We all like a challenge in our golf. So, what could be better than playing a really tough golf course? We are often asked what the hardest degree courses in the world are.
Some of you want to know because you aim to travel the world and to play these courses. But lately, we have noticed many of you are using a golf simulator, either at home or at an indoor golf facility. With these machines you can replicate courses from a choice of thousands. And of course, you want to try out the ones who will most test your skills.
If you are up for a challenge, we are going to give you our version of the world’s toughest courses.
What makes a tough golf course?
Apparently, some courses are harder than others. But which courses you will find the most challenging will, to some extent, depend upon your style of play.
Here is an example. You might find it easy to hit the ball a long way, but find it hard to get accuracy. If that is you, then you may find narrow fairways a particular challenge. If, on the other hand, you are not great on distance but get the ball to where you want it to go then a narrow course will feel as if it is made for you.
Another critical factor is your skill level. Beginners often fear bunkers, whereas experienced golfers know how to use them to their advantage. If you are new, you may fear the bunker, and a course with lots will terrify you.
Your fitness is another thing to think about. Many of the world’s toughest courses are very long.
Most important of all though is your mental attitude. Many golfers who play these very tough courses say it transforms their game forever. Others get the bug and go from a tough course to tough course throughout the years. Some people hate it and realize they feel much more comfortable on their local easier greens. Perhaps you do not know which type you are. One thing you can be sure of, it will be a journey of discovery.
The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island, South Carolina, United States
This course was designed by the famous Pete Dye. Famous or perhaps infamous for developing tough courses, this one tops many of the lists for the hardest course in the world.
It might be hard, but there are no accidents here. It is hard because it is meant to be hard, not because it is not well maintained. Perfect greens, wonderful caddies and excellent service all round mean that there are no excuses. All the mistakes are down to you.
What makes it such a challenge? Like many links courses, it’s the ocean breeze that adds that extra twist. Many links courses are firm with springy grass, but not this one. It has a grass called paspalum sward which gets very soft when the rain falls. That makes a challenge in itself.
That’s before we get to talking about the bunkers and the way the course is designed to facilitate good drainage. You never know what is around the golfing corner on this course. Prepare for giant sand dunes, marshland with thickets and thorns, and the dreaded pot bunkers.
It’s also very long. Seven thousand six hundred and ten yards from the back tees.
Carnoustie Golf Links, Dundee, Scotland
Everything you need to know about this golf course is in the name, or more correctly the nickname. This course is known as Carnasty. It’s cold, as the wind blows off the Scottish North Sea straight into your face. It’s wet and it is rough. It has the most famous pot bunkers in the world.
It is actually three courses. The newest is the Buddon which is getting a fantastic response from all players. Then there is Burnside, a lovely course to play. Leading the pack is the dreaded Bethpage Black of Scotland. The name is enough to strike terror in the heart of the bravest. It is only for the most skilled.
Why is it so difficult? It is designed that way. For a start most holes face in a different direction from the previous hole, so you need to have your wits about you. This is tough on any course but if you factor in the wind, you need to adapt your shots continually. If that is not enough for you, then you must face the Braid bunkers. These bunkers twist and turn and dogleg. Their faces can even be convex, so watch out.
All this makes the course super-challenging. It’s even given birth to a new term in golf: the ‘Carnoustie effect’. When expectations meet the cold reality of the North Sea wind and the pot bunkers it can be upsetting. In 1990 it reduced professional Sergio Garcia to tears. The course was playing especially tough that day though.
Carnoustie had an outstanding claim to be one of the birthplaces of golf. People have been hitting balls out here for hundreds of years. Join history and take up the challenge.
Ko’olau Golf Club, Oahu, Hawaii, United States
This course is so tough it led to a rethink of the rating rules of golf. When it was launched, its rating was so high that it busted the upper limit of difficulty allowed by the USGA. They had to have a rethink and sent a special team out to look at the course again. The result was . . . an even tougher rating. It was given a slope difficulty of a brain-busting one hundred and seventy-two.
The course has since been altered, but it is still very challenging. Deep ravines, more than eight bunkers and dense vegetation for your ball to get lost in. Never mind, any golfer can console himself with the beautiful Hawaiian scenery all around you.
Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisconsin, United States
It’s that man Pete Dye again. This course was built on an abandoned artillery range, and the spirit of combat lives on in the mind-boggling design of the course. It has nearly one thousand bunkers. Nine hundred and sixty-seven to be precise. No, that is not a misprint, that is real. Work it out for yourself.
Every hole you play is going to present you with about fifty-four bunkers to avoid, get around and otherwise cope with. Some of the bunkers are small, very small. Even professionals have missed them, grounded their club and lost a shot. Dustin Johnson must still have nightmares about doing just this and losing his one-shot lead in the 2010 PGA championship.
The course sits waiting to catch the next hapless golfer on the shores of Lake Michigan. Jokes help to control the panic even professional golfers feel when they see this course. The belief is that the course had ten difficult holes and eight impossible ones. Professional Lee Westwood joked he is still trying to find those difficult ones, but the impossible ones keep getting in the way. We can safely say that this one is a challenge.
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club, Lijiang, Yunnan, China
We are in China for this next course. China is still relatively new to the world of international golf, but they have set us all a challenge here. This course is in Yunnan province and is a vertiginous ten thousand feet above sea level. If you miss the hole, and console yourself by looking up. You will see mountain scenery like no other in the world. The height of this course is one reason it is so difficult. The air is very thin up here, and the ball flies through the air.
That’s great you may think, especially as this course is super-long at eight thousand five hundred and forty-eight yards so we all need all the help we can get. (It is actually the longest golf course in the world). But, of course, the thin air makes it hard to control the ball. Your golf ball will veer off to the left and the right. But keep your temper when you lose your ball. You are going to need to conserve your oxygen. At this height, just breathing can be a challenge.
This course has an unusual and quite beautiful design which references Scottish courses in the early holes. The later holes have an exemplary mountain design which works with the Himalayan landscape. It has been described as a great work of art, and we are not going to disagree. Even if you are an excellent golfer, will find it very hard to break eighty on this course. But it will be the experience of a lifetime.
Le Touessrok Golf Course, Ile aux Cerfs, Mauritius
We like a challenge, and this course provides that before you even get there. It is on its own island, and you cannot drive there. Helicopter or speedboat is the only way to arrive, and luckily there is a shuttle boat service.
The beautiful island landscape provides many of the challenges of this course. It was designed by a professional golfer, Bernhard Langer. Many of the holes pass over mangrove swamps, and water hazards are a particular feature of this course. Every hole gives a view of the ocean. And nearly every hole has a water feature to challenge you. There are nine lakes on the course. Sea inlets feature on three of the holes, and you will need to hit your ball across them.
Other challenges are provided by the rocky volcanic landscape. It is the very long carries which make this such a challenging course. That, plus bunkers which can be more than two hundred yards long. If you are not up to the hardest challenge, you can choose from a variety of tees to play a shorter course. Either way, it will be an unforgettable golfing experience.
Championship Links, Royal County Down, Newcastle, Northern Ireland
This golf course regularly makes two golf lists. It features as both one of the most loved golf courses in the world as well as one of the toughest. Golfers love it because it is breathtakingly pretty. Its narrow fairways allow a perfect view of purple heather and golden gorse bushes. Enjoy the scenery, you may get plenty of time to take a good look if you get stuck in one of the courses notoriously tricky bunkers.
The very narrow fairways will test the accuracy of your long shots. And the holes are unpredictable with a fair number of blind spots. This is a course where you will benefit from a caddy, because buggies are banned from the course.
The course has a reputation of being very difficult to read. If you are playing it for the first time, it can be well worth investing in a caddy to help show you the tricks and secrets of the course. Don’t expect much forgiveness, however rich and luxuriant those greens look. Any mishit will land you in the rough. Still, more time to look at that lovely heather.
Like so many golf courses in this part of the world, you will have to deal with the wind. At first sight, you may think the gigantic sand dunes which separate each hole are going to give some protection. Wishful thinking I’m afraid. The wind whips off the bay and down from the Mountain of Mourne. You can be in calm conditions when you set up your shot and in a howling wind by the time you take it. Challenging I would say.
Bethpage Black, New York, United States
The Black course is the one we need to talk about here. There are five courses at Bethpage, each is called after a different color, and the darkest is the hardest. It is so tough it even has its own sign. It reads: “The Black Course is a tough course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers.”
This course is so severe that when it hosted the US Open in 2002 only one player, Tiger Woods went around under par. So at least if you get stuck in the rough, you will know you are in outstanding company indeed.
So, what are the challenges which lie in wait? The course has massive bunkers and narrow fairways. Its rough is legendary for its tough undergrowth and players dread getting stuck in it. You have to concentrate as you have to play on a narrow fairway and keep out of that rough at all costs.
Not only that, but you will also need to be fit. The course is long and it does not allow golf carts.
Cape Kidnappers, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
You may have said from time to time: “I had my heart in my mouth for that shot.” We can tell you, ‘you didn’t really mean it’. Go to this course, and you will really know what that feels like to have your heart in your mouth.
This course is genuinely scary. It sits by the sea on the top of fierce high cliffs. Its rocky and steep and then you look into the distance and see the plunge down into a valley.
It has become justifiably famous since it was built in 2004. Designed by the respected Tom Doak, its fairways give unparalleled views of the sea.
At more than one hundred and fifty yards above the ocean, you will have much to distract you. Not least of which is the wind whipping up from the waves. Besides, right on the top of the cliff, you will come across really deep bunkers.
Narrow fairways seem to balance between the cliffs and the sea, and it will take all your concentration to get the ball to fly straight. Any lost balls go straight into the sea.
Palm Course, Saujana Golf Club, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The beautiful looking Palm Course at Saujana holds many surprises. Sitting in a lush tropical landscape, it looks benign but is surprisingly difficult.
It is shorter than many of the toughest courses, but do not let that lull you into a false sense of security. If you are to get around this course, you are going to have to hit your ball from the tee over a ravine.
The rough is jungle vegetation and super tough to get out of. There is another surprise should you find yourself searching for your ball. The course is home to many monkeys, who can surprise you when you least expect it.
Once you’ve met the monkeys and grappled with the jungle, you should find yourself on the green. And that is where the golfing fun really starts. Super-fast and undulating, the greens on the palm course are challenging. If your short game is good, this is where you can be truly tested.
The course delights in the nickname “The Cobra”. Some golfers say this is because its slopes and twists are as dangerous as the snake and as unpredictable. A more prosaic story says that in its previous life, as a palm oil plantation, it hosted the deadly Cobra snakes to keep vermin from eating the crops. You can take your choice, but we like the first explanation.
Hardeest degree courses: If we could choose one
I’m going to duck out here, I’m afraid. All these courses are fantastic. Playing them can be an experience of a lifetime. It’s your choice.
The challenge of the cold, windy Scottish links, or coping with jungle vegetation in East Asia. And back in the United States, we have some of the best golf designs in the world. We hope; eventually, you can make them all. That’s our aim.