DALY CITY, Calif. - One golf shot can live forever.
All it takes is a plaque. Lydia Ko's three-wood from 231 yards over the trees on No. 18 cemented her legacy at the Lake Merced Golf Club near San Francisco. The shot on the first hole of a playoff at the 2018 Mediheal Championship not only won her the tournament, it won her the hearts of the membership. Lake Merced honored her by installing a plaque in the fairway in a ceremony April 30 prior to the 2019 tournament.
Ko was in a giddy mood during and after the unveiling, joking she could have her ashes buried under the plaque.
"This is really the best shot I've hit under pressure," she said. " ... I thought I was special to have a locker here. Now I have a plaque."
Seeing a club as prestigious as Lake Merced celebrate a historic shot by installing a plaque on the course doesn't happen all that often. It's only for the greats of the game or those lucky enough to pull off the shot of a lifetime at a critical moment.
What's interesting about the whole practice is plaques on a course can be a nuisance. In the field of play, it can become a magnet for hackers who want to prove that they too can hit a heroic shot. So many people tried to replicate Jamie Donaldson's approach shot that clinched the 2014 Ryder Cup for Europe on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles in Scotland that the golf staff moved his commemorative plaque off of the 15th fairway back to the tee.
A plaque in the fairway honoring Craig Parry's eagle hole-out on the 18th hole of the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral Miami to win the 2004 Ford Championship at Doral was removed during the Gil Hanse redesign in 2014 after President Donald Trump bought the resort. One Golf Club Atlas reader recalls how a John Daly plaque for winning the 1994 BellSouth Classic wasn't well received at the Atlanta Country Club. "I think it lasted a week before it was either stolen or tossed into the 18th lake. No one ever had enough enthusiasm to replace it." he wrote in a post.
Despite the potential for issues, I'm actually a fan of the plaque being installed where the shot occurred. It gives future players a real sense of how special the shot was. This plaque at The Grove in England actually encourages golfers to drop a ball and swing away!
In this story, I'm highlighting 27 golf courses with plaques that honor some of the best shots in the history of the game, many hit in major tournaments. It's probably the most complete list of "best shot" plaques ever compiled (the Woods and Ko plaques included). Remembering these plaques and reliving the shots by video will take us on a nice stroll down memory lane. It's cool to watch how the shots played out on television and their context. Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan probably boast more plaques than anybody, but sadly none of their greatest 'plaque' shots were captured on video, at least that could be shared.
If you want to see the actual plaques, many of them are compiled in the photo gallery below. As a bonus feature, I added two of my favorite plaques found on a golf course that have nothing to do with golf shots. Scroll through to the end to see why they're included.
To wrap things up, I also added two more categories - three plaques that prove amateurs like you and I can hit legendary shots, and, since golf is a cruel game, plaques that honor terrible shots, too. Not all pros go down in history for all the right reasons. Golf isn't that kind.
What other "best shot" plaques have you come across? Which plaques would you love to drop a ball at and play the shot? How many of these courses with plaques have you checked off your bucket list? Let us know in the comments below.
AMAZING SHOTS BY PROS
Torrey Pines South
Just prior to the return of the 2021 U.S. Open to Torrey Pines, Tiger Woods was honored with a plaque installed near the 18th green. It's only fitting since his putt to set up the Monday morning playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open will go down as one of the most clutch of all-time. Keep reading because it's not the only plaque on the hole.
The Belfry, Wishaw, England
The European Ryder Cup team went 2-1-1 at Ryder Cups played on the Brabazon Course at the Belfry in England. Not a great record until you consider how the 1989 tie retained the Ryder Cup for Europe. It felt like a Euro win after the historic 2 iron to two feet by Irishman Christy O'Connor Jr. sealed his Sunday singles match and the final score. Golfers who drop near the plaque that commemorates the moment can't really replicate the shot. Who carries a 2 iron anymore?
Philadelphia Country Club, Gladwyne, Pennsylvania
Byron Nelson's 1 iron landed in the cup for eagle on the fourth hole during the second playoff round at the 1939 U.S. Open. However, the plaque rests on what is now the 17th hole on the Spring Mill course at PCC. It could very well be the best shot ever hit in a U.S. Open. Nelson beat Craig Wood, 70 to 73, during the second playoff round after both carded 68s in the first playoff. The USGA found the historic scorecard in 2016 and put it on display at its museum in Far Hills, N.J.
Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Florida
Robert Gamez is always welcome at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. The Orlando resident might not have the game to win anymore, but he made his 30th tournament start in 2019. His 7 iron that went in the cup for eagle on the final hole to win in 1990 earned him a place in tournament lore. After his 2013 wedding ceremony, Gamez and his new bride took pictures at the marble plaque along the right side of the fairway, according to the Orlando Sentinal.
Trump Turnberry, Turnberry, Scotland
Trump Turnberry's Ailsa course has afforded Tom Watson two breathtaking highs and one heartbreaking low. Watson's famous 'Duel in the Sun" with Jack Nicklaus ended with a claret jug at The Open in 1977. Watson stiffed a seven iron from 178 yards to two feet on the final hole during the round, a shot that wasn't recognized for its greatness until a plaque was dedicated in 2012. Watson's battle with Stewart Cink didn't end so well six years after he won the 2003 Senior Open at Turnberry. Watson lost in a playoff at The Open in 2009 in what could have been a major championship victory for the ages.
Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, New Jersey
First came Jack, then Phil. Jack Nicklaus struck a pure 1 iron from the 18th fairway of the Lower course that set up birdie to secure the 1967 U.S. Open over Arnold Palmer. Fast forward a few decades, Phil Mickelson tapped the Nicklaus plaque twice for good luck before hitting a four-wood from 247 yards into ugly rough near the green during the 2005 PGA Championship. He got up and down for birdie to win.
Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Lytham St. Annes, England
A mashie smashed from a bad lie roughly 175 yards away from the 17th green spurred Bobby Jones to perhaps his greatest victory at The Open in 1926. The story is the stuff of legend. Returning from lunch off property, Jones had to buy a spectator ticket to get on the grounds at Royal Lytham & St. Annes for the final afternoon round, according to this detailed golfchannel.com piece, then went on to sneak past Al Watrous to become the first American amateur to win the claret jug. A metal plaque lies hidden in the tall grass if you can find it.
Westchester Country Club, Rye, New York
Bob Gilder might not be a name you recognize, unless you're a member at Westchester CC who sees his plaque on a regular basis. Gilder, who won six times on the PGA Tour, sank a double eagle with a three-wood from 251 yards out on the par-5 18th hole of the West course (the ninth hole for the members) in the third round of the 1982 Manufacturers Hanover Westchester Classic. It was named the No. 1 double eagle in Tour history in the above highlight video.
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, Gainesville, Virginia
The United States has dominated the International team in the Presidents Cup, but every once in a while a foreign-born star gets hot. While drubbing Hal Sutton during the final-day singles matches of the 2000 Presidents Cup at the RTJ Golf Club, Carlos France sank a double eagle on the par-5 12th hole from 211 yards, a shot good enough to get a plaque.
Royal Birkdale Golf Club, Southport, England
During the final round of The Open in 1961, Arnold Palmer yanked his drive on the 15th hole left into some tall grass at Royal Birkdale. True to his swashbuckling, risk-it-all style, Palmer slashed a six iron out of the hay up toward the green. Palmer won by one over Dai Davies. A bronze plaque marks the spot today.
Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, California
Three journalists - including yours truly - had a little fun on the par-3 17th hole at Pebble Beach during a 2018 media day for the 2019 U.S. Open. We were selected to replicate Tom Watson's famous chip-in during the final round that beat Jack Nicklaus at the 1982 U.S. Open. We dropped a ball adjacent to a plaque installed in 2017 when the green was reshaped back to its original size. I was proud of my delicate attempt from juicy rough that ended up about 5-6 feet from the hole. Twenty more chances wouldn't have gotten any closer.
Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pennsylvania
This plaque, located in the 18th fairway of Merion's East course, is perhaps the most famous of all. The 1 iron struck by Ben Hogan during the final round of the 1950 U.S. Open set up a playoff the following day and has come to symbolize what some believe is the greatest sports comeback of all time. How Hogan, still recovering from his near-death car accident, could flush a 1 iron under such pressure and physical fatigue is the stuff of legend. The famous picture of his shot, the ensuing Hollywood movie of his epic victory and how the magic club disappeared and was found again is chronicled in this indepth golfchannel.com feature.
Dundonald Links, Gailes, Scotland
Much like Ko, Spaniard Rafael Cabrera Bello unleashed a wicked wood on the first hole of a playoff to secure a big victory. His three-wood from 275 yards out settled eight feet from the hole on the par-5 18th hole, setting up birdie to win the 2017 Scottish Open. If I wanted to reach the green from the plaque in the fairway, I'd need a tee and a prayer. As a links, Dundonald isn't all that old, but now it has that signature shot as good as some nearby historic links.
Carnoustie Golf Links, Carnoustie, Scotland
The Ben Hogan plaque on the par-5 sixth hole of the Championship course at Carnoustie Golf Links doesn't honor one shot, but four of them during his victory at The Open in 1953 - four drives through a narrow opening up the left side between penal fairway bunkers and out of bounds. The hole was renamed 'Hogan's Alley' in 2003 during a long-drive competition between several tour pros using a driver and golf balls from Hogan's era.
Atlanta Athletic Club, Johns Creek, Georgia
Two notable plaques decorate the grounds on AAC's Highlands course. Although I remember the 2001 PGA Championship more for the layup and up-and-down par David Toms executed on the 18th hole, it is his ace in the third round on the par-3 15th hole that got the plaque. The 18th hole heroics best known at the club came from Jerry Pate, who launched a five iron from the rough over the water to clinch the 1976 U.S. Open. A bronze plaque marks the spot.
Inwood Country Club, Inwood, New York
A 21-year-old Bobby Jones won his first major at Inwood CC, knocking a two iron from 190 yards to eight feet on the 18th hole of a playoff to set up birdie and break a tie with Bobby Cruickshank. The shot bailed out Jones, who had double bogeyed the 18th the day before, while Cruickshank birdied, during the final round of the 1923 U.S. Open. A plaque celebrates what was called at the time as the shot "heard round the world".
Cherry Hills Country Club, Englewood, Colorado
Palmer drove the first green during the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills CC, jump-starting a rousing comeback for victory. Current Tour bombers like Rory McIlroy failed to execute the same tee shot with a similar old-school driver in the video above.
Inverness Club, Toledo, Ohio
The Hinkle tree at the Inverness Club was one of the most famous trees in golf before it was uprooted in a 2020 storm. A stone marker with a plaque was recently installed by the membership near the eighth tee, site of Lon Hinkle's famous tee shot during the first round that hijacked the 1979 U.S. Open. Hinkle hit through a narrow chute in the trees to the seventh fairway, giving him an angle to reach the par 5 in two. Overnight, the USGA and the club planted a Blue Hills spruce to plug the gap and stop players from taking the shortcut. Hinkle didn't win, by the way. Hale Irwin did.
Oak Hill Country Club, Rochester, New York
Oak Hill's daunting East course sports a pair of plaques of historical significance from major championships. During the second round of the 1989 U.S. Open, Doug Weaver, Mark Wiebe, Pate and Nick Price took advantage of soft conditions, knocking seven irons into the hole from 160 yards out on No. 6. And, of course, no one can forget Shaun Micheel's moment in the spotlight when his seven iron settled inches from the cup on the 72nd hole of the 2003 PGA Championship. It secured his only PGA Tour win.
Chambers Bay, University Place, Washington
Jordan Spieth's three wood tamed the wickedly firm 18th green at Chambers Bay on the 72nd hole of the 2015 U.S. Open, ending up less than 20 feet from the flag. He two-putted for birdie, something playing partner Dustin Johnson couldn't do. Johnson's painful three-putt handed Spieth his second straight major and eventually a plaque planted in the 18th fairway.
Australian Golf Club, Sydney, Australia
John Morse earned the winner's check at the 1990 Australian Open, but the homeland hero, Greg Norman, got the plaque. Norman's majestic three wood found the cup for an albatross on the par-5 sixth hole at the Australian Golf Club. I'm guessing there's a few more Norman plaques around Australia.
Oakland Hills Country Club, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
The redesign of the South Course by Gil Hanse from 2019-21 took out the trees that set up Gary Player's infamous 9 iron on the 16th hole that set up birdie and ultimately led to victory at the 1972 PGA Championship.
Glen Abbey, Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Who doesn't remember the shot hit out of the fairway bunker by Tiger Woods to secure the 2000 Bell Canadian Open? It was a 211-yard six iron that flirted with the water before landing near the edge of the green. A plaque located on the 18th tee at Glen Abbey tells the story. At one time, there was also a plaque in the bunker (see the video above) but Head Golf Professional Darryl Woodjetts indicated in an e-mail that it has been removed.
Emirates Golf Club, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
I highly recommend watching the above video for two reasons - marvel at how much the Dubai skyline has changed since the 1996 Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the Majlis course at Emirates GC and also the size of the driver Colin Montgomery used off the deck from the par-5 18th fairway to win the tournament. The driver head is smaller than most woods today.
Gleneagles, Perthshire, Scotland
Here's the video of Donaldson's Ryder Cup winning shot and his return to put the plaque in the 15th fairway that was ultimately moved to the tee.
AMAZING AMATEUR ACHIEVEMENTS
The Breakers Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, Florida
This one is hard to fathom. Right next to the 390-yard plate on the white tees of a par 4 at the Rees Jones course at The Breakers Palm Beach, there's a plaque celebrating an ace that amounts to an albatross. When I eyed the heroic line over the water to execute the shot, two questions entered my mind - How good is this guy? More importantly, why is he playing the whites and my short-hitting self the blues? Because of a dogleg, the shot probably plays closer to 330-340 yards. Still, that's one heck of an accurate drive.
Ptarmigan Country Club, Fort Collins, Colorado
PGA Lifetime member Jim Eyberg can brag about, perhaps, the most amazing feat ever recorded at a single course. He has eagled every hole at Ptarmigan CC, finishing the task in 2018.
Woodhall Spa Golf Club, Woodhall Spa, England
The plaque at the par-3 12th hole at Woodhall Spa's Hotchkin course serves as the perfect reminder that match-play golf is the best golf. Imagine what was going through Henshaw's mind when Wilson holed out? Makes you wonder who won the match.
Torrey Pines Golf Course, La Jolla, California
Bruce Devlin will go down in history - just not how he envisioned. The pond on the 18th hole of the South course at Torrey Pines is named "Devlin's Billabong". In the final round of the 1975 San Diego Open (now the Farmers Insurance Open), Devlin's second shot found the pond but with just enough of the ball showing that he attempted an ill-fated escape attempt. Seven times. Eventually, he drained a 20-footer for a 10. A brass plaque was installed in the pond the following year.
TPC Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona
Neither the drive nor second shot by Tiger Woods were all that memorable, but this moment lives on in golf lore, no doubt. Members of the gallery came to the rescue of Woods, who drove the ball into the desert on the 13th hole of the Stadium course at the 1999 Phoenix Open. It took a dozen men to roll a boulder out of the way so Woods could hit the shot. A plaque has been added to this gigantic "loose impediment". Don't bother trying the shot that Woods sprayed into a greenside bunker. Many hazards lurk in the desert - snakes, scorpions, cacti and spiders.
The Clubs of Kingwood, Kingwood, Texas
Much of the movie Tin Cup was shot at Tubac Golf Resort in Arizona, but its most famous scene - where Roy McAvoy, played by Kevin Costner, drowns a bunch of balls before holing out on the 18th hole of the U.S. Open - was filmed on the fourth hole (now the 13th hole) of the Deerwood course, one of five courses at Kingwood. Although the hole is a par 5 in the movie, it's actually a tough par 4 with that daunting approach over water.
Interlachen Country Club, Edina, Minnesota
The "Lily Pad" at Interlachen CC shot wasn't one of the finer moments of Bobby Jones. During the second round of the 1930 U.S. Open, Jones topped his second shot to the par-5 ninth hole - supposedly distracted by two girls running across the fairway. Fans swore the ball hit a lily pad and skated safely to the other side of the pond, where Jones got up and in for birdie on his way to the title.
Rancho Park Golf Course, Los Angeles, California
This Palmer plaque "honors" The King in the weirdest of ways. In 2017, the Rancho Park Golf Course, a muni in Los Angeles, rededicated a missing plaque that pokes Palmer's pride for making a 12 on the par-5 18th hole during the 1961 L.A. Open. I guess it's to help the hackers feel a little better when they double bogey the hole.
The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
People assume golf writers are good players because we play a lot and are fortunate enough to snag tee times at the world's great courses. Wrong. There's a plaque on the par-5 13th hole at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club as proof. The course hosted the Golf Writers Association of America Championship for many years starting in 1954. A GWAA plaque on the hole "Waterloo", a difficult par 5 around Lake Singleton that's part of 'Alligator Alley', recalls the trials and tribulations of Chicago Tribune writer Charles Bartlett, who once made a 22 on the hole without taking a penalty stroke. I never played in the event, but this score is the reason I tell everyone I'm more talented with a pen than a club.