Why the 18th at the Old Course is a thrilling test for both amateurs and pros

A view of the 18th green at the Old Course at St. Andrews during the 2015 British Open.

A view of the 18th green at the Old Course at St. Andrews during the 2015 Open Championship.

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Our knowledgeable crew of course raters have stuck pegs in the ground just about everywhere. But which holes stand out as the greatest they’ve ever played? We asked them, and they replied with love letters about their faves. This offering comes from Jeff Lewis.

Great golf design is egalitarian. And I’m hard-pressed to think of a finer example than the home hole at the Home of Golf, the Old Course at St. Andrews.

How so? Every golfer in the world has the capacity to par or birdie this 361-yard par-4. It makes no unreasonable request. I could top two balls and still end up five feet from the pin. It’s a hybrid and a wedge for some, and a drivable green for others.

Yet risk/reward is in abundance. Driving the green is eminently doable, but the general tendency to bail out left will leave one short of the Valley of Sin, contending with that famously testy piece of real estate. On the other hand, taking dead aim brings out-of-bounds into play.

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Even for the world’s best players, the hole has yielded wildly divergent results, from Doug Sanders’ heartache bogey in the 1970 British Open to Seve Ballesteros’ clinching birdie in the same event in 1984. In 1995, Constantino Rocca experienced both extremes in one swoop here, flubbing his chip shot approach before bouncing back with an improbable birdie bomb to force a playoff with John Daly.

Which brings up another important point: where the hole actually is matters a lot. It’s the last hole on the most famous course in the world. A hole that also has the Swilcan Bridge! Every few years, the champion golfer of the year must navigate this hole right after dealing with the diabolical 17th. It might feel like a breather, but making a par can be dreadful. This is truly a par-3-and-a-half.

And for the average golfer, what a feeling to finish playing this bucket-list course with a gallery! Golf magic.

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