake that cuts into half of the fairway where drives normally land. Aiming right sends you to severe undulations with no angle to the green, and just ahead of them lie palm trees that seem to enjoy causing stymies.
The carry over the water from the tips is 290 yards, but into the wind it’s impossible. If you lay back, you’re faced with a long iron or wood into a double-tiered green. Hit left of it and you’re wet, go right into a bunker and you’re blasting to a slick putting surface that tilts toward the water.”
My own experience playing the 18th is typical. Hoping to block out negative thoughts, I just swung with muscle memory. Unfortunately, my muscles had amnesia as I hit a dastardly duck-hook. My heart lurched as the insufferable spheroid sailed for liquid oblivion, and I turned my head in defiance as if to deny any links demon the pleasure of witnessing my agony.
The pro's advice: “I aim at the right bunkers and draw it slightly. I’ll usually have a mid to long iron left. I also aim the approach shot at the bunkers and try to hit a little draw so it lands on the right side of the green.”
If you go: Doral’s TPC Blue Monster Course, Doral Golf Resort & Spa, 800-713-6725, www.doralresort.com.
La Playa Beach & Golf Resort, Naples
Expect plenty of water, bunkers and fast greens on this Gulf-side layout, especially the treacherous 8th hole, a 444-yard par 4. This dogleg right temps you to shorten the length of the hole by taking your drive down the right hand side of the fairway…but without the right amount of carry you find the water which dominates the right side.
The left side offers little relief, with rough that means getting home in two very challenging and just past a tree line on the left awaits more water, and at the corner sits two fairway bunkers and a huge mound.
“The mental intimidation of the water at right causes many golfers to hit a less aggressive shot which then will leave them a long second shot into the green or worse, land them in trouble on the left,” says Director of Marketing Scot Hamilton. “If that isn’t intimidating enough, there is more water to contend with on the left side of the green."
Merely bunting a 5-iron down the middle leaves you needing a howitzer to reach the green. The good news is that the green is large with no bunkers; the bad news is that it features substantial undulations, and standing over one of those mega-breaking putts is about as much fun as petting the alligators along the course.
How the pros play it: “Usually the wind is in your face, so hit a low drive down the middle and aim the approach at the windward side of the green.”
If you go: La Playa Beach & Golf Resort, 239-254-5001, www.laplayaresort.com.
PGA National Resort & Spa, Palm Beach Gardens
While “The Champion” course boasts many notorious holes, the one with the richest history of disaster is the 11th. A par 4 that plays 419 yards from the tips may not sound too daunting, but take one glance at the handkerchief-size landing area and the first words out of your mouth are more colorful than “suffering succotash.”
The fairway is sandwiched between water, which means damnation if you hook and hellfire if you slice. Even so, Director of Golf Jane Broderick advises to hit the driver. “It’s a hole where playing conservatively can hurt you in the end."
Even if you manage a good poke off the tee and pull out an 8-iron for the approach shot, you’re still facing a world of hurt. Water is all too evident right and left of the green, and like an insidious serpent it also snakes in front of the putting surface. The deep bunker at back left isn’t the worst place to be and many golfers better than you have aimed at it to avoid the drink.
Most putts will be downhill because the green is pitched toward the pond in front. Mercifully, there are no severe slopes, so getting home in two will likely produce the hallowed par 4. In with a 5, rejoice if you finish the hole with the same ball you started with.
How Jane plays it: A long, well placed tee shot down the left side gives the player the best angle into the green with the shortest carry over water.
If you go: The Champion, PGA National Resort & Spa, 800-858-1134, www.pgaresort.com.
TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach
If the finishing hole at Doral represents Godzilla, the 18th at the Stadium Course is a Rodan. Left of the fairway: water. Right of the fairway: spectator mounds that bounce golf balls in unwelcome directions. Mix in the importance of winning the vaulted TPC Championship or avoiding embarrassment in front of your buddies, and the hole takes on a frightening persona.
Said Head Pro Jim Poole: “The challenge is to hit a drive that must find a narrow landing area. It’s a slight dogleg left, and at 440 yards if you hit a 270-yarder from the back tees, it’s still 170 yards home.”
The approach shot is only slightly less despairing. The three-tiered green features numerous slopes. More mounds await the errant shot at right, a huge bunker taunts you back left and anything way left is wet.
During the 2005 PLAYERS Championship, winds churned the course to 40 miles per hour and only a handful of pros managed par. Fred Funk, the eventual winner, kept the tee shot dry but pulled his approach into the bunker. He blasted to five feet and made the putt to cop the title.
How Jim plays it: “Depending on wind direction, I’ll hit a fade or draw to get in the fairway. I want to put the iron shot on the same tier as the flagstick to avoid a three-putt.”
If you go: Stadium Course, TPC Sawgrass, 904-273-3430, www.tpcsawgrass.com.
Burnt Pine Golf Club, Destin
This par 3 is so scary it should become an official choice for those on death row: lethal injection, the electric chair or playing the 14th at Burnt Pine.
Between tee and green is a sticky, unforgiving marsh with the Choctawhatchee Bay shoreline at right. Hit short or left and it’s a mud ball; hit right and it’s a wet ball. And to those brainless enough to try hacking it out of the muck you’ll: 1) advance the ball not and, 2) climb out looking like a giant Dove bar.
The 212-yard, make-or-break tee shot into gusty tropical winds is so horrific that not even William Tell could hit this apple very often. Rick Hileman, Director of Resort Golf, tells of a fellow who notched a fat 6 on this hole.
“His first shot came up short and found the marsh, so he was forced to drop another ball. This one also found the marsh. Now laying four on the tee, his fifth stroke finally found the green and he managed to one-putt for a 6..”
A double par on such a brutal hole might not sound unusual, but get this: He played the other 17 holes with 10 birdies and seven pars to set the course record of 65.
How Rick plays it: “The wind direction is the key here. With 212 yards of forced carry, all you’re hoping for is dry land. I’ve hit as much as a driver and as little as a 6-iron, depending on the wind. With a bunker just off the backside of the green, err on the side of too much club to give yourself a chance to get up and done for par.”
If you go: Burnt Pine Golf Club, Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort, 850-267-6500, www.sandestin.com.
Walt Disney World’s Magnolia Course, Lake Buena Vista
The renovated Magnolia course took its difficult 5th hole and made it even tougher, which is tantamount to putting the town bully on steroids. Already a 1-handicap hole, this mammoth par 4 now stretches 495 yards and is even more visually intimidating and physically demanding than before.
I visited the hole recently while under construction and witnessed Frankenstein on the operating table, being turned into a score-wrecking nightmare before my very eyes. Previously, many pros could routinely cut the right corner. With the new setback tee, however, this baby has grown from a mere dogleg to a dinosaur leg. Only a downwind mega-crunch will now be able to do the trick, and even then you’d better wait before humming Zippity Doo Dah because you’ll be facing a long to medium iron to get home.
“The right side off the tee features native hardwoods and undergrowth – hit into that and you’re out of play,” says Head Pro Kevin Weickel. “The drive will require a 300-yard carry to cheat the dogleg. The left side is guarded with three bunkers and dense woods, and even hitting it down the middle might leave you with an uneven lie due to several very subtle moguls. With a narrow green bunkered on both sides, the approach shot will be challenging from anywhere.”
How Kevin plays it: “The money shot involves keeping the drive left-center. With a good tailwind and the adrenaline flowing, I’ll skirt the right edge. The green slopes toward you and there’s a left-to-right hump in the middle, so I plan on hitting a light fade with probably a 3- or 4-iron to hold the green.”
If you go: Magnolia Course, WDW Resort, 407-WDW-GOLF, www.disneyworldgolf.com.
Become a ‘Smoker’
The farther you can advance the ball off the tee, the greater your scoring advantage. Here are a few tips to start “smoking” them tee shots:
- You won’t win the Daytona 500 driving a tricycle. Shell out the greenbacks for the best driver and liveliest golf balls available.
- Don’t over-swing. Instead, increase club-head speed with gradual acceleration.
- Think of acquiring distance as an investment: You hire a professional to sell your house or represent you in court. Lessons from a golf pro fast-forwards your learning curve.
- Timing. You need it casting a fly rod, dancing the foxtrot and knowing when to ask for a raise.
Work with your driver at the practice tee to perfect a powerful swing with precise timing.