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What’s in a (Hole) Name?

Michael Witte Golfer’s Journal

Photo: Michael Witte

Shinnecock Hills also has a serviceable if undistinguished roster of hole names, rarely invoked by members. The best is Thom’s Elbow, the 447-yard par-four fourteenth, named in honor of Charlie Thom, the Scotsman who served as the club’s professional for fifty-five years and lived for many of them in a cottage near the tee. Curiously, the hole is not a sharp dogleg, as the name would suggest.

The old maxim that anything worth doing is worth overdoing seems to have been the thinking at a number of American courses that have adopted theme names for their holes. In deference to Robert Louis Stevenson, who visited Monterey in 1879, all the hole names at Spyglass Hill are culled from Treasure Island—Billy Bones, Blind Pew, the Black Spot. Evocative names, indeed, but they have no connection to the holes they are paired with. At Secession Golf Club in Beaufort, South Carolina, every hole is named after a Civil War engagement—Harper’s Ferry, Antietam, Appomattox (the eighteenth, of course). Maybe I’m being oversensitive, but equating golf holes with these titanic events feels somehow inappropriate. And again, which hole is which?

But for pure over-the-top nomenclature, it is hard to beat Purgatory Golf Club in Noblesville, Indiana. To go with the (unfortunate) name of the course, the holes have names like River of Flames, Blinding Cloud of Smoke, and Everlasting Torment (hard to argue with—from the tips it plays to an insane 735 yards). Still, hole number two takes the cake. It’s called Stains of the Inferno. I don’t know about you, but I have absolutely no desire to play a hole called Stains of the Inferno.

Surely we can do better. Here-with, a few humble suggestions for prospective hole namers: Plan your menu of names as you would a well-balanced meal. Avoid themes. Three words, maximum. Don’t try to be something you’re not (Gaelic doesn’t fly in the States). Stir in a mélange of adjectives, nouns, descriptions, names of people, topographical features and landmarks. Season with bits of local lore and a dash of whimsy. Put the names on scorecards so players get used to seeing and saying them. And encourage starters, rangers and pro shop personnel to refer to holes by names instead of numbers.

I’m reminded of an inadvertent example of synchronicity between a hole and its handle. Some years ago at the Greenbrier, I happened to be present when, on a dare, two brave British lads decided to play a hole in their birthday suits. They chose a remote par three for their flesh-baring derring-do, then played it without a hitch and, as noted, without a stitch. Only afterward did we discover that the hole is named Eden.

Now, that’s the way to put an individual (Postage) stamp on a golf hole.

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