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The best hole I ever played: A par-3 that tests more than just your mettle

February 29, 2020
The par-3 2nd hole at Somerset Hills CC

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 GOLF Magazine rater Steve Lapper.

The best hole I’ve played? The 205-yard, par-3 2nd at Somerset Hills Country Club in Bernardsville, N.J.

Picking a par-3 for a favorite hole is problematic. One-shotters don’t typically test your patience or power; they test your skill, nerves and mettle. It’s rare they test all at once, while guaranteeing a grin or a grimace.

The term ‘Redan’ comes from a French-derived word for “fortress defense.” The original Redan hole debuted as the 15th at North Berwick West Links, in Scotland.  Its signature feature is a green that tilts downwards and away from the point of entrance, always from the front-right portion of a green canting to the left. Reverse Redans slant from left to right. Tillinghast’s bold interpretation was brought to Somerset Hills in 1918.

Tillinghast chose to flout one common rule of a Redan, with a green that is slightly deeper than wide, and steeper than most. The result, a masterpiece, may well have eclipsed the original. It’s that good!

From the elevated tee, a sliver of green rises on the right before visually slipping behind a hill and a few sandy pits beneath the green’s entrance on the left, and one strategic one just short right. The bulk of the dance floor is delightfully hidden from view. It is an elbow of heaving land, defended by both yaws and jaws. For a right-handed golfer, the called-for shot is nearly always a soft fade, the best shape to avoid rejection from the green’s harrowing slopes in the middle and back, or from the wicked false front running 15 yards down to a few more deep bunkers.

If you miss the green anywhere but long, you are staring at a daunting chip or sand shot. Even for low-handicappers, double-bogeys or worse are commonplace. Errors short or right are murderous, and mistakes to the left aren’t much better. While misses cause most to just cringe and chop away, the real fun is in trying any combination of creative trick shots to recover. Second shots on this Redan are either exasperating or hilarious, and often both.

Bottom (back), pins allow for a billiards-table-style carom, or a lucky break on occasion, yet top (front) pins often produce a N.J.-style fuggedaboutit.  Only a deft fade can do the trick.

The green has so many wee zigs and zags that it’s rare to have a straight putt from outside of two feet. As another panelist put it so aptly, the hole is the “most fun I’ve ever had making triple bogey.”

Rarely, if ever, is a shot directly at the pin a wise choice. The ground and the lay of the green against it are what make it so special, so demanding, so bold, yet so frequently surprising and such pure, raw fun. For me, it represents what the game does best: pitting human against the land in a game of strategy and skill, played with a big stick and a little ball.

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