It’s finally here: U.S. Open Week. And this year’s championship is being held at Oakmont Country Club outside of Pittsburgh.
Oakmont is known by many as the toughest golf course in America, bringing a mix of deep rough, penal bunkering everywhere, and one of the scariest sets of greens in the world, combining extreme slope and hellacious speed to bring golfers to their knees. The membership likes to brag that the greens actually have to be slowed down whenever Oakmont hosts a U.S. Open, which it will do for a record ninth time this week.
Whether or not that’s true, it’s a point well-taken: Oakmont’s greens are incredibly difficult.
Unfortunately, most of us will never get to experience their true terror because Oakmont is a private club. But, if you want to stress-test your putting skills, here are some recommendations. And while you’re reading our list, get ready to give us your own nominations in the comments below!
Scariest Whole-Course Sets of Greens
Pasatiempo Golf Course – Santa Cruz, Calif.
Alister Mackenzie’s relatively small and mostly private-course-laden body of work makes him less accessible than most architects, which makes the playable Pasatiempo all the more special. Mackenzie’s bold style is most apparent in the course’s greens, which range from merely daunting to out-and-out hellacious.
Pinehurst No. 2 – Pinehurst, N.C.
Scary greens aren’t scary just because they’re incredibly tough to putt – when they’re especially elusive and undulating, that can be a particularly deadly combination. Though Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw made Pinehurst No. 2’s fairways wider with their 2011 renovation, they wisely left the course’s upside-down-cereal-bowl greens almost entirely alone, meaning greens in regulation are as tough to come by as ever at the venerable championship course. And if you do find the greens, hole locations close to the infamous false fronts, edges and backs can be bone-chilling, and “de-greener” putts (where the ball starts on the green and ends up…elsewhere) are common.
Streamsong Resort (Blue Course) – Streamsong, Fla.
Golf course architecture trends shied away from adventuresome green complexes for much of the latter half of the 20th century, but they have returned with a vengeance courtesy of designers like Tom Doak, whose Blue Course at Streamsong boasts putting surfaces that are long on square-footage but very short on flat sections. You can hit lots of greens in regulation but find yourself begging for a three-putt, especially since Streamsong’s putting surfaces run quick. Not only that, but the volume of tightly-mown fairway-length grass means that putter may be the play from as much as 40 or 50 yards off some greens.
Old Corkscrew Golf Club – Estero, Fla.
Jack Nicklaus’ own design career has played out in a few different stages. Up through the 1980s and into the 90s, his courses became known as being extremely demanding for all but the best ball-strikers. More recently, he has broadened the corridors of his fairways but ratcheted up the challenge on and around the greens. Old Corkscrew, opened in 2007 near Fort Myers, may have his most severe publicly-accessible greens, as well as something of a throwback sense of constant danger from tee to green. Small wonder it sports a 76.6 Rating and 151 Slope from the tips, with an inflated 73.8 Rating and 146 Slope from the more often-played Blue tees.
The Course at Yale – New Haven, Conn.
That a course that required tons of dynamite to build has some serious ups and downs from tee to green is a given, but the wild contours don’t stop there, as the C.B. Macdonald-designed Yale has some of the most boldly contoured greens in the world. Take the par-4 eighth, which measures more than 60 yards from front to back and has a five-foot rise along most of its right half. It is followed immediately by the world-famous Biarritz par-3 ninth, with a four-foot trench separating the front and rear halves of yet another immense putting surface. Later on, the 13th green, the Redan hole, tilts crazily from front-right to rear-left. And for all the big slopes in Yale’s greens, it’s actually the easily overlooked subtler breaks that make them so confounding to putt…and so much fun.
Tetherow – Bend, Ore.
Though softened some since opening by architect David McLay Kidd, Tetherow’s greens still feature considerable undulation, to the point where being on the wrong side of a mound on certain holes can mean a three-putt or worse. This is all part of the wild aesthetic of the course – one that suits the surrounding Oregon forest and distant mountain vistas nicely.
The Golf Club at Dove Mountain – Maraña, Ariz.
This Jack Nicklaus-designed former site of the World Golf Championships Accenture (now Dell) Match Play became known as one of the most hated courses on the PGA Tour in large part due to its heaving, multi-tiered greens where being on the wrong level of a green in regulation sometimes meant bogey or double-bogey was all but assured. But Tour pros don’t have much of a sense of humor, and regular visitors to the course and its attendant Ritz-Carlton enjoy the challenge. After all, they’re on vacation.
The Old Course – St. Andrews, Scotland
This list could never be legitimate without a not to the original crazy/scary greens at the Home of Golf. Aside from the massive size of some of the double-greens – where 40-yard putts are common – what’s most fascinating about the Old Course’s greens is how much they vary. There are massive undulations on the aforementioned doubles, but then the circular green on the short par-four ninth might be the flattest green in championship golf. It’s a little unsettling, but so too is the nasty par-3 11th, whose rear portion had to be softened slightly to accommodate hole locations during the 2015 Open. Don’t worry, though – it’s still pitched steeply from back to front.
Royal Melbourne (Composite Course) – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
The “Sandbelt” around Melbourne is home to one of the greatest clusterd of golf courses on earth, highlighted by those at the Royal Melbourne, whose two Alister Mackenzie-designed West Course and Alex Russell-designed East Course tend to be combined into a “Composite Course” for top competition (composed mostly of West holes). That hybrid course is regularly ranked among the very best in the world, as Mackenzie fashioned a set of green complexes – with deep, scalloped bunkers eating directly into their edges – that challenge, confound and intrigue lovers of the short game to no end.
Scariest Single Greens
Heritage Club – Pawleys Island, S.C.; 12th hole
Nearby Caledonia and True Blue get all the ink, but Heritage Club more than holds its own, thanks in large part to a set of greens that may be more adventuresome than its more famous neighbors. The best of the bunch is at the 12th, a mid-length par four. At close to 10,000 square feet in size, the putting surface features two upper levels in the very front before sloping away to lower levels rear-center and middle-left. Hole locations in these latter areas are terrifying from the fairway, as players must plan for their golf balls to disappear from sight over the rise in the green, with a lake lurking just a couple steps off the back edge. If you mis-club, be prepared for a putt that rises or falls three or four feet.
Spyglass Hill Golf Course – Pebble Beach, Calif.; 4th hole
This putting surface is more in the mold of Pinehurst than, say, Streamsong. It is one of the narrowest greens in the world, less than 10 yards wide in its wider rear portion, and as little as six paces wide at the front. Putting is no bargain, either – the green (what little there is of it) features a few humps and bumps of its own, wedged as it is between two dunes and some stands of dreaded ice plant.
Bandon Trails Golf Links – Bandon, Ore.; 14th hole
Another fearsome putting surface in the mold of its counterpart at Spyglass, this one comes at the end of a drivable par four and was so elusive in the course’s early years that original designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were brought back to make it a little more receptive. Still, a careless wedge or pitch to the perched-up, falloff green will sent the ball bounding into some nasty greenside bunkers or down a fairway grass-covered slope into even more hopeless environs.
Orchard Creek Golf Club – Altamont, N.Y.; 6th hole
By far the least-known course on this list, this green nevertheless deserves mention for how otherwise ordinary its home hole appears. A bunkerless, 160-yard par three with a nearly circular green; what could be so difficult about that? That green features an almost perfectly dome-shaped mound taking up much of the middle of the putting surface, such that unless you manage to get your ball to the fringe nearest the pin, you will have a slippery downhill putt. The brilliance of the hole is in its innocuous look.
Tot Hill Farm Golf Club – Asheboro, N.C.; 14th hole
Tot Hill Farm gets overshadowed by Tobacco Road among Mike Strantz’s work, but it is a hoot and a holler of a golf course in its own right. The first time I played it, my father and I arrived at the green of the par-4 14th to find a sign saying something to the effect of “Three-putt maximum, please.” The reason was that the right-hand two-thirds of the green slopes hard to the right so steeply that holes cut on that part of the green were always ghastly tough. The green has been moderated somewhat in recent years, but still, if you get above the hole, look out.
Okay, now it’s your turn to give us your nominations for the scariest greens you know of. Tell us all about them below!