HAVING watched the brutality that is the Bethpage State Park’s infamous Black course during the PGA Championship, we got to wondering about other public-access courses that might make you regret ever picking up a golf club
Scouring the globe, we’ve put together a list of 18 tracks for all the masochistic golfers out there, and the best news is, you can get on each and every one of these courses to truly test your ability… and patience.
But before we indulge in this collection of ravenous (and occasionally cavernous) ball consumers, let’s make one thing completely clear: this list of the World’s Hardest Public-Access Courses is, by nature, subjective.
We’ve done our best to spread these across the world, yet still the strongest contingent comes from the USA (which makes sense considering America houses roughly 45 per cent of all the world’s golf courses).
While they’re not listed in any particular order here, many of these layouts will find their way onto your bucket list, if they’re not on it already. So strap in and prepare yourself for a spanking – this is gonna hurt.
ALL YOU really need to know is this Oregon-housed gem was designed by Tom Doak.
Simply put, that means it is at least two things: spectacular and difficult.
Carved out of towering sand dunes along the rugged Pacific Ocean coastline, and with some holes running through forest, this really is place that challenges your whole game.
With a large part of the course running along the ocean, the weather also plays a part in its difficulty. The views, however, are anything but hard on the eye.
THERE’S a good chance you haven’t heard a lot about The Pines course at The International in Massachusetts.
For what it’s worth, this formerly members-only Robert Trent Jones-designed course finds its brutality in the form of length.
In fact, at 8325 yards (7612m) from the ‘Tiger Tees’ – including a 656-yard closing hole – it’s the longest course from tip to tip in the United States.
The course’s slope rating sits at 155, which makes it crazy tough, too.
Sound like fun?
A MAGNIFICENT course on Hawaii’s island of Oahu, Ko’olau Golf Club is one of the most challenging in the world – especially from its back tees.
Carved out of Hawaiian jungle, wayward shots are instantly lost to the wilderness. Bring twice as many balls as you think you’d need. Then double it.
The opening and closing holes – like many views here – are simply epic. The 18th is truly a beast of a par-4, requiring two long shots over sheer ravines to get on the dancefloor.
Come for the views, not your score.
DESIGNED by the great Jack Nicklaus in the 1980s, Michigan’s ‘The Bear’ is a course not afraid to bare its teeth.
Tricky greens guarded by bunkers and long grasses await to turn that mis-hit into a round-ruiner.
With a reputation for being one of the fiercest tests in the USA, the course doesn’t appear to deserve that mantle at first sight. But don’t be fooled – this is one bear pretending to be in hibernation.
Hit it straight and you should survive. Get wayward at all and The Bear will eat you alive.
SOUTH CAROLINA, USA
CRAZY strong winds off the Atlantic Ocean make this formidable Pete and Alice Dye-designed layout even more challenging.
This beauty will take you on a 7356-yard trek from the back markers along the oceanfront and up and down windswept sand dunes.
Not only will you battle the elements, but also a ton of huge bunkers scattered throughout the South Carolinian marvel.
Spectacular views offer some reprieve to your mind. Some.
COUNTY KERRY, IRELAND
NOT only is the Old Course at Ireland’s Ballybunion regarded as one of the finest links layouts in the world, it’s also open to anyone who wants to play it for a lazy €230. Think that hurts?
Wait till you play it. Yet despite how incredibly difficult Ballybunion is for most players, it is otherwise a truly magnificent romp through nature in one of the most picturesque regions in the world.
Forget the number of balls you lose in the gorse rough – this is everything we love about golf.
STICKING to the coastline, we next take you to a course found in a more tropical locale – The Whitsundays.
Many golfers head here in search of playing a round in paradise, only to find they’re traversing through hell.
With a number of blind shots from the tee and even into greens (and dense shrub bordering every hole), you will go through your Titleists in a heartbeat. Did you miss it long, left or right? You’ll never know. Take a breath and look around. Serenity now!
ILE AUX CERFS, MAURITIUS
WE’RE wondering if the reason Bernhard Langer designed this course in an African nirvana was to distract us from just how brutal it really is.
Situated on its own island accessible only via boat or helicopter (probably so you can’t escape mid-round), Le Touesserok has long tee to fairway carries over water and several silica sand bunkers running the length of fairways to really up the difficulty level.
A masochistic meander here will set you back MUR7000, or about $300.
HAWKE’S BAY, NZ
GENUINELY among a small handful of courses competing for the most stunning views in the world, Cape Kidnappers is a must-play for any golfer.
Yes, it is damn tricky with steep cliffs, massive undulation, narrow fingertip holes with sheer drops into the Pacific Ocean either side, and knee-deep thick rough.
Oh, and severe winds coming off the ocean.
But who cares. This place is sublime.
We’ve never heard a person complain about a round here.
Neither have you.
PEBBLE BEACH GOLF LINKS
AMATEURS and professionals worldwide don’t sing the praises of Pebble Beach Golf Links without reason. It really is catnip for golfers.
Another worldwide bucket-lister with spectacular panoramic views, Pebble Beach is a difficult course for the amateur – mostly because it’s hard to swing with your head up.
Narrow fairways and small, sloping greens add to the difficulty level, and if the wind happens to be up on the day, the course transforms into an angry beast.
Being the No.1 public course in the United States allows for premium pricing, and at US$550 a round (roughly AUD$800) it certainly is that. Simply put, Pebble rocks.
“PEBBLE BEACH IS A DIFFICULT COURSE… MOSTLY BECAUSE IT’S HARD TO SWING WITH YOUR HEAD UP.”
POSSIBLY a surprise member of this list, Natadola Bay Golf Course is one of the hungriest when it comes to eating golf balls.
Water, rocky valleys, deep rough and the thickest shrub you’ve ever seen.
In fact, designer Vijay Singh returned to alter the course in 2016 to make it a little ‘fairer’ or easier. One thing Vijay couldn’t alter? The outrageous winds that batter the course from off the Pacific Ocean.
When the gale arrives, holding a green becomes near impossible .
Want tough? Try the Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry, the scene of epic Opens past including the 1977 Duel in the Sun battle between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, as well as Greg Norman’s first major championship victory in 1986.
Set along the stunning Ayrshire Scottish coast, it is a true links course with open fairways, masses of undulation and knee-deep rough, and susceptibility to ever-changing winds. And, of course, slick sloping greens that will test the mind of any standard of golfer.
The experience will cost you around £200 for 18 glorious holes, or about £120 for guests of the hotel.
THE Home of Golf is a pilgrimage for golfers the world over.
While the famous Old Course isn’t overly difficult technically, teeing off in front of the Royal and Ancient members will really test the mental resolve of anyone.
One of the hardest aspects is securing a tee time at this public track, with a ballot system in place to give everyone a fair chance of experiencing their own walk over the historic Swilcan Bridge. High season costs for the experience is £190 (sans caddie).
From a golf perspective, we’re not sure money can be better spent. The course, history, town. The hard part is soaking it all in.
pga west (stadium)
IF THERE’S one course designer who revels in the misery of others on his layouts, it has to be Pete Dye.
The Stadium Course is proof of that. The most difficult of courses found at PGA West (with a 150 slope rating, if you don’t mind), it truly is one of the toughest challenges in the golf world.
This is far from your lazy, cruisy Sunday round. Rather, it’s a high-octane, adrenaline-filled romp of precision golf – miss and a watery grave likely awaits your ball. Feel like having your pants repeatedly pulled down? You can book online for US$169.
OPEN, rugged and windswept sums up what awaits you at Whistling Straits.
Running along the Lake Michigan shoreline, the Straits course – which played host to the 2004, 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships – is a particularly tricky layout for the amateur golfer.
Massive sand dunes, wasteland areas, large pot bunkers, and near-always windy conditions makes this visual beauty an utter beast year round.
Reminiscent of Irish and Scottish layouts, it looks to be the perfect venue to host next year’s Ryder Cup.
HOME to the ‘most feared shot in golf’, TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course is more than a one-trick pony. That said, when a 137-yard par-3 makes the knees of the world’s best players start to knock, you know you have a monster on your hands.
Of course, Pete Dye has to be involved in something this sadistic. As the course’s architect, Dye has created some of the game’s most iconic moments at the 17th island hole, but the closing hole might be equally as formidable. You, too can bash yourself up for four and a half hours here, and it’ll only cost you US$500.
WHETHER it’s the Tom Doak-designed layout over open undulating land, nightmarish pin positions, the ferocious weather changes that can sneak up on you in minutes, or crafty local crows pinching your ball from the middle of the fairway, the original course at Tasmania’s Barnbougle Dunes is one helluva tough test of golf.
Believe us, you’ll have to earn that post-round beer and time in front of the clubhouse fireplace. Just don’t nod off – you’re bound to have some form of PTSD dreams about that round.