Great hazards are at the very heart of the game. They quicken the pulse and satisfy the player’s sporting instinct. They are the perilous places that keep pros and amateurs alike awake at night; that leave a blizzard of shredded scorecards in their wake; and that, once having succumbed to them, we’ll drop just about anything for the chance to tackle again.
For this list of the world’s nine most formidable such dangers, we’ve gone by the strict Rules of Golf definition and included only bunkers and water hazards—all other infernal features, such as trees, boulders and buildings, are properly called "obstacles." Some of our choices are iconic and others unsung, but all of them are thrilling and potentially devastating. The game would be much the poorer without them and their kin. In fact, it wouldn’t be golf at all: It would be a soulless slog at worst, a walk in the park at best.
THE SIXTEENTH AT CYPRESS POINT
Pebble Beach, California. Par three, 219 yards. Architect: Alister MacKenzie, 1929.
Robert Hunter, who assisted Dr. MacKenzie in the creation of the Cypress Point Club, was not indulging in advance hype when he wrote this of the sixteenth: "There are no doubt many great holes in the world, and possibly some greater than this one, but none other will be so much talked of, loved and hated, photographed and advertised as this one." A single heroic stroke is called for to cross the surging waves of the world’s largest water hazard—the ball must carry fully two hundred yards on a line with the flagstick or find the bail-out area to the left. This is the most dramatic and aesthetically rewarding shot in golf. The story is not complete without a tip of the cap to Marion Hollins, the visionary who founded Cypress Point and conceived this transpacific hole.
THE "D.A." AT PINE VALLEY
Clementon, New Jersey. Tenth hole, par three, 161 yards. Architects: George Crump and Harry Colt, 1918.
"Satan’s Anal Aperture" is perhaps a more seemly name than the one usually ascribed to this pitiless sand pit just below the front right corner of the tenth green at Pine Valley Golf Club. How intractable is this tiny, claustrophobic hazard?Well, every swing you make here—assuming there is room enough to swing—is likely to dig the bunker itself even deeper, with the ball settling lower and lower into the mine shaft. Club legend has it that one player who shot thirty-eight going out took thirty-eight coming in—on this hole alone. The great Bobby Jones once said, "Too much ambition is a bad thing to have in a bunker." When it comes to a shot that finds the D.A., Pine Valley’s members have taken these words to heart, often choosing to re-tee . . . or simply pick up and move on.
THE GREAT SEA RUSHES AT ROYAL NORTH DEVON
Westward Ho!, England. Tenth hole, par four, 378 yards. Architect: Old Tom Morris, 1864.
On the southwest coast of England lies the Royal Devon Golf Club, its course familiarly known as Westward Ho!. This is a genuine shrine of the game, the birthplace of links golf in England and the oldest golf club in the land still playing over its original ground. Growing in the wetlands here are the Great Sea Rushes, which can be some six feet high and are probably unique to this links. On the tenth, we must drive blindly over these prickly killers, which are tipped with steel-hard spikes. In decades past, when the golf ball was a good deal softer than it is today, it was not uncommon to find a wayward shot impaled on one of the rushes!