Holes to drive you demented

IT’S a daunting drive, whatever the elements. And the second doesn’t get any easier.

But anyone spooked by Ballybunion's treacherous 11th hole, a par 4, can take comfort in the fact they are not alone it is the 9th toughest hole in world golf, according to a new survey.

The Old Head's spectacular 12th, a par 5, is often regarded as the ultimate golfing thrill a drive over the cliffs to a sloping fairway and that's the eastern part, as the Atlantic eats into the fairway leading to a funnel-shaped green. It is regarded as the 18th toughest hole in world golf by Today's Golfer magazine. Which suggests the previous 17 must be real card-wreckers.

Not surprisingly, the 17th Road Hole on the Old Course at St Andrews, with its narrowing, undulating fairway, has trapped and embarrassed the best. It has gained notoriety as one of the hardest par fours in golf, a reputation earned because of the deep and dominant bunker that a Japanese player once nicknamed "The Sands of Nakajima."

However, despite its world-wide infamy, it is not the toughest hole in the game, according to Today's Golfer that dubious honour goes to one thousands of miles from the home of golf.

The world's most challenging hole has been identified in the magazine poll as the 18th at the Oahu Club in Hawaii. In the shadow of the towering Ko'olau mountain ridge with thick jungle on either side of the fairway, the 476-yard par four winds between ravines and waterfalls and is described as "the pinnacle of golf's ultimate challenge."

It is said to be the finishing hole on a course that is "without doubt the toughest on the face of the planet."

One player, according to the record books, is said to have lost no fewer than 63 balls in one round.

But the 17th at the Old Course can still claim its place as one of the most feared. Almost certain to feature prominently at this year's Open, it makes it into the survey of the world's hardest 18 holes at number six.

Ben Crenshaw, the veteran American golfer, said: "The reason the Road Hole is such a great par four is because it's a par five."

However, three years ago, and much to the anger of the traditionalists who claimed the sand trap was part of folklore, the famous bunker, eight feet wide at its base, was altered to make it less terrifying.

Two feet were taken off its height and the trap was moved farther from the green where thousands of spectators in ringside seats have been provided with sporting entertainment over the years.

St Andrews Links Trust, responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the course, said the changes were mainly intended for the thousands of amateurs who play the course. The organisation said that the work simply restored the bunker to its condition of 30 years ago. However, there are plans to make it tougher again for the Open in July.

Of the 16 other toughest holes in the magazine's survey, seven are in the US, including the 8th at Chocolay Downs East in Michigan which, at 1007 yards, is the longest hole in the world. It takes eighth place.

England joins Scotland in having only one hole on the list the 15th at Seahouses in Northumberland, which is ranked 16.

The other toughest holes in order of difficulty are at courses in Bolivia, New Zealand, Mexico, Hong Kong, Japan, and Spain.

Top ten: 1. Oahu, Hawaii (476yd par 4 18th), 2. West Stadium, California (168yd par 3 17th), 3. La Paz, Bolivia (537yd par 5 17th), Hawkes Bay, New Zealand (650yd par 5 15th), 5. Punta Mita, Bahia de Banderas, Mexico (194yd par 3 3rd), 6. Old Course, St Andrews (461yd par 4 17th), 7. Stone Harbor, New Jersey (182yd par 3 7th), 8. Chocolay Downs East, Michigan (1007yd par 6 8th), 9. Ballybunion Old, Kerry (446yd par 4 11th), 10. Doral Blue Monster, Florida (443yd par 4 18th).

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