The PGA Tour's 10 hardest holes you can play

Shotlink data showcases the holes on public and resort courses that baffled the pros in 2021.
The par-3 17th hole of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort was a torture chamber for the 1991 Ryder Cup and the 2012 and 2021 PGA Championships.

Some golfers are demented enough to seek out the biggest, baddest challenges in the game.

There have been endless stories about the so-called hardest courses on the planet. We've done one at GolfPass, sharing the toughest tracks played by our editors. Brentley Romine, a colleague, put together a fun, fictional course he called "TPC Impossible" with the same Shotlink data from the 2021 PGA Tour season that I'll use for this list of the 10 hardest holes on the PGA Tour you can play.

The data reveals the hardest holes in relation to par. Many of them are from private clubs but not all come from the Augustas of the world. You and I can play a few of them and see how we stack up.

Remember, these Shotlink stats feature variables for how each hole played during tournament week - Was the wind up? What was the temperature? Was the course set up for a major? Even so, they provide an inside look at the holes that even the pros fear. Seek them out ... if you dare.

  1. No. 17, Ocean Course at Kiawah Island
    In case the Pete Dye design wasn't tough enough, alligators lurk off the 17th hole of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.

    Par 3, 223 yards
    Average score: 3.531
    This par 3 over water is one of Pete Dye's most infamous holes. Often times, players are thrilled to hit it in one of the two bunkers left of the green. Anything to avoid the water hazard that's claimed so many victims at every major event held here.

    Have you played any of these holes? Let us know how you fared in the comments below.

  2. No. 18, Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Fla.
    Bay Hill is a special place at any time of day. At sunrise, it's a little magical.

    Par 4, 458 yards
    Average score: 4.464
    By now, we all should be familiar with this iconic hole. Tiger's putting theatrics on the crescent-shaped green guarded by a pond are the stuff of legend. So is the eagle made by Robert Gamez to win Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Invitational in 1990.

  3. No. 12, Torrey Pines South, La Jolla, Calif.
    The 12th hole on the South Course at Torrey Pines.

    Par 4, 505 yards
    Average score: 4.401 (Farmers Insurance Open), 4.389 (U.S. Open).
    It doesn't matter the event: The monstrous 12th is always hard. Ironically, it played even tougher during the Farmers than it did the U.S. Open. Even if a player does reach the uphill green in regulation, it is 35 yards deep, which sets up a potential three-putt.

  4. No. 11, Torrey Pines South, La Jolla, Calif.
    The 11th hole on the South Course at Torrey Pines.

    Par 3, 222 yards
    Average score: 3.393 (U.S. Open)
    Pros had a crack at Torrey Pines' famed South Course twice during the 2021 season at the Farmers Insurance Open in February and the 2021 U.S. Open in June. Tougher pin positions on a severe green that funnels balls to the left are probably partly to blame for the higher scores at the U.S. Open.

  5. No. 18, Ocean Course at Kiawah Island
    Lounging in a chair overlooking the 18th green of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort is a heavenly spot.

    Par 4, 505 yards
    Average score: 4.391
    True to form, Mickelson missed the final fairway to the left (better than on the beach on the right), but his pure shot from the dunes surrounded by the surging crowd was one for the ages.

  6. No. 18, Corales at Punta Cana Resort & Club, Dominican Republic
    The Tom Fazio-designed Corales course anchors the golf in the resort area of Punta Cana.

    Par 4, 501 yards
    Average score: 4.375
    The dramatic 18th on Corales is the finale of the "Devil's Elbow", a trio of closing holes along the shore that are exposed to the elements. It's a classic Cape hole where golfers who pick a heroic line off the tee better strike it solid or their ball is swimming with the fish.

  7. No. 18, Torrey Pines North, La Jolla, Calif.
    The 18th hole at Torrey Pines North is a long par 4 that can play up to 486 yards.

    Par 4, 486 yards
    Average score: 4.366
    Pros competing in the Farmers Insurance Open fare much better when playing the North Course. The finishing hole, however, provides a small taste of the brutality of the South. Two bunkers to the right protect a two-tiered green.

  8. No. 1, Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas
    The AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio winds through the rocks and live oak trees of the Texas Hill Country.

    Par 4, 454 yards
    Average score: 4.364
    Most architects believe the first hole should be a gentle start to the round, but Greg Norman comes out swinging on the Oak Course at TPC San Antonio, the host of the Valero Texas Open. The hole runs slightly downhill and into the prevailing wind. A miss left into a cavernous bunker is a mistake.

  9. (TIE) No. 14 and No. 15, Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island, S.C.
    Hitting the tabletop green on no. 14 is one of the toughest shots on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina.

    Par-3 14th, 238 yards and Par-4 15th, 466 yards
    Average score: 3.348 and 4.348 (Both .348 over par)
    Ferocious wind never fully weaponized the feared Ocean Course at the 2021 PGA Championship last May, but there was enough there to level the playing field, allowing Phil Mickelson a window to become the oldest major champion. Plateau greens are one of the course's biggest defenses, none more difficult than the 14th, which is exposed to the shore's cross breezes. Mickelson made a critical par on the demanding 15th after two consecutive bogeys to hold on in the final round.

    Both the fairways and the greens are elevated on the Ocean Course

  10. No. 15, Royal St. George's, Sandwich, England
    An aerial view of the par-4 15th hole (on the right) with a view behind the green on the par-5 14th (on the left) at The Royal St. George's Golf Club.

    Par 4, 496 yards
    Average score: 4.342
    The return of The Open in 2021 was perhaps golf's greatest blessing. Royal St. George's, a stout test that's hosted 15 majors, gave us a memorable champion in Collin Morikawa, whose deft ball-striking survived every hole, including the formidable 15th. Five pot bunkers pinch the fairway with a threesome of larger bunkers forming a wall fronting the green.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Commented on

Great article, and much appreciated is the pic of Bay Hill taken at dawn–an absolute classic.

As for tough holes, the toughest I’ve played in recent years were

–the 18th at Makani in Hawaii, by Perry Dye, and several that pack a huge punch in Ijamsville, Maryland at the PB Dye Golf Club (I couldn’t even say which is the baddest of the bad).

--The long par-four 3rd at northern Vermont’s Jay Peak, a beast to drive, matches almost anything I’ve played for difficulty, yet it’s leavened with a relatively straightforward approach shot. The eighth and tenth holes at Jay Peak are simply Frankenstein’s monsters from tee to green (the course slopes higher than Bethpage Black).

–Donald Ross’ age-old but restored Mount Washington course includes a brilliantly brutal par-3 at the 14th. At 246 yards, its tee shot played over a ravine, and falling just short of sadistic, it rewards the well-placed shot, but destroys those that err too much in either direction.

Certainly, the PGA Tour courses take it to yet another level of difficulty. It’s also intriguing that scattered across every region in this country are public tracks–as documented among your other writings–on which a demonic hole (or two) lies in wait for the unsuspecting, and even those vainly trying to avert disaster.

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The PGA Tour's 10 hardest holes you can play