While a round of golf usually includes 18 holes, there are some famous golf holes out in the world that garner more attention than their brothers and sisters. Sometimes these classic holes emerge from an otherwise average golf course. Others are diamond studs standing amongst a set of lesser jewels on legendary golf courses. And because I’ve been lucky enough to golf at some of the world’s best golf courses, I’ve gotten the chance to try out some pretty unique holes.
As is always the case with the wonderful game of golf, this list of classic holes is available for amateurs and professionals alike to enjoy — as long as said amateur has the money, the game and the connections to get to that first tee. You can take the same shot at #6 at Pebble Beach as Tiger Woods or The Golden Bear. You can mix it up with them on the same grass and see what you’ve got in the tank.
Since golf is a global game, reaching to other continents and hemispheres for the most famous golf holes in the world would keep us here all day. As a result, for now, we’ll focus on North America and its most memorable golf holes. May they leave you dreaming of the day when you get to play one of these beauties.
1. Pebble Beach Golf Links, #7
It’s the shortest hole on the entire PGA Tour at only 106 yards, playing even shorter considering the dive into its tiny green. Still, #7 at Pebble Beach Golf Links offers a view unique in golf. Built onto a tiny peninsula reaching out into Carmel Bay, a tidy gap wedge should drop you down onto a small, glass-quick green bordered on the three sides by the sea. If the wind kicks up — and the weather can change from foul to fair and back again at Pebble Beach multiple times throughout the day — that wedge layup down the hill can cease to be simple in a hurry.
2. TPC Sawgrass, #17
The folks behind the annual Tournament Players Championship call it “the most famous hole in golf” — a bucket list challenge for amateurs and a television fixture whenever the pros play through its stretch of Florida. Known as “The Island Green” for obvious reasons, it’s one of the late golf designer Pete Dye’s signature creations. Though a par three, its different tee boxes vastly alter its distance and difficulty level — creating an evolving challenge if you’re lucky to play the hole more than once. As for all of that water, the USGA’s own stats say more than 100,000 golf balls end up in the drink per year.
Note: My ball, which you can see in flight at the top center of the photo below, did not join the sunken legion. Thank you very much.
3. Quivira, #5
Breaking the run of par three distances in this collection, this is an extremely memorable golf hole rapidly gaining popularity and notoriety on a comparatively young golf course. The par four hole #5 at Quivira in Cabo San Lucas places the green on a cliff down a steep fairway hill. Designer Jack Nicklaus offers you two choices. You can play it reasonably safe by hitting a 150-yard iron shot down the main fairway, before pitching a lob wedge down the hill for a shot at par. If you have a little more hair your Pro V1s, you can grab your 200-yard club and take a precise shot at the cliffside green for a potential eagle and a story to tell. Either way, cooling breezes and ocean views make missing your shot more than tolerable.
4. TPC Colorado, #13
Lucky number 13 at the majestic, mountain-lined TPC Colorado outside Denver invites you to get on good terms with your fairway woods because you’re going to need them. One of the longest holes in the golf world at 791 yards from the tips, this par five demands you hit at least one, and maybe two, 200+ yard approach shots for you to have any shot at getting on the green in regulation.
5. Augusta National, #12
The 11th, 12th and 13th holes at Augusta National are known throughout golf as Amen Corner — a trio of beautiful yet difficult holes that can make or break a round. The nastiest of the three snuggles down in the middle — the shortest par three on the course at 155 yards. You really have to land your tee shot on the narrow green as bunkers line the back. If you’re short, you’ll roll into Rae’s Creek. Ask Tiger Woods. As he tried to defend his 2019 championship this autumn, he put three in the water and headed to 13 with a 10 on his scorecard.
6. Pebble Beach Golf Links, #6
An absolute beast of a golf hole, the sixth at Pebble Beach Golf Links is in a bad mood most of the time because the next tee box over at #7 gets all the media attention. Regardless, this is by far the more difficult and intimidating challenge. Even a good drive on the par five drops your ball in a position much like what you see with my ball below. Your choice now is to go for birdie by slamming a fairway wood over the “cliffs of doom” toward the green — or lay up to the left and hope to save par. Once again, the venue demands you take weather and wind into account.
7. Oakmont Country Club, 3rd and 4th
It’s impossible to choose between numbers 3 or 4 at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania for any list bestowing notoriety on golf holes because they share the same famous feature. The Church Pew Bunker runs between those two holes, tormenting players on both. They evolved over the decades, starting as separate hazards and morphing into one 100-yard-long and 40-yard-wide trap lined like a xylophone with 12 raised turf islands. The result is a mix of sand and grass that offers no easy shots out to the fairway.
8. Payne’s Valley, #19
At most golf courses, the bar waiting to refresh weary players is euphemistically called the 19th Hole. At Payne’s Valley at Missouri’s Big Cedar Lodge (about a 20-minute drive from Branson), you can grab a drink at the equivalent of the 20th hole because there actually is a 19th hole on the course. The new Tiger Woods course honoring legendary PGA star Payne Stewart opened in 2020, and it features a final hole after the finishing hole. Playing around 200 yards from the tips, the 19th hole offers an island green with a waterfall for a backdrop. It’s an extra challenge to celebrate the completion of a beautiful round marked by elevation changes and challenging winds. Consider it free golf.
Many of the world’s most famous golf holes have been challenging players for generations, but the Payne’s Valley 19th hole is practically brand new. And already, it’s more than earned its spot on our list of the most memorable golf holes in North America.
9. Whistling Straits, #17
You know you’re in for trouble when a golf hole is named “Pinched Nerve.” That’s what the world’s best players will face during the 2021 Ryder Cup when they visit Wisconsin and the 17th hole at Whistling Straits. Last year, we named Whistling Straights one of the best golf courses in the world, and so it’s no surprise it’s also home to one of the most memorable golf holes in North America. Another Pete Dye creation, #17 is a par three playing about 200 yards — but it leans on intimidation. Berms and sand dunes urge you to aim for the left side of the green — where Lake Michigan cliffs wait to whisk your golf ball away forever.
10. Pursell Farms, #5
Tucked away on rolling Alabama woodlands between Montgomery and Birmingham, Pursell Farms ask golfers to hit over a lot of water and around doglegs marked by tall timber. None of that is particularly odd until they get to the par-three fifth hole, nicknamed Hang Time. The yardage on Hang Time is about 130 to 140 yards from tee to green, but you hit that first shot from more than 170 feet above the hole. You simply pop the ball up in the air, watch it disappear below you and hope for the best.
Honorable Mention: Pine Valley Golf Club, #10
Pine Valley is one of the smallest municipalities in New Jersey, and it’s a unique place. The Pine Valley Golf Club is famous the world over, and this famous golf hole is not for the faint of heart. Based on a track often ranked as one of the most difficult courses in America (and certainly one of the most exclusive), #10 at Pine Valley isn’t much to look at compared to other entries on this list. Still, it’s impossible to leave out a golf challenge known unofficially, but universally, as the Devil’s Asshole. A 160-yard par three finishes on an elevated, undulating green surrounded by sand pits and a pot bunker so steep some players are physically challenged just climbing down into it. You either manage the target golf shot onto the putting surface, or you’re in links damnation.