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The makings of a well-designed golf hole

Readers of The First Call offer their perspectives on what elements are necessary for a fun, memorable and challenging hole

The Masters Augusta National Golf Club
Dustin Johnson hits his tee shot on the par-3 12th during the 2020 Masters' final round at Augusta National Golf Club. The 12th features a number of design elements — water, well-placed bunkers, elevation — that give it consideration for being a well-designed golf hole.

Questions of the week [Feb. 20-26]: What characteristics do you look for in a golf hole and what is an example of a well-designed hole?

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My design demands are relatively simple, starting with a nice flat, level tee with a functioning ball washer/trash can. Any design of fairway will be acceptable as long as it is cut and leads to an opening to the green that you can at least bounce or roll your ball onto.  

Make the hole as long as you like, place hazards as you wish, but be mindful of my first priorities.

Oh, and at least 10 to 15 minutes between tee times. Now, off you go ...

Peter Croppo
Bayfield, Ontario

I would say a well-designed hole would require at least three different club approaches or ways to play every time, depending on location of tee box, pin placement or weather that day. Just like Amen Corner at Augusta National, the famous par-3 seventh at Pebble Beach Golf Links and, of course, the Players Championship's famous island par-3 17 at TPC Sawgrass.  
Ray Talavera 
Sebring, Florida 

I would say one that rewards a great shot and punishes an errant one. One that is reachable in regulation to all players utilizing the correct tee boxes. Obviously a hole that is pleasing to the eye with a touch of breathtaking and unnerving rolled in as well. And finally one that is memorable having played it for years to come.

A perfect example would have to be Golden Bell, No. 12 at Augusta National, a breathtaking 155-yard par 3 that fits all of the points listed. I have played the hole many times and remember each shot hit — both good and bad. Then the alarm clock went off and spoiled the rest of the round.

Paul Vicary
The Villages, Florida

Not too penal off the tee, but rewards you for placing it on the proper side of the fairway, depending on pin position. If you fail, making birdie and even par can be a real problem.

An example is the 14th at Augusta National.

Tom Bohardt
Naples, Florida 

1. Celebrates its environment. Offers picture postcard appeal from the tee and/or the approach.
2. Offers strategic options.
3. Offers a variety of hole locations to add shot value.
4. Minimizes maintenance costs and long term maintenance challenges.

Pete Dye did an awesome job at TPC Sawgrass. The framing of most holes by the forested environment, even if the trees are not close, is amazing. Think about the view on tees at Nos. 4 and 5.

Holes 10, 12, 13, 15 and 16 at Augusta National are well-designed. Holes 11, 14, 17, and 18 are epic, but less impressive.

Tony Austin
Orlando, Florida

A good golf hole, for me, has a lot to do with playability — based on my handicap (15) and the handicaps (12 to 20) of the guys I play with the most. You like a certain amount of challenge throughout the 18, but a few breather holes as well. At age 70, you want the opportunity to still shoot a good round. 

So, I like a hole that starts with definition off the tee. Left or right fairway bunkers at the landing areas or doglegs provide good targets for placing tee shots. Greenside traps or mounding help define the green. I'm not a fan of a lot of holes with sand directly in front of the green. I hate hitting an approach right at the middle of the green, the coming up a little short and in the sand. I also don't like missing a green by 4 feet and being in ankle deep rough. Give me a little mowed fringe or fairway before we get in the thick stuff. And have the rough along the fairways at least short enough where you can advance the ball without having to hit a sand wedge as hard as you can.

Water makes for beautiful scenery and a challenge. The two courses I have played the most in my life have water on two holes on each nine. Some of it left and right, and some you have to carry off the tee or in front of the green. I prefer water parallel to the fairway. Some tree-lined fairways are nice, but not forest lined. 

Lastly, make the greens large enough for multiple pin placements that give ball marks time enough to heal as you rotate the pins. I don't like pins placed on the edges and slopes where a downhill putt that doesn't go in goes off the green. No fun.

Barry Duckworth
Knoxville, Tennessee

Playability and aesthetics. Make golfers of all levels use their noggins.

Alan Campbell
Eyemouth, Scotland

Form and function and fun. A well-designed golf hole tends to be beautiful and its components have a pleasing aesthetic — they are proportional and work well together. It looks natural in its environment and generally leverages native landforms as a method of providing challenge.

The hole may lay everything out in front of you and dare you to make a more risky shot to gain a reward. The hole may present an obvious line of play while disguising another option that only becomes more obvious after you’ve played the hole a few times.

A well-designed hole offers strategic decisions and may require tactical decisions if you stray into the penalty areas (for example, pitch out sideways from a deep pot bunker). A good golf hole is never boring and brightens your day as you step onto the tee box.

Mark Chatfield
Houston, Texas

I really enjoy downhill par 3s where you need to calculate how much the downhill is affecting club choice. Throw in a valley or a little water and I am happy. The 12th at Augusta National is the No. 1 example.

Jimmy O’Malley
Needham, Massachusetts

No. 1 at Rolling Green Golf Club in Springfield, Pennsylvania. A classic William Flynn design. Ample fairway, not a perfectly flat one; very well-placed fairway bunker; and strategically placed double greenside bunkers. The fun starts if you hit the green, which is sloped from right to left and back to front — a two-putt is anything but guaranteed. You must hit the ball on the proper part of the green, but never long. Even though the green is huge, the shape of the green makes you hit it in a proper position for the pin.

Robert Rabb
Muncie, Pennsylvania

My standards have changed as I have aged. I am about to turn 80.
Generally speaking, a hole should only have trouble on one side. This might include bunkers, sand traps, water or trees. This allows you to choose the safe approach or the risk/reward approach.

The sand traps should not have huge lips. The greens should be a blend of undulations and flat areas. A well-designed hole should have at least four well-spaced tee areas.  

For instance, in my case, I would prefer that par 4s be between 280 and 390 yards. Par 3s should vary between 100 and 180 yards. I only play executive courses, which usually do not feature par 5s, but if I were designing an executive course, I would include one par 5 on the front nine and one on the back nine. The par 5 would range from 425 to 500 yards. 

Ray Edger
Vancouver, British Columbia

A good golf hole to me is a par 4 that all players can have success on.

Chris Ferrara
Jeannette, Pennsylvania

A hole whose challenges are well defined and straightforward to see are what I look for in a well designed hole. Subjectively, the esthetic of a hole is important as its more fun to play a hole that is pleasing to the eye. One well known example would be No. 18 at Augusta National Golf Club. The hole is long and physically challenging as it plays uphill. The hole is well framed with a chute off the tee and a large bunker on the left side of the fairway. The right side of the fairway is protected by mature pine trees. The green is framed by large bunkers. Best of all is the green complex. There are numerous challenging pin locations but the green is receptive to birdie putts, which leads to great excitement and drama on the final day of the Masters.

Reid Farrill
Toronto, Ontario

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