By Jack Madigan, AKA the Golf Guy | Photos Provided
There probably is no more emotional roller coaster ride on a golf course than looking at a beautiful emerald green surrounded by a vast expanse of water. There are two ways of approaching the scene. The first is the ego-strutting confident player who is picturing nothing less than a hole in one. This player has a good chance of landing dry as long as he doesn’t lift his head to watch the shot.
Then there is the trembling, fearful player who is thinking, “Boy, I hope I don’t go in the water.” This player doesn’t have a chance because he has already envisioned his shot landing wet. This reminds me of a tournament I was playing in at Porto Cima with Tom Henke, the former Cardinals star relief pitcher. We got to the par-3 Hole No. 16, where the green sits on a little point out in the Lake and thus is protected by water in the front and along the entire left side. We were standing on the tee box and Tom was rooting way down in his golf bag as if searching for something. I asked him if he needed a tee and he said, “No, I’m looking for one of those ‘no confidence’ balls.” Wow, what a perfect summation. I cannot count the times I’ve seen players reach for those “no confidence balls,” knowing full well they are going to send it to a watery grave.
There are many truly difficult (sometimes called scary) water holes at the Lake. However, before we talk about our homegrown water challenges, I thought we could spend a minute talking about the nation’s most notorious water holes. Because just as people come from all over the country to enjoy the Lake’s water sports, people around the globe are captivated by the two most popular par-3s in the world.
If you asked Greg Norman where the most difficult water hole in the world is located, I am sure he would say in Augusta, Georgia. Flash back to 1996, and everyone’s favorite Greg Norman was leading Nick Faldo by six strokes going into the final round of the Masters. Then came the infamous par-3 Hole No. 12. This shot lands just short of the green on a hillside where the grass is so short it causes the ball to slip straight down into Ray’s Creek. Norman had being playing poorly all day, and Faldo was closing the gap; then on No. 12 Norman’s tee shot hit that bank and he saw his dream of a green jacket descend the slippery hill and disappear beneath the ripples of Ray’s Creek to its final resting place. He got a five, lost the lead, and went on to lose the tournament.
The absolute most famous par-3 water hole in the universe is Hole No. 17 at the TPC Stadium Course at Sawgrass, home of the Player’s Tournament. If you show a picture of this hole to any golfer in the world it will instantly be recognized as the island hole at Sawgrass. The interesting part about this hole is if you take the emotions and nerves out of the mixture it is probably one of the easiest holes in golf. The maximum yardage it can play is 138, and most of the time it plays in the area of 120, depending on tee box and flag placements. The green is so large you could build a condo on it, making it a very large target that’s difficult to miss.
A few years ago my son and I played it. We had the first tee time and by the time we got to Hole No. 17 we were a couple of holes ahead of everyone. So we took multiple shots at the island from all of the tee boxes and kept them all dry. The secret is simple. Hit your iron shot to the center of the green and hope for a one putt. The pros however, all too often, will shoot for pin placements near the edge of the green and constantly see their ball drop into Davy Jones’ Locker, all to the ceaseless groans of the gallery.
Here at the Lake we have our own famous par-3 water holes. The granddaddy of them all is Hole No. 13 at The Cove. This Robert Trent Jones design demands a 205-yard tee shot entirely over the water of Witch’s Cove onto a cliff-side green. Jones must be smiling down from above at this great piece of mischief.
Par-3s are not the only holes that bring water into play and cause knees to shake at the Lake. There are several par-5s that present significant water hazards, but the two that stand out are Hole No. 9 at the Oaks and Hole No. 18 at Old Kinderhook. At No. 9 at the Oaks, water comes into play on your third shot. Usually you are standing on a downhill lie shooting at a narrow green protected by a piered lake. Club selection here is paramount. The green on No. 18 at Kinderhook is protected on three sides by water. The second shot for the long hitters demands a perfect shot for success. It is by far best to lay up and hope to get the third shot close enough for a one putt.
Not to forget the par-4s, Hole No. 17 at Porto Cima crosses the water off the tee and again in front of the green. Hole No. 2 at the Oaks demands a long tee shot over a huge lake to an uphill lie. Holes No. 9 and 10 at Deer Chase both have greens protected by water. And last but not least, the front nine of Sycamore Hills is akin to a watery graveyard. All these holes can comically be called gobble-gobble holes because of the vast number of balls they are constantly gobbling up.
Oh, and by the way, Tom Hanke’s ball did go into the drink on No. 16, and so did mine!