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8 Toughest Courses We See Every Year on the PGA Tour

| September 8, 2020 12:35 pm PDT
The 8 Toughest Courses We See Every Year on the PGA Tour

One of the great things about the PGA Tour schedule is the number of courses entrenched in the annual rotation. For example, Colonial Country Club has been utilized to host an event in Fort Worth every year since 1946 without missing a beat.

The first tournament in January is always the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua Resort in Maui, and it’s always followed by the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club. As you can imagine, some of these tracks that are used again and again are a lot tougher than others. 

We’ll set the majors aside for argument’s sake — those are a different kind of beast.

In terms of the venues that host “regular” events year in and year out, what are the hardest golf courses on the PGA Tour?

Let’s take a peek.

Torrey Pines (South Course) – Farmers Insurance Open

I don’t have to wonder how hard this track is just by watching players struggle on television at the Farmers Insurance Open. I’ve played the South Course at Torrey Pines on a cold morning in November from the back tees, trying to qualify for what was then called the Buick Invitational. Needless to say, the course chewed me up and spit me back out like I was just some weekend hack.

Seriously, playing Torrey on a bluebird day is hard enough. Playing it on a chilly morning with the marine layer drenching the fairways makes it one of the hardest courses you’ll ever encounter.

Some tracks allow players to get away with sporadic ball-striking, whereas the South Course exaggerates even the slightest of mis-hits. Playing from the rough makes it impossible to attack, and the Poa annua on the putting surfaces make the greens some of the hardest to hole out on tour.

Even with the entire field getting 18 holes on the much more benign North Course, we’ve only seen one player get to 20-under-par since 2000 (Justin Rose, 2019).

Quail Hollow Club – Wells Fargo Championship

Don’t ask me how Rory McIlroy fired a course-record 61 here in 2015, bettering his 62 shot in the final round of his maiden victory in 2011. I have nothing substantial to offer.

Measuring a whopping 7,600 yards from the tournament tees, Quail Hollow Club is the longest par-71 on the PGA Tour and tests players at every turn.

It kicks off with a 524-yard dogleg right par 4 that’s lined with deep bunkers all the way up the left-hand side, and things don’t let up from there. Two more 460+ yard par 4s smack them right in the face on holes 2 and 3, and wait, there’s more.

#9 and #16 are par 4s that are each over 500 yards, and the 494-yard 18th might be the hardest par 4 players face all season long.

Quail Hollow has been the permanent home of the Wells Fargo Championship every year since 2003, save for 2017 when the course was getting prepped for the PGA Championship later that summer. Also worth noting, the Kemper Open was played here from 1969-1979, as was the PaineWebber Invitational from 1983-1989.

PGA National (Champion Course) – The Honda Classic

Since the Honda Classic was moved to PGA National Golf Club in 2007, there are certain players who simply skip this event. They know the Champion Course is excruciatingly difficult, and they know the conditions are going to be windy throughout.

Heck, we’ve seen superstars who live just minutes from this Jack Nicklaus creation in Palm Beach Gardens opt to sit this one out in lieu of destroying their self-esteem. Perhaps the “Bear Trap” is what scares them the most.

Holes 15-17 at the Champion Course earned that clever moniker due to the calamity that’s bound to ensue. Disaster waits thanks to water hazards lurking right on each of the three holes, and it’s inevitable we see lots of big numbers racked up. 

The Golden Bear said it best when he stated, “It’s not about length, it’s about precision. It’s about guts. It’s all about what do you have in your chest that you can finish those holes.”

From 2007-2020, Rickie Fowler’s 12-under-par total in 2017 is the only instance of a player completing 72 holes double-digits under par.

TPC San Antonio (Oaks Course) – Valero Texas Open

Let me preface this segment by telling you that Greg Norman and Sergio Garcia co-designed the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio. Norman is arguably the greatest driver of the golf ball we’ve ever seen, and Garcia is right up there as well.

This should hint at how difficult finding fairways is at the home of the Valero Texas Open (since 2010). A quick peek at the course and slope ratings (76.7, 146), and you quickly realize this place is ruthless. In fact, the reason we’ve seen lower scores as of late at the Oaks Course is due to all of the complaining that The Shark and El Nino made the place too tough.

Tournament director Larson Segerdahl took notice in 2019 and went about making changes.

“Over the last six years I’ve been here, we’ve been able to do a complete 180 on the comments about the golf course. It was viewed as an unfair golf course, almost too tough. We haven’t received comments like that in three or four years. Players have come to appreciate the golf course.”

Even with the modifications, the Oaks Course ranks among the toughest of all of the tracks operated by the PGA Tour TPC Network.

East Lake Golf Club – The TOUR Championship

Earning a tee time at the TOUR Championship means you have advanced through the FedEx Cup Playoffs and are among the top 30 in points. In other words, only the best of the best get a crack at East Lake Golf Club under tournament conditions, and yet we still see a lot more bogies than birdies made.

Originally designed by Donald Ross and reconstructed by Rees Jones (1995), this par-70 features four par 3s that each measure at least 197 yards. #9 (the old #18) is the toughest of the bunch at 235. Guarded by sand traps right and left of the green, there’s nowhere to bail out.

If we remove Tiger Wood’s absurd performance in 2007 when he shot 23-under-par and look at the rest of the results, you’ll see that -11 or -12 is usually deep enough to get the job done.

The home of Bobby Jones has been the site of the culminating event on the PGA Tour each and every year since 2004.

Riviera Country Club – Genesis Open

Players better take advantage of the par-5 first at Riviera — a hole that consistently ranks among the easiest holes on the PGA Tour. Once they arrive on the 2nd tee box, it’s time to put on their thinking caps and start plotting.

Over 7,300 yards at sea level in February is no bargain, especially considering there are only three par 5s and a drivable par 4. Holes 12 and 13 play back into the prevailing wind and are two of the toughest back-to-back par 4s a player will face. The finishing hole is an absolute brute — a skinny uphill par 4 that bends to the right and is protected by large vegetation and gnarly rough. Missing the 18th green long when the pin is in the back is almost a surefire bogey.

Over the years, “Riv” has served as the home base of the Genesis Invitational, but that barely scratches the surface of how highly regarded the country club in Pacific Palisades is. It has also hosted a U.S. Open (1948), two PGA Championships (1983, 1985), a U.S. Senior Open (1998), a Men’s NCAA Golf Championship (2012), and a U.S. Amateur (2017).

Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead Course) – Valspar Championship

A discussion regarding what are the hardest golf courses on the PGA Tour can’t be had without referencing the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort. From 2014-2020, every edition of the Valspar Championship shot was decided either in a playoff or by one shot, and the average winning score was a shade better than -9.

Gales upwards of 20-30 mph generally factor in, and the final three holes might just be the toughest finish in all of golf.

Let’s tackle the “Snake Pit” now.

Nicknamed the “Rattler,” #17 is a devilish par 3 that appears to have more sand than green in the landing area. #18 requires a drilled tee shot that stays straight and avoids a series of hellish bunkers. Approach shots from the left side of the fairway will have to be hooked to avoid a large overhanging tree that shields the front left.

Nevertheless, the 16th hole at the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort is in the conversation of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour.

Tee shots that miss right are in the drink. Ones that miss left are blocked out by the trees. The ideal drive is one that peels slightly from left to right along the contour of the fairway to set up a reasonable second shot. Given the severely right-to-left sloped green, those who miss right are unlikely to salvage their par.  

TPC Sawgrass (Stadium Course) – The PLAYERS Championship

Pete Dye didn’t design golf courses for the faint of heart, and none of his creations are as diabolical as his gem in Ponte Vedra Beach. Once the PGA Tour relocated THE PLAYERS to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, it’s not just a coincidence they haven’t looked back.

It’s because this place is spectacular in every sense of the word, and it’s an incredibly difficult test.

The famous “Island Green” 17th might only be 135 yards, but that doesn’t stop it from creating more tension and pressure than most players can handle. Players stress out over trying to pull a club, and you can see the relief on their faces when they see their ball land safely on dry land.

Unfortunately for the competitors, #17 is a breeze compared to what lies ahead at #18.

There are lots of quotes from seasoned veterans that help portray how arduous the finishing hole is, but Brad Faxon’s words are the closest thing to giving it the justice it deserves.

“No doubt about it. The hardest-driving golf hole I’ve ever played. I mean, we deal with water all the time, but at 18, it’s right on top of you. And there’s so much of it. You actually see more water than fairway, you’re at sea level with it, and it makes you uncomfortable.”

Good luck trying to strike that tee shot with THE PLAYERS Championship on the line.

Michael Wynn
Michael Wynn

As a former Division I collegiate golfer, Michael Wynn loves writing about golf. He's also an expert in most of America's most popular sports, writing extensively for GamblingSites.com on football, basketball, and baseball.

Michael's a Las Vegas native and has been with the company since 2017.

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