Scotland’s Prestwick Golf Club, birthplace of the Open Championship, was also the site of the first Alps Hole. Old Tom Morris introduced the concept at Prestwick’s original second hole, now the seventeenth, and his mentee C. B. MacDonald brought the template to the United States.
The Alps hole is one of the most polarizing of C.B. Macdonald’s templates because it puts a feeling of uncertainty in players’ minds with its blind or semi-blind approach shot. Only those who can put aside the blind nature of the shot and trust their yardage can succeed on the hole. The Alps par-4 design typically ranges from 400-430 yards in length and is defined by its blind second shot, typically over a hill. Cross bunkers guard the front of the green, hazards the player is unable to see from the fairway. Relief comes int the form of the punchbowl green complex that allows offline shots to funnel back to the green. Over the years, many of the front bunkers were filled in by uneducated greens committees who felt the bunkers were too unfair and penal.
The first demand the Alps hole requires the player is to find the fairway. The blind approach is a difficult one so it pays to play with full control of your shot. A good tee shot will leave a mid-iron approach where long is better than short. The punchbowl green will funnel a slightly long shots back to the green, while one that comes up short will find the treacherous front Sahara bunkering.
Prestwick Golf Club – 17th – 394 yards – par 4
The original Alps, the 17th at Prestwick, is the only hole remaining from the first Open Championship layout. That makes it the oldest championship golf hole in the world. As the original Alps hole, the 17th at Prestwick has every attribute of the template. A good drive leaves the blind approach to a heavily protected green, Sahara bunkering lies shorts of the green over the mounding, and the punchbowl green complex funnels balls to the center of the green. Some of the 17th’s teeth have dulled with today’s technology, but it still requires a good deal of strategy from the player, especially when the wind kicks up.
The tee shot at Prestwick's 17th hole - Photo Credit: Bryan Izatt
Missing short in the sahara bunker at Prestwick's 17th is not recommended - Photo Credit: Bryan Izatt.
National Golf Links of America – 3rd – 426 yards – par 4
The most famous of the Alps template in America is National Golf Links’s 3rd hole. From the start, a player is thrown off with the diagonal fairway that is heavily bunkered short and long, making a precise tee shot a must. A tee shot to the left will shorten the hole but makes the approach even more uphill. Tee shots down the right side will leave a less severe approach over the Alps hill and a peek at the green. The subtle punchbowl green is guarded by deep bunkering short of the putting surface.
The 3rd tee shot - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
The further left the more obstructed your approach view - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
A look at the massive green complex, sahara bunker and surrounds of NGLA's 3rd green - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
From behind the 3rd green - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
Fishers Island Club– 4th – 397 yards – par 4
No. 4 at Fishers Island is arguably the greatest hole on Seth Raynor’s masterpiece. Favoring the right side of the fairway yields the best approach but also brings the risk of the shore into play. On the blind approach, players must judge the pin position off of the flagpole in the distance. The punchbowl green is one of the largest in the Raynor/Macdonald portfolio. It features a subtle spine on the back half, which makes almost every pin a bit more challenging.
The intimidating tee shot at Fishers Island's 4th - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
One of the largest of Macdonald and Raynor's punchbowls is the 4th at Fishers. Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
The look at the punchbowl green at Fishers Island's 4th - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
Greenbrier Resort – Old White – 13th – 492 yards – par 4
One of the toughest holes at the Greenbrier Resort is the long par four 13th on TPC Old White. The 13th moves gently to the right, making tee shots that favor the left side preferable as they can see the green complex. Tee shots down the right will shorten the approach shot but will lead to a blind shot in. Macdonald used a deep bunker short of the green to obstruct visibility on this tough test.
A look at the approach from the left side of the fairway - Photo Credit: Zac Blair
A look at the green complex, bunkering and mounding - Photo Credit: Zac Blair
A look from behind the 13th green - Photo Credit: Zac Blair
St. Louis Country Club – 18th – 412 yards – par 4
The 412 yard finisher at Macdonald’s St. Louis Country Club asks a lot from of a player in order to close out a good round. “Oasis” has all of the key characteristics of an Alps hole. An uphill tee shot begins the hole and finding the fairway is a must in order to have a good shot into the blind green. The deep fronting Sahara bunker swallows up any shots struck poorly into the green. Once on the putting surface, players are faced with a green that slopes hard from right to left.
The tee shot at the 18th at St. Louis Country Club - Photo Credit: Kyle Truax
The view from the fairway - Photo Credit: Kyle Truax
The hidden sahara bunker that guards the front of the 18th green - Photo Credit: Kyle Truax
A look from behind St. Louis C.C.'s 18th green - Photo Credit: Kyle Truax
The Course at Yale – 12th – 400 yards – par 4
Seth Raynor created a phenomenal rendition of the Alps at the Course at Yale, one of his best designs. The completely blind second shot has to carry the front Sahara bunkers and land the correct distance to give a player a good look at birdie.
Camargo Club – 7th – 427 yards – par 4
The Raynor design in Cincinnati has a great uphill Alps hole in its 427 yard seventh hole. The blind second shot at Camargo to a punchbowl green still has the original hidden Sahara bunkers to snag any poorly struck mid-iron approach shots.
The approach to Camargo's 7th
The obstructed view from in front of the green
A look at the sahara bunkers that guard the front of Camargo's 7th green
Lookout Mountain Golf Club – 11th – 418 yards – par 4
Some say that the Alps at Seth Raynor’s Lookout Mountain could rival NGLA as the best American rendition. While I wouldn’t go that far, the 11th is definitely a beauty. The 418 yard par 4 requires a strong tee shot to set up a good approach. The blind green is flanked on the right side by a deep bunker.
Morris County Golf Club – 7th – 455 yards – par 4
Dubbed “Big Ben,” the seventh is the signature hole at Seth Raynor’s great layout at Morris County. The club recently restored the hole to its original glory by bringing back its great punchbowl green complex, and the bunkering behind the green makes players wary of going long.
The approach into Morris County's stout Alps template is dubbed "Big Ben" - Photo Credit: Spencer Waresk
Short right of the newly restored punchbowl green - Photo Credit: Spencer Waresk
The green, with bunkers and fescue waiting to punish wayward shots - Photo Credit: Spencer Waresk
Blue Mound Golf and Country Club – 4th – 388 yards – par 4
A subtle version of the Alps is at Seth Raynor’s Blue Mound outside of Milwaukee. While Raynor wasn’t blessed with the best piece of land at Blue Mound, he made the best of the property with some terrific template holes, including the Alps fourth. With today’s technology, a good tee shot will leave a wedge approach but just enough uncertainty is created by the semi-blind shot in. Unlike most Alps holes that use a hill or sand dune to obstruct a player’s view of the green, Raynor used two large Sahara bunkers to create visual disruption at Blue Mound.
Blue Mound's 4th from the tee.
The approach over Raynor's cross bunkers
A look at the subtle punchbowl green
Forsgate C.C. – 5th – 417 yards – par 4
At Charles Banks’s terrific New Jersey track, Forsgate, the fifth hole is an excellent example of a natural Alps hole. Banks forces players to play to the left side of the fairway because of the right fairway bunker, leaving a blind second shot to the punchbowl green. Unfortunately, Forsgate lacks the Sahara bunkering that is synonymous with Alps holes.
The tee shot on Forsgate's 5th hole - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com
The obstructed view from the fairway - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com
The look from short front of the green - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com
Behind the punchbowl green - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com
North Shore Country Club (NY) – 2nd – 311 yards – par 4
At Seth Raynor’s North Shore C.C., long hitters will salivate at the drivable second hole. This rendition of the Alps has a semi-blind green and forces a decision from the tee. The bunkering and mounding that obstructs players is 220 yards from the tee. Drives over the mount that carry at least 245 yards will run downhill towards the green.
The 2nd tee shot at North Shore C.C. - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com
The approach from the right side of the fairway - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com
A look over the mounding which runs to the green - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com
Looking back at from North Shore's second green - Photo Credit: The Bausch Collection at MyPhillyGolf.com
Old Macdonald – 16th – 455 yards – par 4
At Tom Doak and Jim Urbina’s tribute to C.B. Macdonald, Old Macdonald, the 16th mirrors National Golf Links of America’s Alps hole much more than the original at Prestwick. Doak and Urbina’s rendition leaves space on one side for a player to run the ball up to the green, a characteristic not found on most Alps holes. This adds some playability to the design for the less skilled golfer as they have the opportunity to avoid the deep Sahara bunker short of the green.
A look from above the 16th at Old Macdonald - Photo Credit: Bandon Dunes Golf Resort & Timothy Scahill.
Behind the green gives a good look at the enormity of the hill on the 16th at Old Macdonald - Photo Credit: Bandon Dunes Golf Resort & Timothy Scahill.
Flossmoor C.C. – 12th – 417 yards – par 4
The strong Herbert Tweedie design south of Chicago has a classic Alps hole. It’s punchbowl green slopes front to back, a unique twist on the design. When firm and fast, the green makes it very difficult to get close to the pin as shots always run towards the back.
Flossmoor C.C.'s 12th tee shot.
The blind 2nd shot approach providing players with mystery and thrills
The green at Flossmoor's 12 slopes away but is built up into a subtle punchbowl.
Applebrook G.C. – 3rd – 310 yards – par 4
A modern twist on the Alps template lies at Applebrook Golf Club, a Gil Hanse design in Malvern, PA. The 3rd hole at Applebrook is a drivable par-4 that features a blind shot from the tee. If a player lays up, they will be faced with another blind approach to the green. For those who attempt to drive the green, the goal is to carry the Sahara bunker that sits about 265 yards from the tee. If executed, a good shot will then funnel into the giant punchbowl complex. Chips from around the green are very challenging due to the severity of the depressed punchbowl.
The blind tee shot at Applebrook's 3rd.
The view from just above the sahara bunker short of the green.
A look back at the punchbowl green complex.