The 18th hole. The final exam of every round. One last challenge on courses that are filled with them.
Should it be the toughest test of all?
Or should it leave you with the memory of a beautiful view?
As you watch the PGA Championship this week at Southern Hills, keep this in mind: Only two of the seven winners of the men’s majors played there have parred the final hole on the last day.
Two. Out of seven. And these are pros.
It’s up to 491 yards uphill, a par-5 for most of us. The pros will need more than the driver/short iron they need on most par-4s shorter than 450 yards, and the green is treacherous.
It very well could decide the tournament.
Southern Hills has other tough holes, but it builds to a crescendo. Which got me thinking about other Pacific Coast courses that do that – and those that don’t.
There are the famous finishers, such as the 18th at Pebble Beach. That isn’t the toughest hole on the course – No. 8 is much more brutal and just as scenic. But the first time I went to Pebble Beach in person, No. 18 is where I took my first photo.
There are the unusual final shots, such as the tricky par-3 18th at Pasatiempo. Over the barranca to a green with all sorts of break – not the toughest hole on the course, but you’re grateful to get out of there with a par. Birdie? Probably not going to happen. You rarely see a course end with a par-3, but the exceptions can be fun.
And there are the classic do-or-die closing holes, such as the 18th on the South Course at Torrey Pines. Most of us aren’t long enough to go for the green in two over the water, but for the pros it’s a great challenge and for mere mortals it’s still a nervous third shot.
It comes down to this: What do YOU want in a closing hole?
Do the courses you play most often make you look forward to the final hole, or is that a bit of a breather after you’ve had to do much harder work leading up to it?
Should it be tricky or lengthy?
Should it be the most memorable hole on the course?
And should it be a par-4 or a par-5?
More examples that come to mind:
Olympic Club. Par-4. Short and extremely tricky. Anything above the hole risks a three-putt. It’s my favorite hole out there.
Riviera. Par-4. Long and demanding. Anything to the right off the tee is dead. But No. 10, the short par-4, is the one the TV guys always talk about. It’s a lot more fun.
Bodega Harbour. Par-4. One of the most difficult closing holes anywhere, with trouble all over the place and a ticklish second shot toward the ocean and down to the green. But No. 16 is the hole you’ll never forget.
As I think over all the 18th holes I’ve played, it seems as if most of them are par-4s. That makes sense, given that most courses have 10 par-4s and four par-5s. If I had to design the perfect finisher, I think I’d make it a two-shot hole if I could.
This is yet another reason why our great game is so fascinating.
Let’s say you’re playing really well and have a chance at one of your best scores. What is your preference in the way the course is laid out?
Do you want to get the tough holes out of the way and feel as if the walk up the final fairway is like a coronation?
Or do you want to make hay on some easier holes and gear up for the 18th?
Think about that the next time you play, and keep it in mind as the PGA unfolds.
I’m glad the pros have a tough finale at Southern Hills. It will make the tournament that much more interesting, especially if someone takes a one-shot lead to the 18th on Sunday.
He’ll either ace the exam, or he’ll flunk. And if it’s the latter, we all will nod in commiseration – we know the feeling.