The best hole I ever played: Inside a penal, strategic and heroic 18th

The par-4 18th hole at Pine Valley.

Courtesy of Pine Valley GC

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.

Founded in 1913 by a group of amateur golfers from Philadelphia, Pine Valley Golf Club sits in the pine barrens of Southern New Jersey. It was designed by George Crump, with input from other notable players and architects of the day. Crump sold a Philly hotel and put his life and fortune into building Pine Valley, his one and only course.

But his investment of time and money paid off. As you come off the 17th green — either wishing you had played better and/or praying to finish a good round — you climb a small rise to the middle 18th tee. (Pine Valley has three tee options: Back, Regular and Senior.) Like many of the holes at Pine Valley, the 18th was designed on a grand scale. The elevated tee shot is a forced carry over rugged pine barrens. The ample fairway below slopes gradually to the right. That, along with the prevailing wind, will magnify a fade and can make it play much narrower than it appears.

A strategically played drive favors the left half of the fairway, avoiding the deep penal bunkers along the right side, and setting up a heroic second shot to a massive green that is tilted from back to front and left to right, with ragged-faced bunkers in front and deep bunkers on the sides. You could make the argument that any hole at Pine Valley could be its signature hole. But to me, the 18th is the best of the best, sitting at the end of a challenging and memorable round on a course that incorporates the three main guiding principles of great golf-course architecture: it is penal, strategic and heroic. This demanding par-4 is all you could ever want in a finishing hole. Regardless of the outcome, one cannot wait to play it — and the entire course — again. And again.

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