Just like spelling Waialae and Hualalai and especially Ka’upulehu-Kona, golf is challenging.
And that’s a good thing.
As I looked over where the pros will be playing this month, I compared deciphering those exotic Hawaiian names to playing a tough, uphill par-4.
It brought to mind what I was telling my son the other day as he expressed excitement about getting into our great game and playing courses in and around his home in Santa Rosa.
When I described Bennett Valley, what was the first thing I said? Sure enough, I wanted him to know about the second hole.
“Don’t go left,” I said. “Whatever you do, don’t go left. Don’t even hit a hook and get it rolling left. But don’t go right, either – there are lots of trees over there. You’ve got to be straight off the tee.”
In other words, I wanted him to know about the most challenging hole on the course. There are several other really good holes – the par-3s on the front nine come to mind. But No. 2 stands out, for me.
Then I told him about Windsor. Again, my first words were about the second hole.
“It’s super tight. Left is a hazard, right is jail. You’ve got to get it in play off the tee, and then you’ve got to hit it through a chute to get it to the green. Two really hard shots.”
Like Bennett Valley, Windsor has two great par-3s on the front side, but No. 2 is the most memorable challenge. Par is a great score there. I wouldn’t want every hole to be like that, but I sure am glad that there’s one test of that magnitude.
That’s the way it is for every golf course you play. There might be some fun, interesting and unique holes that attract you. You’re so happy when you get to the tees for those holes. Oh, this will be fun!
And maybe you just curse the tough hole. But you certainly remember it more if you conquer it and make a par and especially a birdie. That’s cause for true celebration.
Now, I’ll give you this: There are some courses where the most memorable hole isn’t the toughest.
Pebble Beach comes to mind. What’s the most famous hole? No. 18, of course, with No. 7 not far behind. They’re iconic. If you got a photograph from Pebble Beach, chances are it would have a photo of the fairway on No. 18 or the green on No. 7.
But what’s the toughest hole? To me, it’s no contest. No. 8 is brutal, simply because there isn’t another second shot like it anywhere in the world. If you can hit that shot and get it somewhere on the putting surface, you’re a good player. Simple as that.
Anyone with any measure of ability could walk onto the tee at No. 7 and, with a little luck, wedge it onto the green.
Anyone with the ability to move the ball 200 yards could manage a par on No. 18.
But No. 8? That’s a par to write home about.
So think about that the next time you tell someone about a golf course you’ve played.
What’s the first thing you’ll tell them?
Will you tell them about the views or the cute little par-4s or the quality of the greens?
You might, but there’s one thing they should know:
Which hole is the biggest challenge and, as a result, the most important memory?
Which hole bedevils you more than any other?
What is the one hole where you consider par your greatest victory of the day?
Got your answer? OK, now you’re ready to tell them about the golf course.
We love golf because of its challenges as much as its celebrations.
We don’t want it to be easy and mundane.
We want it to be interesting and curious.
Just like those Hawaiian names. That’s our aloha spirit.