By Brian Robin.
You figure these holes are great when you see them. You confirm they are great when you play them—though you may not always be able to say exactly why they’re great. Aesthetics and natural beauty are factors—but golf courses from Newport Beach to Nantucket feature beautiful holes that aren’t great holes. And courses from Anaheim to Atlantic City have interesting holes whose beauty don’t take your breath away. Great golf holes are eye candy and brain food—and they’re excellent for beginners or experts.
STRAWBERRY FARMS GOLF COURSE Hole No. 10 / 369 Yards / Par 4
Short par 4s are often considered the best holes on a course. Maybe it’s because so many of them make a player think—never mind that many golfers don’t like to think.
Here’s what they think about on this short but beautiful par 4 in Irvine: Do you want to hit with an iron or hybrid off the tee and deal with a longer approach shot and fairway bunkers? Or pull out the driver and avoid all of that? Using the driver brings into play the reservoir—and potentially a large bunker.
The vista of the hills behind the hole is postcard-worthy; in fact, the views at every juncture and in every direction are the best on the course, which is owned by former Angels third baseman Doug DeCinces.
ANAHEIM HILLS GOLF CLUB Hole No. 15 / 357 Yards / Par 4
You’re on the tee, 100-plus feet above the fairway with a commanding view of the clubhouse and about half of the golf course, when you hear rustling in the bushes. It might be a rabbit. Or it might be a hawk that just found a rabbit—and flies away with its prey right over the hole you’re about to play. But back to that striking view. “This hole is all about the scenery,” says Cameron Carr, Anaheim Hills general manager.
To best play this hole, and its dramatic elevation, the average golfer should take a 3-wood or hybrid, hit it straight and let gravity do the rest. “But if you hit it bad to the right or long to the left, you’re dead,” he says. Why? “The trees on the left and the lake on the right.” A small two-tiered green awaits.
MONARCH BEACH GOLF LINKS Hole No. 3 / 315 Yards / Par 4
Yet another short par 4, this one in Dana Point. Here’s one you can drive, you think. Here’s an easy birdie, you think. And here’s Monarch Beach general manager Eric Lohman to disabuse you of both notions.
“You’d think it would play pretty easy,” Lohman says. “But you have to hit a precise layup 215 yards, then hit a 100-yard wedge shot downhill, and downwind to a green with slope and three pin placements about the size of a VW Beetle—so it’s hard to get it close. It’s the shortest hole out here, but it kicks my butt every time I play it.”
Trying to drive the hole requires a blind tee shot over trees, and a hill, to a deceptively dicey green. The less adventurous, and more intelligent, play: a long iron or hybrid to the dogleg left, then a wedge to the green, which is framed by a bunker and mounds.
Airmail all of that with your wedge and you’re literally on the beach—Salt Creek Beach. It’s a hole that requires thought, execution and no small amount of luck to walk away with a par 4.
PELICAN HILL GOLF CLUB NORTH COURSE Hole No. 17 / 558 Yards / Par 5
Aside from the stunning view of the Pacific Ocean from the tee box, the genius of this Tom Fazio-designed, dogleg-right hole in sumptuous Newport Coast is simple. It is a true risk-reward hole with options and choices on every shot, starting at the tee.
“It makes you think,” agrees Glenn Deck, Pelican Hill director of instruction. “On a good tee shot, you have to make a decision. If you miss, that easy par or birdie all of a sudden turns into a big number.
“It’s all about angles on this hole,” he adds. “Which one do you want to approach? How aggressive do you want to be?”
PELICAN HILL GOLF CLUB SOUTH COURSE Hole No. 13 / 131-108 Yards / Par 3
This is one of the best and most distinctive par 3s in SoCal—and not just because of the picture-perfect view of the Pacific Ocean that greets you at the tee box and never lets go. Fazio designed this hole with two greens, bisected by a massive bunker that, from the tee box, looks like the Sahara as it wraps around the back of both. The hole may be short, but your shot had better not be, lest you find that bunker. The views are long, but your shot had better not be, lest you find the back of that bunker. On either green.
“It’s breathtaking, and it’s unique,” Deck says. “One day, you play one green, the next day, you play the other.”
The wind on the Newport Coast adds to the challenge. You can play this hole 10 times and play it 10 different ways, Deck says. This one would be great even without the incredible views.
TUSTIN RANCH GOLF CLUB Hole No. 11 / 165 Yards / Par 3
Here’s a hole that’s in your head the moment you step onto the grounds. You’d think that playing a gorgeous hole with an island green, a fountain and two waterfalls framing it all would put you in a good frame of mind. You’d be wrong.
“You could have a great round going and be standing on the tee box, looking at all the water there, and thinking I have to have a par or, at the worst, a three-putt bogey, or my round’s destroyed,” says James Spadoni, Tustin Ranch general manager.
There’s only one safe strategy: “Hit for the middle of the green,” Spadoni says. “Where you’re at in your round determines how you play this hole. It’s a make-or-break hole.”
Photo courtesy Pelican Hill.