The 5 weirdest design features in golf and what makes them so strange
Welcome to A Beginner’s Guide to Golf Course Design, where we’ll dig into the history, design and meaning of golf course architecture terms you’ve probably heard before but might not fully understand. We’ll explain all of the above in an accessible Q&A format, and better yet, teach you how to identify these features and plan your attack for the next time you see one, saving you strokes along the way. In this installment, we’re breaking down the weirdest elements in golf architecture.
So, a lot of the golf courses we play, well, they look the same. In this series we have discussed a lot of different types of holes and courses, but almost all have the same basic elements. They all have relatively similar bunkers, some water features, maybe some interesting rough.
But golf is weird. It’s full of interesting characters and extends to parts of the globe you would never expect. And some of that quirkiness seeps into the golf courses themselves. So, this week, we’re spotlighting five holes with some of the weirdest features you can find on a golf course. Enjoy.
The first two holes are not outrageous, but maybe the two weirdest holes on the PGA Tour. The first sits in the middle of one of the most prestigious courses in the world, Riviera Country Club.
Bunker in the middle of the green on Riviera’s 6th hole
At arguably the best course on the PGA Tour, we find one of oddest holes. The 199-yard par-3 6th hole would already be a tough challenge with bunkers front left and back. But architect George Thomas didn’t stop there — he also put a pot bunker right in the middle of the green. This bunker splits the green into four sections, which is great because it offers so many options. It’s also lots of fun when players end up on the wrong side of it from the flag. Chipping off the green is a fun and exciting option, but the contours of this green also allow you to putt around the bunker to get fairly close to the hole.
Anywhere else, this hole might get written off as a gimmick. But at Riviera with a master creator like Thomas, we have no choice but to enjoy the drama and give him the benefit of the doubt.
The cave bunker at Mayakoba
The second unusual feature is at a course that doesn’t have quite as much prestige as Riviera, but the element is much more unusual. This opening hole features a cave, yes, a real cave. El Camaleon is the site of the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Golf Classic, and the hole that features the cave is the 7th during competition, but if you visit it will play as the 1st. You can read in more detail about the hole from two brave souls who climbed into the cave here. Oh, and the cave is actually a cenote, and basically, all you need to know is it should be avoided, and you especially don’t want your golf ball to go anywhere near it.
The mine-shaft bunker at Scottsdale National
Our next hole takes us away from the PGA Tour, but not too much closer to the surface. Bob Parsons’ (of PXG fame) Scottsdale National includes one of the nastiest bunkers you’ll find anywhere. The Mine Shaft course includes one bunker that is 13 feet deep on the 15th hole. At the bottom is a tiny little pot bunker of sand, with wood panels all around, some of which can help you get all the way down there to attempt one of the hardest shots of your life. Nicknamed the mine shaft bunker because it really does look like your climbing in, and out, of an old underground tunnel, this is about the last spot you want to end up in all of Arizona.
Fossil Trace’s rock pillars
Fossil Trace Golf Club in Golden, Colo., is set in a beautiful landscape. And while there are many lovely looking holes, the 585-yard par-5 12th clearly takes the cake. Architect Jim Engh was faced with a problem, large sandstone pillars sat around the site. But as the website describes, his solution was much better than having them removed. “Some thought Jim Engh to be crazy to attempt it, but you will see it was well worth the effort. The sandstone pillars in the fairway were slated to come down, but Jim Engh said, ‘Leave them where they lie.'” And so, there they are, right in the middle of the fairway, three massive sandstone formations. The pillars will come into play on your second shot, forcing you to be precise and not be blocked out for your approach into the green. But I’m sure you’re going to want to go take a peek, even if you successfully keep your ball far away. If you look close enough at some of the sandstone walls around the course, you might find fossils from dinosaur footprints. You don’t get to see that during too many rounds of golf. (Like Fossil Trace, the Monument course at Troon North in Scottsdale, Ariz., also has, you guessed it, a massive boulder in the middle of one of its fairways.)
The time-zone shift at Tornio Golf / Meri-Lapin Golf Club
Tornio Golf / Meri-Lapin Golf Club is so large it spans two countries. Well, it’s not really that big, it just sits right on the border of Sweden and Finland. Eleven of the holes are in Sweden while the rest are across the border in Finland. Where else can you play one round in two countries? But it gets better. That border is also a time zone shift. The highlight of the round comes on the par-3 6th hole, where the actual border sits. According to their website, tee shots on this hole average about one hour and five seconds in the air. If you were to ace this hole, it would be the longest hole-in-one possible on Earth. Imagine telling your golf buddies about that one. There is no physical element on this course out of the ordinary, but the time zone is certainly an added bit of fun.