Wait, you mean I forgot to tell you, Dear 2.5 Readers, that I went to Scotland for two weeks in June on an epic golf pilgrimage to some of the famous course on the planet? It’s true, I did. How could I have forgotten to tell you? Chalk it up to to forgetfulness, laziness, daydreaming, lack of motivation, slothfulness, just good old life being life or a combination thereof. I just forgot.
It’s been a few months now and I’ve been thinking about my favorite par 3s, 4s and 5s from our trip. We played roughly 280 holes of golf on some golf’s most legendary and famous courses. In order, we played: Turnberry (Alisa Course), Pretwick, Nairn (36), Royal Dornoch (36), Castle Stuart, Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay (36), Carnoustie, Kingsbarns (I did not play), St. Andrews (Old Course), St. Andrews (New Course), North Berwick and Muirfield. Four of those are in The Open rotation; the history of all as rich and alluring as can be.
Truth be told, some courses and holes we loved; others, not so much. This is about the holes I loved. They might not be the most popular or even memorable among my fellow golfing lads, but that’s okay. For me, these were the cream of the crop; the holes that I would love to play again and again. Ranking them in order really isn’t important—and, besides, it would be insanely difficult to rank the par 4s. I can, however, rank the par 5s and 3s in order. But if a par 4 holds a special place in my golfing heart, you’ll know it. For the format, I’ll go with a traditional 10 par 4s, 4 par 5s and 4 par 3s.
If you’re ever as fortunate and blessed as I was play these courses, I hope you enjoy these holes as much as I did.
#5 (The Buck), Cruden Bay, 440 yards. An elevated tee looking down on mounded, grassy dunes guarding the length of the hole. Deceptively large landing area, even with smashed drives, a 4-iron+ into a large green. A quietly magnificent and big hole that was likely overlooked by my travelmates.
#1 (Railway), Prestwick, 346 yards.Nerve-jarring tee box in front of the clubhouse. OB is a stone wall down the entire right side. A tightly bunkered undulating green. The ghost of Old Tom Morris tapping you on the shoulder. Everything a short opening hole should be. Oh, and it only held the first 12 Open Championships, so it wasn’t intimidating at all. Not.
#12 (Monument), Turnberry (Ailsa Course). The history of the hole–used as a practice landing strip in WW1 and features a monument dedicated to the pilots who had trained at Turnberry and died in the Great War and WW2—coupled with the spotty showers and the wind at my back just stirred my heart. After I smashed a 3 wood down the middle between the bunkers, I let Nick and Jon walk ahead of me so I could whisper up to God to thank Him for the privilege. I really did.
#14 (Whins), Cruden Bay 361 yards. Played 36 here, and on the second 18 I was standing in the middle of the fairway, just 4 over. After walking off the green I was 8 over, still I love this great driving hole. Big elevation difference between the right side of the fairway and left. A rudimentary box on the tee tells you where the pin is on your 100% blind second shot to a green set in a bowl between two dunes. Simply beautiful.
#1, (Burn), St. Andrews (Old Course), 384 yards.First tee. St. Andrews. 7:30am on Monday morning. Golfers and average Joes milling about, watching. Never has a 128-yard wide fairway looked so hard to hit. (I know how you feel Ian Baker-Finch.) I felt like throwing up. But hit the fairway I did, and without puking or topping the ball too. 8 iron over the bern to inside 12 feet. Missed the bird but it helped shake off the nerves. Easy hole.
#18 (Old Tom Morris) St. Andrews (Old Course), 357 yards. 128 yard wide fairway, again. Swilcan Bridge in front. Burn in front. Worst that could happen? Take out a few car windows, maybe peg a guest exiting one of the hotels on the right. No worries. Just aim for the Martyr’s Monument in a left to right wind and smash one down the middle over the road. Hit a wedge to 12 feet or so and sink the putt for birdie. Have the smiles of Nick, Joel and Tim congratulating you etched in your memory forever. Sit down behind green afterward and shed a few quiet tears of joy the guys hopefully won’t see, and you have the hole of a lifetime.
#13 (Pit) North Berwick (West Links), 362 yards. A wall—not a bunker, not a mound—guards the front of the green (see the pic). Still, a birdie hole—unless you hook your tee shot, and badly, like I did. Hacked out of the kack into the bunker and made the best long bunker shot of my life over the wall. Missed the par putt but walked off wanting to play this hole endlessly.
#5 (Nets) Nairn Golf Club, 361 yards. One of our Dream 18 competition holes for good reason. Sea to the right, gaping maw of a bunker to the left, false-front green, lovely raised grassy mounds surround the green that act as inverted bunkers. A subtly tricky and tough hole in spite of its somewhat short length.
#8 (Dunrobin) Royal Dornoch, 389 yards. Leaving any RD par 4 off this list would be criminal. While I could easily pick #14, Foxy, the critic’s pick for its fascinating and difficult challenges, Dunrobin with its split-level fairway is a multiple choice hole, making it unique to RD in my view. Lay back and look down on the hole or go over and the downslope and hope your ball holds on the left-to-right fairway where you’ll face a shorter, but blind approach. I played it both ways and I preferred going over the slope, though I flirted with the kack. Hole #17 is Dunrobin’s twin on the In 9.
#2 (Sea), North Berwick, 429 yards. Take the 18th at Pebble Beach, remove the trees, move the green more inland, have rocks and beach, make it a par 4, then flip the entire hole so the water is on the right and you get the aptly named “Sea” at NB. Any block right is in the rocks or on the beach. Find the fairway like I happily did and you’ll still be faced with a very long second off a likely uneven lie—in my case, a blind anduneven thanks to girthy mounds. (Nutted my hybrid on my second and made par.) After a benign and uneventful start at #1, NB changes its tune with Sea. #3 is a beast too. Again, I think a hole that was likely overlooked.
Honorable Mentions: #17 at St. Andrews (Old Course). #12 at Muirfield. #3 at Cruden Bay.
THE PAR 5s
#17 (nameless), Muirfield, 505 yards. Muirfield has two really good 5s–each of which played uphill. When we played them they were also dead into a solid, damp and cool east wind. I judge a good par 5 by the challenge that the second shot presents. So many par 5s simply require the golfer to mindlessly bang their second shots as far up the fairway as possible. #17? Not so much. Never have I a put more thought into a second shot than I did on #17. I nutted my drive, and as one would expect from “the best bunkered course in the world,” a minefield of large and small bunkers stood between me and the green. As memory serves, I needed a carry of 175+ yards—into the east wind, even more—just to reach pitching range yardage. So I layed up with a short iron—with a 7 iron, which says something about the wind. Then I was faced with a slightly blind approach to a green beautiully nestled in between grassy dunes. Unfortnatuely, I hung my third short and right and found the right front bunker; banged that out and 3 jacked from there for a 7. Again, I bet my travelmates overlooked this gem.
#6 (Bluidy Burn), Cruden Bay, 504 yards. A true 3-shotter that doglegs sharply to the left the last 130 or so yards, and goes up back into the dunes. The tee shot is relatively easy. But, as I noted on Muirfield’s 17th hole, the second shot is everything. Without a caddy or detailed course notes, the second is very difficult to judge. With a slightly left-to-right sloping fairway, a trio of bunkers on the right is ready to gobble up any half-executed shot. Try to cut off the dogleg and the Bluidy Burn awaits. The third is no piece of cake, either. Going straight back up and into the dunes the green is one the small side and not very wide. Come up and short and you’ll either find he bunker; or, go too far left and short and the slope will feed balls back toward the burn. A tough, tough but fun hole.
#3 (Cardinal) Prestwick, 482 yards. On a par 5 one would expect to pull the driver out of the bag. Unless your name is Bubba that isn’t an option here. Why? This is a split level, uphill par 5 and near the apex uphill and at about 225 yards is a massive mostly hidden bunker (see the pic), so, laying back with a long iron or hybrid is the call. The second shot is completely blind and made to a landing area that is—how can I describe this?—a 140-yard strip of body bags, to steal a phrase from Gary McCord. Even a perfectly struck online shot can bounce six different ways from Sunday leaving you with an utterly awkward third shot thanks to the mounding. The third is to a two-tiered, undulating green–a good way to end a short par 5.
#13 (Bents) Cruden Bay, 536 yards. Playing right alongside the dune that guards the beach, the landing area is fairly generous. Just don’t go too long as anything 275+ off the tee flirts with the snaking burn that dissects the fairway. The second shot isn’t too challenging but it still has to stay out of the “whiskers”/rough on the right and needs to be fairly long and a tad left. Even then, the third is short and mostly blind with a rotund grassy dune guarding the green of the green which runs right to left and slightly away from the player. A mostly straight and calming yet challenging hole.
Honorable mentions: #17 (Lang Whang) at Turnberry. #13 (Wall) at Prestwick. #17 (South America) at Carnoustie
THE PAR 3s
#11, (High), St. Andrews (Old Course), 175 yards. I blathered on endlessly about the greatness of this hole in my recent rant about long par 3. All I can add here are the scores from our foursome as I recall them: 3, 4 (me), 5 and 8. Simply a magnificent hole.
#4, (Bunker), Nairn Golf Club, 135 yards. Tucked in between grass covered sandy dunes and playing back into the wind toward the Moray Firth, this is simply one of my favorite par 3s ever. A chubby bunker fronts the right side and cuts into the narrow green; another deep, slightly raised and gaping pot bunker cuts in from the left to create a bowl-shaped green. But catch the slope on the green coming off one of those bunkers and the ball can easily shoot off the green and toward the back leaving a hard two-putt. A beauty of a hole.
#10, (Fuaran), Royal Dornoch, 142 yards. Think the name of the hole is hard to pronounce? Try hitting the green. The stroke index is a mysterious 16. Ask any of the guys on our trip if it was that easy and some might say “yeah, I can see it as a 16…” then they’ll remember their scores. Anything short, left or right is almost a certain bogey—which I had both times during our 36 holes.
#15, (Blin’ Dunt), Cruden Bay, 190 yards. Prestwick’s “Himalayas” could supplant Blin’ Dunt as my favorite blind par 3—but this one wins out because it’s a dog-leg, too. Yes, a blind dog-leg par 3. What in the name of Old Tom Morris was Old Tom Morris thinking? Maybe a little too much Scotch while designing? Who knows. The hole is imminently playable and raucous fun despite it being an intimidating tee shot. Plus, hey, you get to ring a bell after clearing the green. And really, who doesn’t like ringing a big bell.
Honorable mentions: #6 (Himalayas) at Prestwick. #11 (XXX) at Castle Stuart, #11 at Carnoustie. #7 at Muirfield