It’s probably no coincidence the most famous and treacherous tiny holes are by the water. A decent wind is the key to making Pebble Beach’s seventh, the Postage Stamp at Troon, Barnbougle’s seventh and the often maligned ‘island green’ hole at TPC Sawgrass such feared propositions.
They are fun to play for fun but with a score card in your pocket they are quite different propositions.
The key to their greatness is not the fear of a bogey – bogeys never really kill you – but of an even bigger number. Fortunes have been sunk in the water surrounding Pete Dye’s green in Florida yet the very same hole has inspired players to hit career defining shots under the pressure of winning the biggest event in golf that isn’t a major.
At the 1992 US Open at Pebble Beach the eventual winner Tom Kite came to the seventh with a gale howling and missed the 110-yard hole – with one of the smallest greens in the game – by 10 yards with a five iron.
He was hardly alone that day, as the best players in the game faced one of the most difficult shots to control. Kite, memorably, holed his pitch for a birdie and survived one of games more brutal days of championship golf.
This week at 13th Beach there is another to add to the list and in Saturday’s 45-kilometre wind it might be the hardest green of them all to hit.
At 99 meters to the flag, the wind was blowing hard enough on Saturday to see 300-yard fearless bombers hitting 8 irons and hoping just to hit the target. Only the post precise shot would do.
Whilst missing the green isn’t as penal a mistake as drowning one in Pete Dye’s pond, the seventh is a brutal green to miss on the left because there is no guarantee you can get the next on to the green. So steep is the bank and so shaggy the grass, any sort of pitch back is almost as tough as the tee shot itself.
Pebble Beach’s Pacific Ocean background makes it the most photogenic of them all but the essential part of their greatness is beauty and charm. Yet also that a 20-marker, with one good swing, can make a birdie and a tour pro with one bad one can make a bogey.
Of these little holes, Masters Champion, Ben Crenshaw once said: “I do not mean to imply that short par-threes do not exist anymore, though its type is not frequently attempted by many architects today. But quite selfishly, I would enjoy seeing more of them, for it's one of the many ways to check unbridled power, and occasionally, make those long hitters' knees tremble.’’
Tom Doak, with Crenshaw, one of America’s great architects, addressed Crenshaw’s concern of the dearth of modern holes under 130 yards when he told me years ago: “If I want to build a 120-yard hole the client often asks me if I can’t just make it 140, and if I want to make one 250 yards he will want it cut back to 230.”
It’s a pity because eschewing the extremities –both short and long – makes the game poorer. Each year at the Vic Open a crowd accumulates around the seventh green to watch world-class players hit a shot sure to make their ‘knees tremble’.
The final round forecast is for another tough, windy day and whilst it’s far from the end of the round the seventh is likely to play some part in the final outcome.