A Duffer's Delight

Every golfer has a favorite hole. It may be the one he finally birdied after four years. Or the one where she knocked in a 10-footer to win a friendly match. It might be a hole as difficult as the 18th at Pebble Beach or as unusual as the 18th as Lake Chabot in Oakland, one of the few par-6s anywhere.  |  To be memorable, a hole doesn’t necessarily have to be great—a subjective definition anyway in a game of absolutes—but it should be interesting. It may have a history or it may be a mystery. Most of all it’s a hole; whether you love it or hate it, you can’t wait to play again. Here are one individual’s top ten. All are in Northern California or Hawaii and all are on courses open to the public. They’re listed on the following pages, with yardages from the back tees.

Lana’i, Hawaii

Challenge at Manele

Architect: Jack Nicklaus
No. 12, par 3, 202 yards

Bill Gates was married at the hole, which hangs on a lava cliff overlooking Hulopoe Bay, maybe 150 feet above the surf. It’s all carry down the left side, meaning a pulled shot ends up down where the dolphins frolic, content in not knowing whether you took enough club, which most players do not. The 12th is the signature hole of a course that climbs an ancient volcano on an island that’s a 45-minute ferry ride from Lahaina Harbor on Maui or a 25-minute flight from Honolulu. And if you think it’s going to be a day on the beach, then you don’t know Jack (Nicklaus).

Truckee, Ca

Old Greenwood

Architect: Jack Nicklaus
No. 6, par 5, 578 yards

At Tahoe’s altitude, more than 6,400 feet, golf balls travel up to 15 percent farther in the air, a reality that sometimes brings on a fantasy, making the average person think he’s John Daly. Nicklaus cleverly designed the 6th as a risk-reward hole, daring the long-hitter to go for the green in two after a big drive, but taunting him with a large lake to the left and front of the green. Sure it’s smarter to lay up, but there’s a little voice inside your head saying, “You didn’t come all the way up I-80 to play safe, did you?’’

San Francisco, Ca

Lincoln Park

Architect: Donald Ross
No. 17, par 3, 242 yards

The downhill hole has been described as everything from brutal to beautiful. It’s both, a virtually unreachable—except for the longest hitters—par 3 embraced by a panorama of the Golden Gate. Who cares if it’s a bit unfair? It’s a unique hole that’s very San Francisco. Lincoln Park’s other holes wind around the Palace of the Legion of Honor, where Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart gazed at a painting in Vertigo. If golfers at 17 get dizzy, it will be from the view, perhaps the best in the game. And to think Lincoln Park is a muni. Yes, The City That Knows How.

Half moon bay, ca

Half Moon Bay Golf Links (Old Course)

Architects: Arnold Palmer, Francis Duane
No. 18, par 4, 384 yards

There are days when Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, puts its best fog forward. But when the coast is literally clear, the 18th on the Old Course —there’s a newer links-style Ocean Course—is a delight just to view, much less to play. The Pacific runs along the entire right side, and a ravine slashes across the fairway. Up ahead is the imposing presence of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The blend of green grass, brown cliffs and blue-and-white water creates a palette of color that would appeal to any artist, or golfer. The course was used in May as a qualifying site for the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Pacific Grove, Ca

Pacific Grove Golf Course 

Architect: Jack Neville
No. 12, par 5, 513 yards

Another one of those only-in-Northern-California holes, although there are times, with the sky gray you’d swear you were in Scotland. Wind, cypress trees, ice plant, links-type terrain and in the distance waves cracking against the rocks. A dogleg right, the hole invites the golfer to bite off as much of the rolling dunes as possible or simply play down the left side. Then there’s an approximate 60-yard shot to a green with a false front. Everything you could want in a single hole.

Oakland, Ca

Lake Chabot Municipal Course

Architect: Willie Loch
No. 18, par 6, 673 yards

Yes, that’s right, par 6, one of the few anywhere. It’s downhill, so the yardage is misleading. When the Oakland City Championships were at Chabot, the big guys almost could get there in two. A pro, Vince Howell hit his second shot, a 3-wood, to within 13 inches of the flagstick. What do you call a 2 on a par-6, a triple-eagle? “I would call it luck,’’ was the response of the USGA’s Rand Jerris. It’s all academic, since no one ever has had better than a 3. Chabot opened in the 1920s. Now a 670-yard hole would be a par-5 and not as exciting to play.

Pebble Beach, Ca

Spyglass Hill

Architect: Robert Trent Jones Sr.
No. 1, par 5, 600 yards

What a way to start, a fantastic, downhill monster that curves out of Del Monte Forest toward the dunes adjacent to Carmel Bay. The holes at Spyglass were named for characters or settings in books by Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived for a time in the Monterey area, and the first is Treasure Island. The green is compartmentalized, canted away from the golfer, and sits as an “island’’ in a Sahara of sand. When in its second year of operation, 1967, Spyglass was added to the Crosby Pro-Am rotation, the pros didn’t like the hole. Now they love it.

Napa, Ca

Silverado South Course

Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr.
No. 16, par 4, 330 yards

It’s a nothing hole as far as distance goes, but it’s still perplexing. When the Champions Tour tournaments were held on Silverado South, the 16th flummoxed Arnold Palmer, for one. His tee shots were too long for a comfortable wedge second shot. Finally, Arnie decided to hit an iron off the tee. Any hole that puzzles one of the great players of all time can’t be a bad one. Most of us don’t have Arnie’s worry. We just pull out a driver and swing away.

Pebble Beach, Ca

Pebble Beach

Architect: Jack Neville
No. 18, par 5, 548 yards

Want to feel like Tiger or Phil coming down the stretch at U.S. Open or AT&T? If the 18th isn’t the most famous hole in America, it’s a close second to whatever is. Carmel Bay on the left, out-of-bounds on the right, history everywhere. You can get there in two if the wind isn’t in your face. But beware. Back in the 1970s, a would-be qualifier for the California Amateur needed only a 10 on the hole to make it to match play, but hit two balls to the right, two into the water and ended up with a 17. No wonder years earlier the hole was nicknamed “the Finisher.’’

Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii

Bay Course

Architects: Arnold Palmer, Francis Duane
No. 4, par 4, 357 yards

 While the fifth hole at the Bay Course, a par-3 across an inlet of the sea, gets more attention, the fourth is both cerebral and tempting, an illustration that length is not the only criterion in design, especially at a resort course. The fairway is a dogleg left, the green tucked neatly behind a few trees, vegetation and sand. The question is whether to play safe off the tee or try for the extra yards, a gamble that might leave you with a short chip or a ball in the Pacific. Before the tougher Plantation Course was built, the Bay was used for pro tournaments.