One of the best things about golf is the fact that no two rounds and no two golf courses are the same. In fact, you could play the same golf course twice on the same day and have completely different results, different conditions and different scenarios both times. That's one of the game's many endearing qualities.
But what if you were able to create a golf course exactly how you would like it? Every hole from each of your dreams on a Friday night before the next morning's competition, when you have that long iron over the water into a par 5 or have to hole that 15 foot putt on the 18th to win The Masters.
We've decided to take this one step further by creating an Ultimate 18 Holes, with each hole having the same numbers as they would have in real life. First of all we covered the UK and Ireland, which you can read here, and now it's the turn of the US.
With over 15,000 courses to choose from across the country, we've had our work cut out to narrow it down, but here's 18 holes which we think would make up the ultimate course:
1st Hole - Merion, East Course
Where? Ardmore, Pennsylvania
Length? Par 4, 350 Yards
Whilst there may be bigger or more visually impressive opening holes across the US, nothing else can quite match the history and heritage that is so evident from this first tee. It is situated mere feet from the clubhouse, so close that members enjoying lunch under the canopies will have to halt biting into their sandwiches until after you have played your shot, so as not to distract you. If you suffer from first tee nerves, this can be an intimidating prospect!
The Merion members will tell you that there's a strict no mulligan policy, but the hole itself is not overly difficult, and there are certainly more difficult prospects ahead. At 350 yards, it requires just a long iron or wood to the generous fairway, before hitting a short iron into the right-to-left sloping green.
Get to the first tee, embrace the distinctive charm of the old-school clubhouse and wicker basket flags, and get your round started with an easy par.
The Golfalot Tip: Don't get too aggressive or try to cut the corner, just get your ball in play off the tee (left of centre is perfect) and then give yourself a chance with a short iron into the green.
2nd Hole - Shinnecock Hills
Where? Suffolk County, New York
Length? Par 3, 252 Yards
Shinnecock is renowned for being not only one of the best golf courses in the world, but also one of the toughest. So it felt apt that the hole we include on our Ultimate 18 is a 250+ yard par 3. Ouch.
Many people claim that Shinnecock has the finest set of par 3s in the country and it's easy to see why. They are extremely tricky - with plenty of bunkers and lots of intricate sloping on the greens.
The hole plays uphill with a slope at the front of the green rejecting any shots which are not struck well enough. Deep bunkers are placed either side of the green for any wayward shots. If you can make a par on here, you should take it and run to the next.
The Golfalot Tip: Make sure you take enough club - even if that means pulling out a driver - and try to avoid missing left, where thick rough and tall fescue await.
3rd Hole - Oakmont CC
Where? Plum, Pennsylvania
Length? Par 4, 426 Yards
It may be unusual that a hole is largely famous because of a bunker. But that's exactly the case with the 3rd at Oakmont, because it features the Church Pews.
This is a bunker which runs between the adjacent 3rd and 4th hole fairways, and measures 100 yards long and 40 yards wide. It gets its name thanks to 12 grass ridges running through the bunker, which resemble church pews and make this hazard extremely difficult to escape from.
The hole itself is extremely tough, in part due to the huge slope up to the green which is a characteristic of many of Oakmont's holes. If you come up short with your approach, by the time the ball stops rolling you're going to have a 50 yard pitch back on to the green.
The Golfalot Tip: Avoid the Church Pews at all costs, obviously, and then make sure you've got plenty of club to get up the hill to the green or you're staring a 6 in the face.
4th Hole - Spyglass Hill
Where? Pebble Beach, California
Length? Par 4, 370 Yards
Spyglass Hill is situated on the iconic Monterey Peninsula in California, and shares its home with the likes of Cypress Point and Pebble Beach, where it co-hosts the PGA Tour's Pebble Beach Pro-Am every year.
Perhaps the most renowned hole on the course is the fourth, known as Blind Pew, taking its name from the book Treasure Island. The hole sweeps around to the left in a boomerang shape, with a few hundred yards of sand dunes between you and the green from the tee box.
The green itself is incredibly narrow, forcing you to be a little more aggressive off the tee in order to make the approach a little easier.
This iconic hole is such a strategic nightmare that the Pebble Beach website has its own blog post dedicated to just that hole, and how to manage it. You can read it here.
The Golfalot Tip: The shorter the club you can hit into the green, the better your scoring average is going to be. And if you are going to miss, short and right gives you the best chance of saving your par.
5th Hole - Pine Valley
Where? Pine Valley, New Jersey
Length? Par 3, 238 Yards
No ultimate golf course its complete without mention of the number one rated course in the US, Pine Valley. In truth, pretty much any hole on the course could be a worthy contender for this Ultimate 18, but we've decided that the fifth fits the bill. It's a brute of a par 3.
The tee shot carries over a water hazard, with a cross bunker that feeds all the way across the left hand side of the green, whilst there is also a very deep bunker which will catch any ball missed to the right.
There is a small strip of fairway short of the green which is a popular missing point for amateur golfers as it requires a good old hit if you're going to reach from the back tees.
The Golfalot Tip: If you're going to miss it, the collection area at the front of the green should give you a decent chance of getting up and down for par. Just try and avoid the bunkers - they aren't much fun.
6th Hole - Bay Hill
Where? Orlando, Florida
Length? Par 5, 555 Yards
One of the most recognisable holes of Arnold Palmer's Orlando golf course, the 6th is a long par 5 which plays all around the lake on its left-hand side, and has proven a tough test for even the best players in the world.
The tee shot is hit directly over the water across the fairway, and longer hitters must decide how brave they are going to be with their line. A drive further to the left will leave a shorter approach in but requires a longer carry, while there are big fairway bunkers towards the right side for those who bail out.
From there you are hitting into a thin, long green with a bunker short-right, meaning that club selection is key if you want to get your ball close.
It's around 340 yards to carry right across the lake from the tee to the green, but unsurprisingly not many have tried it. John Daly gave it a go in 1998, and ended up walking off with an 18. Hmm...
The Golfalot Tip: This is a true three-shotter for mere mortals, with a very small green and a lot of water. Lay up, hit a wedge in, and see if you can hole a putt for birdie. 5 is never a bad score here.
7th Hole - Pebble Beach
Where? Pebble Beach, California
Length? Par 3, 106 Yards
Perhaps the most iconic of all golf holes in the world, and one of the most famous in the US, the short 7th hole at Pebble Beach had stood the test of time despite the fact that all around it golf courses have been lengthening year-on-year.
Perched right on the edge of the cliff, with waves crashing into the rocks behind the green, it does not get any more scenic than this. The fact that the tee shot is played from above this green also makes this hole even more visually appealing and intimidating.
Despite measuring around 100 yards, this hole can play from anywhere between a sand wedge to a 3 iron, depending on the strength of the wind.
If you are lucky enough to play this hole, make sure you take a picture before knuckling down and selecting the right club to safely hit this green.
The Golfalot Tip: Take a moment to really assess what the wind is doing before you pick your club. Don't be afraid to take a couple extra and hit a punch shot to control the flight.
8th Hole - Pebble Beach
Where? Pebble Beach, California
Length? Par 4, 433 Yards
The great Jack Nicklaus describes the 8th hole at Pebble Beach as having the 'most maginificent second shot on the planet', and so we just had to find space for it in our Ultimate 18. Whilst this is also a fantasy 18, we loved the idea of Pebble Beach's 7th and 8th remaining together here as it forms part of one golf's greatest stretches of holes in real life.
The 8th is a par 4 which is essentially split into two halves, separated by the Pacific Ocean in the middle. This means that golfers have to hit a blind, uphill layup from the tee, and are faced with an approach shot of over 180 yards across the cliffs, with the ocean 100 yards below.
The compact green slopes from back to front, with bunkers at the back waiting to greet any golfers who took a club or two extra.
The Golfalot Tip: Your tee shot needs to travel around 240 yards, but be careful because the ball will roll away from you on the fairway, so make sure your layup is well short of the water. For the approach, commit to your chosen club and give it your best shot. A par here is like gold dust.
9th Hole - Congressional CC
Where? Bethesda, Maryland
Length? Par 5, 636 Yards
If you thought after that stretch you'd be greeted with a nice, easy ninth hole to lead you back to the halfway house and ease you towards the back nine, then think again. Congressional's ninth hole stretches out over 600 yards and is often played into the wind, making it a true three-shot test.
There's a ravine with very thick rough short of the green, placing even more emphasis on the quality of the layup and third shot. On the plus side, you get a lovely view of the impressive clubhouse on your way up the hole.
The Golfalot Tip: Avoid the overhanging tree on the left side of the green, and don't leave yourself too long an approach into the green with your third. There are two large ridges running through the putting surface, so you want to have a wedge in, in order to be precise with your shot placement.
10th Hole - Riviera CC
Where? Pacific Palisades, California
Length? Par 4, 315 Yards
One of the best driveable par 4s in golf, the 10th at the iconic Riviera provides the ultimate risk-reward challenge. You can lay up on the left side of the fairway which leaves a tricky pitch into a firm, narrow green, meaning that your wedge-play has to be extremely accurate.
Or you can choose to go for it with the driver, although a seemingly perfect drive may still end up in a tricky situation as the green is very fast and slopes right to left, meaning that many balls run off into the bunker or collection area.
Tour players consistently rank this hole among their favourite of any that they play year-on-year, and it's easy to see why.
The Golfalot Tip: If you are a confident driver of the ball, then go for it. You may have a tricky chip but it should leave you with two putts for a par, and the layup does not make this green any easier to navigate!
11th Hole - Muirfield Village
Where? Dublin, Ohio
Length? Par 5, 567 Yards
Jack Nicklaus' Muirfield Village has been a favourite of the tour players for many years and features a number of holes which take inspiration from some of the Golden Bear's favourite courses.
The 11th is an S-shaped par 5 which entices longer hitters into trying to hit the green in two, but features a small green and enough surrounding trouble to make things interesting if any shots are errant. It marks the start of an exciting back nine which has often produced many twists and turns when the course hosts The Memorial Tournament.
The Drive is best played out to the right-hand side or with a draw around the corner, to set up a good angle for the second shot over the creek, which winds across the fairway and in front of the green.
The Golfalot Tip: Keeping slightly to the right side of the fairway from the tee will provide you with a look at the green for your second shot, where all the trouble is short. If you're going to chance it in two, take an extra club.
12th Hole - Augusta National
Where? Augusta, Georgia
Length? Par 3, 155 Yards
Golden Bell, one of the many jewels in the crown of Augusta National, has everything you want from an ultimate golf hole. Visual appeal, excellent design and decades of incredible memories.To give you a better idea, we'll leave you with the description straight from The Masters website:
"One of the world's most famous golf holes, this is Augusta's shortest par three. Club selection is often difficult, as varying winds can require anything from a six-iron to a nine-iron for Masters competitors. The daunting presence of Rae's Creek and three strategically placed bunkers make it imperative that players land their shots on the putting surface."
"The 12th hole has been a heartbreaker from the start. Its fickle winds, narrow green and looming water have thwarted many runs for the Masters title."
The Golfalot Tip: Unless you're in the Top 50 of the World Rankings you're going to struggle to get a tee time at Augusta but we'll give you a tip nonetheless. This one comes from Jack Nicklaus - hit your tee shot straight over the middle of the bunker, regardless of where the flag is, and you'll be fine.
13th Hole - Augusta National
Where? Augusta, Georgia
Length? Par 5, 510 Yards
The final hole of Augusta's famed Amen Corner is, in our opinion, the finest par 5 in the world. Named Azalea in honour of the flowers adorning this famous golf course, it has been home to some of the most dramatic moments in Masters history over the years. Few of them have been as incredible as this...
The hole is a sharp dog leg from right to left and features Augusta's famous slopes, meaning that for a right-hander, the second shot is played with the ball well above your feet, adding to the difficulty level.
You can choose to layup to the right of this hole, leaving a pitch in, or you can go for it over the creek onto a severely sloped green with bunkers waiting at the back.
The Golfalot Tip: Don't go left off the tee. Sergio got lucky on his way to victory in 2017, but you might not. Then your approach shot depends entirely on the pin position. Use the slopes on the green to your advantage, and beware Rae's Creek lurking just short of the green.
14th Hole - Chambers Bay
Where? University Place, Washington
Length? Par 4, 546 Yards
Aptly named Cape Fear, this hole provides a challenge off the tee where golfers must decided how much of the waste area they dare to carry. The bolder the line, the shorter the approach in, but if you don't make it on to the short stuff you're staring a 6 in the face.
Bail out right, however, and there are large dunes which will swallow up your ball, and you miss out on the downslope meaning that you have a much longer approach in. Down by the green, and the approach is tightened thanks to a large ridge on the front right. You do get some fantastic views over the bay though.
The Golfalot Tip: If you can aim your tee shot just left of the bunker in the centre of the fairway, you should find a little speed slope which will dramatically shorten the hole, making a par a vague possibility.
15th Hole - Bethpage Black
Where? Farmingdale, New York
Length? Par 4, 457 Yards
This is the toughest hole at Bethpage Black, which itself is known for being extremely difficult, so I'm sure you can already imagine the kind of test that golfers will be faced with.
Over 450 yards, doglegging slightly to the left and playing uphill for the approach shot, this is not for the faint-hearted. There are no fairway bunkers in play from the tee, with a reasonably wide fairway and thick rough either side.
But it's really the approach shot where things get difficult. Chances are you'll be hitting a long iron into a green which is some 15 yards above you, with huge bunkers blocking your entrance.
Up on the green, and approaches need to make it up over the first tier to avoid funneling back down, whilst chip shots from the rough can get very quick depending on the pin location.
The Golfalot Tip: Keep on going. The 15th may come at the worst possible time at Bethpage, just when you think you're in the closing stretch and the previous 14 holes have already beaten you up. But try and enjoy the challenge, hit two of your best shots and you never know, you may sneak off with a par.
16th Hole - Cypress Point
Where? Pebble Beach, California
Length? Par 3, 233 Yards
This is one of the 'least famous-famous golf holes' in the world, despite the fact that it is consistentlyd rate among the best holes in all of golf. Yet we are willing to bet that the majority of golfers have never even heard of it, such is the exclusive nature of the golf course on which it is situated.
Designed by Alister Mackenzie, the hole gives golfers two options: either lay up to the fairway on the left, or take on the carry over the Pacific Ocean to the tiny inlet where the green sits.
Like Augusta, you're going to struggle to get a tee time here unless you have some friends in very high places, but it boasts some of the most dramatic holes in the world on the closing nine, running right along the coastline with the waves of the Pacific Ocean spraying up onto the edges of the fairways.
The Golfalot Tip: If you can't carry the ball over 220 yards, it's probably best to lay up out to the left unless there's a very strong wind behind you. It may seem like you're not playing this hole as intended, but it's better than watching your partners finish the hole whilst your ball sinks to the bottom of the Pacific.
17th Hole - TPC Sawgrass
Where? Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Length? Par 3, 137 Yards
A hole which really needs no introduction, as it is the standout hole year-on-year on the PGA Tour. A short par 3 almost entirely surrounded by water, with just a small pot bunker at the front right corner of the green and wild swirling overhead.
The visual intimidation of this hole has made it one of the most exciting prospects in professional golf when the players take it on during The Players Championship. Many a good round, and even a couple of title chances, have been ruined by a poor shot here.
The Golfalot Tip: Don't miss long, or short, or left, or right. The bunker isn't exactly an easy up-and-down either. Good luck!
18th Hole - Pebble Beach
Where? Pebble Beach, California
Length? Par 5, 543 Yards
This was the hardest choice of the lot because so many different courses have spectacular and iconic finishing holes - Bay Hill, Riviera, Harbour Town and Sawgrass to name but a few - but we have decided that Pebble Beach is just too good to ignore.
One of the most picturesque holes in the world, it is a long, right-to-left par 5 which swings alongside the coast and ensures that anyone who wants to complete a good round on the famous links must keep their concentration until the last putt drops.
There is a 100 yard bunker all the way down the left hand side to the green, and another huge tree overhangs the right edge of the green to make the approach shot very narrow. A true championship finish.
The Golfalot Tip: The tree is a decent aiming point off the tee - any further left requires a longer carry, whilst losing it out to the right will make this hole much longer. If you're going for it in two, lean towards the right but beware the tree or you'll have a tricky pitch.
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