These are the holes that test golfers’ souls – the meanest holes to be found at some of our region’s top courses. With some help from area golf pros, we look at the anatomy of these dastardly layouts and the strategies that enable the patient golfer to prevail.
There’s enough equipment to fill a few pro shops at the bottom of many golf course water hazards. Same goes for the thick trees and deep rough.
An errant golf ball here. A far-flung wood or iron there. Maybe even a visor or glove tossed in frustration.
This is especially true of the most challenging holes, the spots where the sandtraps are like deserts, the ponds become oceans, the trees are like sequoias, and there are more doglegs than you’d find at an animal shelter.
But these holes are also what bring golfers back. These athletes thirst for the challenge and the test of man vs. the elements.
Every course has at least one. It’s the hole that often makes you scream, but on the occasion when you par or birdie, it makes you boast.
We asked some of the area’s club professionals about the most challenging holes on their suburban Chicago courses. Here’s their advice on how to navigate the hazards.
Pottawatomie Golf Course
845 N. Second Ave., St. Charles
Course Manager/PGA Golf Pro: Ron Skubisz
Hole No.: 3
Details: This is Pottawatomie’s trademark hole. It’s a par-4 that plays 345 yards from the black tees. The left side of the fairway starts with large trees that sit on the edge of the Fox River, which runs along the fairway. It all leads to an island green, meaning you can’t reach the hole without going over water. Depending on where you hit from the fairway, the carry over the water can range from 100 to 180 yards. Adding to the difficulty is a green with water in front and in back – plus trees and a pair of bunkers, to boot.
The course was designed by world-renowned architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. and opened in 1939. According to Skubisz, this hole – the first island green ever designed by Jones – has not changed much since its inception.
How to Play It: Skubisz’s first rule on No. 3 is simple: Don’t try to hit a career shot.
“I think the better the course designer, the more he adds things to get you to put up shots you’re not comfortable with,” Skubisz says. “Set up your tee shot so that you will end up hitting over the water from a distance you are comfortable with. Everybody is different in what type of shot they are capable of. Hitting the green on this hole is an accomplishment.”
Blackstone Golf Club
9700 St. Andrews Dr., Marengo
Director of Golf: Dave Wascher
Hole No.: 18
Details: This challenging par-4 plays 476 yards from the black tees. Right off the tee is a bunker that runs 80 yards and is one of the biggest in the area. A narrow fairway takes you to a green surrounded by a close-cut runoff, making chipping very difficult. But the real challenge is the green itself, which is designed similarly to Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.
“There are three distinct tiers, with a bunker in the middle,” Wascher says.
How to Play It: A long, straight tee shot avoiding both fairway bunkers is your first priority – if you hope to have any chance of hitting the green in regulation.
“It is imperative that you hit your approach shot from the fairway,” Wascher says. “If you don’t, you won’t make the green. And, each section of the green is small, so you really need to land your shot on the section where the flag is. And even if you do, two-putting would be very fortunate.
“And getting up and down from the bunker in the middle is also very difficult,” he adds.
No. 18 has spurred an offshoot game of its own.
“The hole is right by the clubhouse,” Wascher says. “We have a group of members who printed out an aerial shot of the green and surrounding area, and they laminated it. They sit on the patio and they place chips on it, guessing where they think the people playing will hit the ball.”
Wascher adds that, although 18 is the most challenging hole on this course, it’s also one of the most aesthetically pleasing.
“The view, when you’re taking your approach shot with the clubhouse in the background, is very memorable,” he says.
Bowes Creek Country Club
1250 Bowes Creek Blvd., Elgin
Pro: Mike Lehman
Details: Lehman calls this par-4 the Welcome to Bowes Creek hole.
“It plays 436 yards from the black tees and 310 from the reds, so no matter your skillset, you will have the same issue,” he says.
The challenge lies in the tee shot. There are a host of bunkers on the left side, and any shot to the left leaves you blocked out so that you can’t see the green. But there’s trouble on the right, as well, with the rough. Avoiding danger in your first two shots is the key.
“Once you’re on the green, it’s nothing super difficult,” Lehman says. “It’s just getting there that’s the problem.”
How to Play It: “You definitely need a 3-wood or above to start,” Lehman recommends. “If you hit that cut 3-wood shot on the right of the fairway, you’re left with a 180-yard shot to the guarded green. But it can be a big risk going right.
“If you’re not feeling gutsy and you’re afraid of that shot, leave it left and short, and you can get up and down for par because it has a very large green,” he adds.
Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club
1400 Poplar Creek Dr., Hoffman Estates
Course: (847) 884-0219; Reservations: (847) 781-3681
Director of Golf Operations: Brian Bechtold
Hole No.: 17
Details: This is the course’s longest par-3, running 215 yards from the back tees. It features a downhill tee shot that leads to an L-shaped green, which is heavily guarded in front by a large water hazard that runs up to the front edge of the green. There’s also water on the left to go with a pair of bunkers on the right and back of the green.
How to Play It: Bechtold calls 17 a risk-reward hole.
“Playing for the pin is bold but carries reward potential,” he says. “But the most ideal way to approach it is to hit toward the left side of the green. The green is multi-level, so hitting to the left and going uphill is your best chance.”
Bechtold also says to be aware of the wind coming in from the west.
“When you start, you are heavily guarded by a building, so you don’t feel it on the tee box,” he says. “But it can affect your shot.”
Pinecrest Golf Club
11220 Algonquin Road, Huntley
Club Pro: Tom Larsen
Hole No.: 11
Details: This par-3 plays 203 yards from the back tees. It’s straightaway with a green that has bunkers and water on both sides, creating what Larsen calls “a semi-island green.”
How to Play It: On the surface, No. 11 may not seem all that scary. But when you toss in Mother Nature, suddenly it’s a beast.
“The majority of the time, it plays into the wind because it runs west to east,” Larsen says. “One time I played a 3-wood with the wind coming at me and I wasn’t sure I would make it over the water. It’s definitely not sheltered.”
His biggest rule for this hole: Don’t be short. “Long is your friend,” Larsen says.
Of course, you could ignore his advice and do what one golfer did.
“With our forward tee, we had a lady play the hole who literally skipped the water, hit a rock from the ones that surround the pond, bounce up and roll into the hole for a hole in one,” he says.
Aldeen Golf Club
1902 Reid Farm Road, Rockford
Director of Golf Operations: Duncan Geddes
Hole No.: 6
Details: This par-5 plays 558 yards from the gold tees, making it the longest hole on the course. It has hazards and out-of-bounds, on the whole left side, that come into play on any shot. On the right side is a tough set of trees and mounding combinations which, according to Geddes, can “put you in jail” if you’re not careful. Then, there’s a creek that crosses the fairway, capped by an undulating, well-bunkered green that features some very difficult pin placements.
How to Play It: “The best way to play this hole is to make sure of a good tee shot, then decide how you want to play from there regarding the creek,” says Geddes. “You need to decide if you want to try and carry it with the second shot or lay up. If you choose to go over the creek, you need to make sure to avoid those fairway bunkers on the other side.”
Geddes adds: “Any golf hole that gives you options and makes you think or have a strategy is a good hole.”
Woodbine Bend Golf Course
3500 E. Center Road, Stockton
PGA Professional/Director of Golf: Carey Larson
Hole: No. 6
Details: At first glance, hole No. 6 may not seem so intimidating. But after your tee shot, you’ll soon know it’s a beast.
“It’s a long par 4 (430 yards from the black tees) that plays uphill,” says Larson. “And when it plays into the wind, it becomes a par 5.”
There are mounds and very tall grasses on both sides of the fairway, and they play into a green that’s protected by a bunker on the lefthand side.
How to Play It: According to Larson, the key is finding the fairway off the tee shot, and then managing a longer second shot using a long iron or hybrid. And if you can’t – or won’t try to – land your second shot on the green, Larson recommends missing short and to the right to avoid the bunker.
If there’s one consolation to that challenging second shot, it’s the picturesque view of the rolling hills and timbers for which northwest Illinois is famous. Take it in before you swing.
PrairieView Golf Club
Illinois Rt. 72 & German Church Road, Byron
Head Golf Professional: Andy Gramer
Hole: No. 15
Details: Formerly known as the No. 6 hole before a reconfiguration in 2000, this 550-yard par-5 requires several skillful shots.
“It’s a dogleg right that plays uphill into the wind,” says Gramer. “The approach shot is played into an undulated green, which is protected by a deep bunker right and short of the green. The approach is 30 yards wide, which adds to the difficulty.”
How to Play It: Every shot is optimal on this hole, which leaves many golfers wondering whetherand how to take a risk. Because of the dogleg it’s tough to reach the green in two shots, says Gramer. Play to the dogleg and avoid the trees guarding the final hundred yards to the green.
“It’s a challenge, but there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy this hole,” Gramer says.