Our 18 favorite match play holes in the U.S.

We've crafted a Dream 18 from the most exciting holes in American public golf.
It takes real gutt to fire at the back-right pin position of the 12th hole at Whistling Straits in match play.

September, 2021 is the month of Match Play Season, thanks to epic events on both the men's and women's sides. The Solheim Cup delivered an upset as the Europeans stormed Inverness and walked out with a win. The Ryder Cup, postponed a year, comes less than a month later, and the Americans will attempt to wrestle back the cup for the first time since 2016 at Hazeltine.

We've relished the strategy and theater of match play golf and throughout the month we've been discussing our favorite match play holes. The end result, following hours of Slack messaging and looking up old archival notes and photos, we've lined up 18 favorite holes for match play from across the sphere of public and resort golf in the United States. Each one evokes a strong match play vibe thanks to a mix of strategy, drama and at times, heroics.

In whittling down this Dream 18 of American golf holes that we relish for their match play drama, we had some parameters:

  • Course must be public access
  • Only one hole from any architect
  • Only one course from any resort
  • We sought various design styles and geographic variance

We also curried favor to top-rated courses in popular U.S. destinations worth seeking out, and it certainly helped a hole's case if match play drama from the highest levels is part of its history. Our routing has five par 5s (one of which has traditionally been a par 4 until recently), five par 3s and eight par 4s. Getting to 18 holes was quite a puzzle and dozens of holes were left out. If you've had an epic duel on a particular hole, we'd love to hear all about it in the comments below!

Europeans, never fear, view our 18 favorite Match Play holes in Europe here.

Our 18 Favorite Match Play Holes in the U.S. you can play

No. 5: Ozarks National | Par 4

Decisions galore await on the 5th tee, but whichever path you choose must still be executed well.

Flexible teeing grounds, a diagonally running fairway between native areas and a sharply elevated green make the 5th hole at Ozarks National, designed by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, a match-play dream. Whichever line you choose off the tee, your yardage must be pretty spot on (play too far long and left and you may have tree trouble, too). From the blue tees it's about 250 yards to the front edge of the green and a collection area left of the green is a pretty good place to hit your approach shot. | Hole-by-Hole: Ozarks National

No. 8: Cholla Course at We-Ko-Pa | Par 5

The 8th hole at the Cholla course at We-Ko-Pa was redesigned to be more player-friendly.

Among all of the par 5s in the Valley of the Sun, perhaps the most dramatic is the 8th hole on the Cholla Course at We-Ko-Pa. This dogleg right from a spectacular elevated tee heads downhill and, thanks to a recent renovation, has more room before the green for layups and a slope on the right can aid a bounce close or onto the green. | We-Ko-Pa Stay-and-Play package

No. 18: Pasatiempo Golf Club | Par 3

A golfer tees off on no. 18 at the Pasatiempo Golf Club.

Alister Mackenzie's best public-access course in the U.S. and a recipient of our 2021 Golfers' Choice Top 50, Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz, Calif. ends with a dramatic, 173-yard par 3 over a canyon to a sloping and well-protected green (but for our match-play routing we've placed it early). As has been on display during the annual Western Intercollegiate, golfers would be advised to not go flag-hunting here and miss short side or long, as it makes the up-and-down virtually impossible.

No. 5: Pinehurst No. 2 | Par 5

A view from the tee of the 5th hole at Pinehurst No. 2 prior to the 2014 U.S. Open. It has since become a par 5.

The pars on Nos. 4 and 5 at Pinehurst No. 2 have been swapped. But in match play, that hardly matters since you're playing the opponent. The famous 5th hole, now a par 5, is one of Donald Ross' most famous designs, utilizing the natural slope on the left side to encourage golfers to play out to the right, challenging trees and O.B., for a better angle into a severe green that is only really accessible from the front-right side. Those whose drives steer left of center may be better off laying up front right of the green rather than heroically go for it over plenty of trouble. | Ultimate Itinerary: Play the public courses of the U.S. Open

No. 14: Mammoth Dunes | Par 4

Most abilities should have enough length to drive the 14th hole, making it an exciting match play hole where par is likely not be good enough.

Making a case as one of the great must-play modern, short par 4s in U.S. resort golf is the 14th hole at Sand Valley's Mammoth Dunes. Just 325 yards from the tips, it features an elevated tee shot and a big fairway. Just about any level of player can take a crack at the green, but one small bunker lies in wait to swallow balls. The green and surrounds is bowled allowing for all sorts of feeding opportunities, whether you have a driver or putter in hand. While David McLay Kidd designed the course, the details of the 14th hole actually came courtesy of a golf course design content winner.

No. 3: True Blue | Par 3

The third hole at True Blue Plantation plays over water and a flash-faced bunker to a narrow green.

The buddies-trip mecca of the eastern seaboard may host more Ryder Cup-inspired matches than any place on earth. One of the Grand Strand's most memorable par 3s is found at True Blue. It is a nervy test with an awkwardly diagonal green that juts out into water with a sharp bunker front-right that bleeds into water. No matter which tee location you play from, you'll need to get your line and yardage just right. Miss short and you may also have to hit a ball half-submerged in water.

No. 13: Pacific Dunes | Par 4

A long, 444-yard par 4 into prevailing wind that hugs the coastline makes the 13th hole at Pacific Dunes one of the country's epic risk-reward holes for ball strikers.

Stiff breezes, wide fairways and huge, tumbling greens make Pacific Dunes a match-play dream 18. Among the standouts of this Tom Doak design at Bandon Dunes is the 13th, a long par 4 heading north along the coast plays into the prevailing wind. The fairway is huge, but if you bail out to the right, your approach shot becomes semi-blind with a lot of sand around the green. The bolder line that plays closer to the left edge affords a better angle, not to mention the chance to soak in some of those cleansing Pacific breezes as your match intensifies.

No. 16: TPC Harding Park | Par 4

No. 16 is the shortest par 4 at TPC Harding Park, tempting players to go for it.

Harding Park in San Francisco has been around for nearly 100 years but the most recent tournament at this former President's Cup host demonstrated the risk-reward principals of the 16th in epic fashion. Collin Morikawa hit the shot of 2020 - a drive that landed 7 feet from the hole. Meanwhile, Dustin Johnson, still contending, pulled it left into the penalty area along the lake. | Read more about the 16th hole at TPC Harding Park

No. 15: Pronghorn Nicklaus | Par 5

Pronghorn's dramatic 15th is framed by mountains and heads gently uphill.

A back nine with back-to-back short par 4s and par 5s make the Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn in Bend, Oregon, one of the Golden Bear's more clever routings for matches. The 15th hole is a standout with a narrow, doglegging fairway that heads gently uphill to the green. It's the course's shortest par 5 at just 543 yards from the tips. The layup zone is wide and inviting - the green and surrounds not so much. | Watch Round Trip: Central Oregon

No. 9: Streamsong Black | Par 4

The par-4 ninth at Streamsong Black has a punch bowl green.

We need at least one blind approach shot on a match play golf course and the 9th hole at the Gil Hanse-designed Streamsong Black is one of the most prominent Punchbowl template examples you can play in U.S. destination golf. The 408-yard hole features a windmill behind the green that can be used as a guide depending on the pin position, which is shown on the tee box. | Ultimate Itinerary: Streamsong

No. 15: Erin Hills | Par 4

The par-4 15th hole at Erin Hills plays 370 yards and creates a lot of decisions to be made off the tee.

2011 U.S. Amateur host Erin Hills' 15th hole earned instant lore when the No. 1 amateur Patrick Cantlay took 8-iron off the tee of this short par 4 and found the bunker, leading to a bogey, loss of hole and loss of the lead in the finals match he would never gain back. The setup committee that day had put the tees at a mere 260 yards. No matter where you tee off from, the elevated green guarded intensely by slopes and bunkers will demand a gut check.

No. 12: Whistling Straits | Par 3

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Ryder Cup Preview: No. 12 at Whistling Straits

Host of the 2021 Ryder Cup matches and a three-time PGA Championship venue, the Straits Course at Whistling Straits makes a convincing case for architect Pete Dye's best collection of par 3s, and the 12th hole, despite being the shortest, is the most sinister if the green is tucked into the back-right section that is just 10 yards wide and dangles over Lake Michigan. Between the wind off the lake and the teeing area that, shared with the 16th hole, is 120 yards long, there are a lot of variables to consider on the fly and timid swings will be punished severely. | View Whistling Straits Hole-by-Hole

No. 14: Princeville Makai Golf Club | Par 4

Makai Golf Club's short risk-reward par-4 14th, which crosses water, is heavily bunkered.

Match play drama gets no better than a short par 4 that hugs cliffs along the ocean. The Princeville Makai Golf Club's back nine stretch along the cliffs culminates with the risk-reward 14th, which was significantly enhanced by Robert Trent Jones II during a recent renovation. Playing short and left off the tee is the safe play, but how often are you in Hawaii? Challenge the cliffs on the right and you could chase a ball onto the green in the right wind.

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No. 18: Bay Hill Club and Lodge | Par 4

A course scenic view of the 18th green during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard at Bay Hill Club and Lodge.

Site of some of the more dramatic stroke-play victories on the PGA Tour schedule, Bay Hill's 18th hole is a long and dramatic finisher featuring a shallow green heavily protected by water in front and bunkers behind. And yet, Palmer's legendary driver-off-the-deck approach shot from the 2014 Bay Hill Invitational - his last full swing at his tournament - also showcases the hole's design makes success possible for short, crafty hitters as well.

No. 18: Pebble Beach Golf Links | Par 5

Aerial View of the 18th hole at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California.

In our dream match play routing, we don't finish with Pebble Beach's 18th hole - we just couldn't stomach a match that didn't make it to the final hole. Victor Hovland won the 2018 US Amateur at Pebble 6&5 so they only played the 18th once in the final match. The tee shot is a tantalizing one that suggests playing as clost to Stillwater Cove as you can for a shot at reaching the green in two shots. Two pesky trees, bunkers and O.B. steer players to the rocky shoreline. Few holes in golf has as many onlookers milling about as Pebble's 18th. You'll feel the nerves. | Course Review: Pebble Beach Golf Links

No. 17: Bethpage Black | Par 3

The 17th hole at Bethpage Black in New York personifies the hit-it-or-else vibe of this demanding round of golf.

A strong match play course's par 3s should present a wide variety of questions. While small, crafty par 3s are great, you need at least one brute. The 2025 Ryder Cup host Bethpage Black has plenty of holes that fit this description. The par-3 17th hole, playing up to 207 yards, leaves nowhere to hide. It's surrounded by bunkers and the green is elevated. There is no "getting lucky" on this one to win a match. This is a chance for the better players to show their skill. | Bethpage Black tee time tips

No. 17: Forest Dunes | Par 4

View from behind the short, par-4 17th hole at Forest Dunes.

Tom Weiskopf led the charge in making drivable par 4s popular again as he built a strong resort portfolio full of them across North America in the 1990s. Among his best examples is the 17th hole at Forest Dunes, named "Wild Dunes." It is part of a match play-friendly closing stretch that even includes a par-3 19th hole to settle bets. On the 17th, a large fairway short and right is a safe play but leaves a delicate flop shot to the green. If you have a confident sand game, might as well bang driver at the green and hope the ball lands and scoots up the narrow entry onto the green. | Top 15 Northern Michigan Courses

No. 18: Edgewood Tahoe | Par 5

Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course's par-5 18th hole plays along the lake and is guarded by a pond on the left.

The 18th hole at Edgewood Tahoe in Stateline, Nev., is a tantalizing par-5 finishing hole. The high altitude and relatively short length makes it a hole that is very easy to birdie (or even eagle), but it's nevertheless a narrow tee shot through a chute of pine trees. The green is angled and protected by water short and sand long. Wind can whip off Tahoe's south shore making even a three-footer for the win that much more nerve-wracking. Succeed, however, and it doesn't get much better than shaking hands on this lakefront green as the victor, followed by dinner and drinks in Brooks Bar (with the loser buying, of course).

8 Min Read
September 23, 2021
We picked risk-reward holes from 7 different European countries that have represented the Ryder Cup to create the ultimate match play golf course.

Jason Deegan and Tim Gavrich contributed to this feature.

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
1 Comments
Commented on

These are all excellent examples of ideal match-play holes. The 12th at Whistling Straits struck my imagination this past weekend as a match-play paragon, as it seemed that every mini-contest waged at that hole was of interest. I’d still love to see more match play events, in general, on the PGA tour. It may seem far-fetched, but perhaps some day leagues could be formed, much like in other major sports, to subdivide the players into teams. Perhaps 25% of tour play could be team-based.

There was nary a dull moment during the play this weekend, until it seemed inevitable that the U.S. would close it out. And the Ryder Cup remains the premier event in golfdom.

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Our 18 favorite match play holes in the U.S.