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Great Golf Holes Force Us To Make Decisions and Talk About them Afterwards

Every good golf course provides variety and challenge and enjoyment. That’s nothing new or earth-shattering, but the next time you play golf with some friends, pay attention to one specific conversation you have and how often you have it.

What conversation might that be?

It’s the one you have as you walk off the green and look back down the fairway trying to figure out if there’s another club you could have hit off the tee. The conversation might start with, “I’m not sure driver is the play off the tee” or “I think I’d hit a long iron off that tee next time” or “It might be better to just bang 3-wood up near the green instead of laying back.”

There is quite a bit of mental energy saved when a player can pull out driver 14 times and let it rip. It might allow the player to think about, oh I don’t know, what flavor protein shake he’s going to have after the round or what NFT he might try to sell. But in all honesty, those par 4 and par 5 holes where you’d love to just go back and try again using a different route are really the best holes on a lot of courses. It also great to play those holes when different players hit different clubs and make different choices.

Two holes I’d like to highlight are Boston Golf Club’s sixteenth hole, called “Principal’s Nose” and Concord Country Club’s thirteenth hole.

The “Principal’s Nose” pays homage to the 16th hole at St. Andrews; it’s named after a bunker that resembles the nostrils of a persnickety headmaster and it provides all sorts of choices standing on the tee. The Principal’s Nose bunker sits in the middle of the fairway, waiting to hand out dress code violations to anyone that gets too close. It’s about 200 yards from the tee, and it protects the dogleg. This a hole that encourages good conversation as the group walks to the 17th hole.

Driver is an option on sixteen. The aggressive line over the trees shortens the hole considerably, and makes it reachable in one blow for the big hitter. Another option is to take on the Principal’s Nose and land a wood or hybrid into the open landing spot just past the bunker, risking a mishit that could end up in a spot of bother. The last choice is to play short of the bunker and leave a full shot of about 150 yards into a rather small, sloped green.

This course is designed for match play, and a good match is going to reach this point of the course, so it makes it even a bit more thrilling. I also love a hole like this because of where it is on the course. Players hit a lot of drivers at Boston Golf, it’s wide and forgiving. Therefore, a good day with the big stick might give them the confidence to slam it up near the green and risk hitting it into the bunkers and fescue.

The tee shot at “Principal’s Nose.” The options here are excellent because the risky option is not just riskier because of the club and angle but also because the player can’t quite see the landing area due to the mounding on the left. Whereas the safe play short of the Principal’s Nose bunker looks inviting and easy to land a long iron.

Once around the dogleg (you can see the Principal’s Nose bunker on the right side of this image), the risky play seems more tenable once you’re standing in the fairway, as the landing space is welcoming, but only if you’re comfortable with a half-wedge shot to a well protected, elevated green. An added layer of challenge is that if a player does hit the ball off line with a driver, the fescue and hill on the right bring the rub of the green directly into play. Balls can disappear rather quickly in there or even around the greenside bunkers, too.

Looking back down a golf hole usually makes everything look wider and easier to play. Principal’s Nose is no different. From the tee box, things appear tight and compact without much space to miss. Yet now it seems like there’s only wide open space to attack this short par 4.

Another hole I’ve player hundreds of times that creates the same discussion is the thirteenth hole at Concord Country Club. It’s a 352 yard par four. Two bunkers protect the left side of the hole, the driving range runs along the left side for about 150 yards, a cross bunker sits at about 300 yards. In the summer the fescue on the right of the fairway can make par a very difficult endeavor. Most players remember thirteen for it’s green. It’s two tiers, one on the right and one on the left. A bit different from a “normal” two tier green with one tier in the back and the other in the front.

The green in the foreground is the eighteenth. But the hole behind it is the thirteenth. You can see the pine trees down the left protecting the driving range and the bunkers on the left, too that are about 235 yards from the back tees. The green, even from this vantage point has a clear slope from right to left and that longer cross bunker makes it tough for players to get too aggressive off the tee or to hit a heroic second shot if their tee ball put them into a tough situations.

Thirteen is great because the green makes you think about the tee shot and how a player wants to set up his approach to the green. The placement of the pin can even change what club players hit off the tee on a day-to-day basis. During the Massachusetts Amateur that was hosted here in 2007 they played the forward tees one day, making driver even more tempting for the best players in the state.

Another wonderful thing about these two holes, and holes like it everywhere, as they make for great best ball matches. At Concord CC every summer I play in a best ball event with my friend. He’s the bomber, so we usually play off each other. I’ll lay back short of the fairway bunkers and let him hit driver up close to the green. The Principal’s Nose has the same strategic value.

A golf course can’t only have holes like this. For one thing, holes like this have to be in the 310-350 range. But a couple holes like this adds drama and decision making. After a long round of golf, it’s important to have some holes down the stretch that make a player invest mentally and make some choices and execute some difficult shots. It’s what makes the last three holes at TPC Sawgrass so great.

The variety at a good golf course isn’t all about what club to hit off the tee, obviously. Sometimes, it’s about where a player needs to hit the tee shot. Left can be better than right or visa versa. But there’s something that I love about looking back down a fairway with my playing partners and immediately reconsidering our choice. It’s the same feeling I get at a restaurant when the waiter brings out everyone’s food. I’m comparing what I ordered and trying to decide if I chose the right dish. In the case of golf and dining, there might be a bit of regret, but you just have to file away that bit of information for the next time around.

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