Architect's view: What makes a great golf hole?

Courses and Travel

Martin Ebert argues that the best holes involve an intellectual test as well as a physical challenge

What makes a great golf hole?

The beauty of the game of golf is that every course is different and every hole is different, even in the odd instance when they are meant to be copies.

That fundamental characteristic of the game’s field of play is what makes exercises of selecting favourite holes such an enjoyable one and, when in a group, a matter for serious debate.

When I come to select my favourite golf holes there are, as with anyone, a number of factors. Perhaps some of those reasons are subconscious such as a particular memory of the playing experience involving a certain hole, even when some of them are bad!

An example of that brings to mind one of my favourites which is the Road Hole on the Old Course. In consecutive medals I managed to play the hole in eight strokes on both occasions.

The second of them came after declaring on the tee that I was confident of improving on my last medal score on the hole.

great golf hole

It could have been worse mind you, as I was in the Road Hole bunker after six shots! In the next medal I managed a prized three which I never thought I would achieve on such a demanding hole.

Overall though the Road Hole is outstanding in terms of the challenges it presents, famous for all of the tales of golfing heroism and moments of frailty in The Open (Seve in 1984, Nakajima in 1978) and the Walker Cup (Dr David Marsh in 1971).

It is a hole which really is unique. Playing over a hotel for the tee shot to a green squeezed between a road and a terrifying bunker cannot be found anywhere else that I know.

The setting of a hole is another serious factor in selecting it as a favourite and the seaside provides the most inspiring of golfing experiences for most players.

It is hard to beat the coastline of Turnberry for the best links holes and I have been so fortunate to have been involved in taking some of those holes as close to the sea as it is possible to get.

great golf hole

The new 10th on the Ailsa Course must be my favourite of a wonderful coastal stretch. A par 5 which asks the golfer how daring they can be for each shot leading up to the green amid a most spectacular setting.

It requires decisions to be made and that is another aspect of a hole which will make it rise up my list. The game of golf is one which should really involve an intellectual test as well as a physical challenge.

Decisions are all part of that. Detail of the design of a hole is another critical factor. That manifests itself most strongly in the shapes of the green surface, green surrounds and the approach but also with the bunker shapes and bunker styles.

It can be better to play a course with great detail in the most disappointing of settings than one with poor detail in the most stunning of locations.

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