C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor are the Golden Age golf architects most associated with template holes, but they were not the only ones to use them. Another architect from the same era, A.W. Tillinghast, dabbled with some template ideas himself. While Tillinghast didn’t rely on such designs as much as Macdonald and Raynor did, he did have a few pet concepts that he returned to again and again. One of these was the Great Hazard template, a par-5 design that some of today’s architects have added to their repertoire.
Unlike the majority of Macdonald’s template holes, the Great Hazard is Tillinghast’s own creation, not a rendition of a famed hole from the British Isles. It was first used at Pine Valley Golf Club, where Tillinghast convinced George Crump to use the concept on the 7th hole.
While some Great Hazards are still intact and relevant, others have been altered to maintain the intended strategy in an era of longer-flying balls. Unfortunately, still other Great Hazards have been eliminated to cut maintenance budgets.
The titular hazard on a par-5 Great Hazard hole typically comes into play on the player’s second shot. A mass of bunkers and/or mounds cuts into the preferred landing area. This, in turn, puts pressure on the tee shot, as a poor drive may lead to a forced lay-up short of the hazard and a long third shot into the green. Good tee shots will typically allow players to carry the hazard with ease.
On some of Tillinghast’s Great Hazard designs, the bunkering/mounding is built on a diagonal, making one side a shorter carry than the other. The shorter carry results in a tougher approach, while the longer carry offers a shorter third shot and often a better angle.
Pine Valley Golf Club – 7th hole, 638 yards, par 5
The first and most famous rendition of Tillinghast’s Great Hazard is at 7th hole at Pine Valley. Affectionately known as “Hell’s Half-Acre,” this hole is a true three-shot par 5. It was conceived within the Philadelphia School of Architecture, when George Crump would regularly brainstorm ideas with legends like Tillinghast, George Thomas, William Flynn, William Fownes, and Hugh Wilson. To maintain the strategy of the hole, Pine Valley has lengthened it significantly over the years.
The first challenge of the 7th at Pine Valley is to hit the narrow fairway, as a missed fairway leaves almost no chance of carrying the Great Hazard. As a member puts it, “Missing the fairway will lead to a pitch out nine times out of 10.” A drive that finds the fairway will allow for an attempt over the giant bunker complex with a long iron or hybrid, and perhaps a rare birdie chance.
From the back tees, the fairway runs 340 yards before the hazard begins; from the members’ tee, about 300 yards. The bunker complex itself is approximately 160 yards long.
The green is fronted by another deep bunker, which makes approach shots tough from anywhere. The approach is especially difficult for those who have to lay up short of the Great Hazard. From that position, the player has a 215-yard, blind, uphill approach. Those who succeed in carrying the bunker on their second shot will be left with a shot under 150 yards to the tricky green.
"Hell's Half Acre" from the tee. Photo: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
The 7th at Pine Valley from above. Photo: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
The imposing Great Hazard at Pine Valley. Photo: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
Bethpage Black – 4th hole, 517 yards, par 5
Another famous example of the Great Hazard template is the par-5 4th hole at Bethpage Black. Here, Tillinghast mixes in a double-dogleg par-5 design with a diagonal Great Hazard. Once again, the drive is critical. A good one will set up a much easier shot over the diagonal bunker, while a tee ball that finds the rough will force the player to decide how much of the bunker to try to carry. From the tee, it is evident that the best angle of approach to the green is from the right side of the fairway, but that angle requires a significantly longer carry over the hazard.
The world-class 4th at Bethpage Black. Photo: Graylyn Loomis @grayloomis
The ideal approach angle into the 4th green at Bethpage Black is from the right side. Photo: Graylyn Loomis @grayloomis
The 4th hole at Bethpage Black from above (Google Earth)
Philadelphia Cricket Club (Wissahickon) – 7th hole, 553 yards, par 5
Tillinghast’s home course Philadelphia Cricket Club features one of his finest designs, the Wissahickon course. The 7th hole on the Wissahickon features a Great Hazard that sits 340 yards from the back tee. To make things even more difficult, Tilly placed bunkers in the landing area on both sides of the fairway. Find one of those bunkers and a layup short of the Great Hazard is likely. The green is protected by an extremely deep bunker, which makes long approaches tough.
An aerial look at Phliadelphia Cricket Club's Great Hazard. Photo: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
A look at the 7th at Philly Cricket Club from right of the fairway. Photo: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
The deep bunker that fronts the 7th green at Philly Cricket Club
Somerset Hills Country Club – 9th hole, 521 yards, par 5
Starting just 265 yards from the tee, the Great Hazard on the 9th hole at Somerset Hills is unusually positioned. It’s easy for a strong tee shot to reach the bunker from the tee and spoil a chance to get home in two. To carry the hazard, it’s a robust 315 yards, attainable for only the longest players. An accurate tee shot down the left side will often offer a chance to get home in two. For those who lay up, the fairway leading into the green kicks hard to the left toward a series of bunkers.
An aerial of the 9th at Somerset Hills. Photo: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
The 9th hole at Somerset Hills from the tee. Photo: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
Somerset Hills' Great Hazard from the side. Photo: Somerset Hills Country Club.
Baltimore Country Club (Five Farms) – 14th hole, 603 yards, par 5
At Baltimore CC’s Five Farms (or East) course, Tillinghast employed the Great Hazard much as he did on the 7th at Philly Cricket. However, the land at Baltimore is far more dramatic. The 603-yard par-5 14th rewards players who carry the hazard on their second shot with a downslope that leads to a mere flip-wedge third shot. The green sits on a plateau, and instead of a bunker, Tilly uses the natural upslope as a defense against a low, running shot.
The Great Hazard on Baltimore Country Club's 14th. Photo: Matt Frey @MFreyPGA
A different season at the 14th at Baltimore CC. Photo: Tyler Petrovich @thetravelinggolfer
The 14th at Baltimore CC's Five Farms course (Google Earth)
Baltusrol Golf Club (Lower) – 17th hole, 647 yards, par 5
One of the better-known examples of the Great Hazard belongs to Baltusrol Lower, a course rich in major-championship history. The 17th hole here is littered with bunkers—not only in the Great Hazard section but also around the green. After a good drive, the fairway bunkers are no problem, but a poor one creates a predicament. The Great Hazard runs diagonally, with the longer carry on the right side.
[Ed. note: After this article was written, Hanse Golf Course Design restored the Great Hazard at Baltusrol Lower to its original scale.]
The 17th at Baltusrol's Lower Course. Photo: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
Baltursrol Lower's 17th hole (Google Earth)
Fenway Golf Club – 3rd hole, 520 yards, par 5
A Tillinghast gem in New York, Fenway Golf Club has a Great Hazard hole different from any others mentioned in this article. The hazard on the 3rd hole doesn’t stretch across the fairway. Instead, it obstructs only the right side of the fairway, leaving the left side open for those who want to play safe.
Fenway's par-5 3rd from the tee, Great Hazard on the right. Photo: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
Looking back at Fenway's 3rd from the green. Photo: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
The 3rd at Fenway (Google Earth)
The Ridgewood Country Club (Championship) – 3rd hole, 588 yards, par 5
A recently restored Tillinghast treasure, the Ridgewood Country Club has a pair of outstanding Great Hazard holes. The first of these is the par-5 3rd on the championship routing, where a Great Hazard named “Gorilla” wreaks havoc. Tilly doesn’t even use bunkering here, opting instead for mounds and deep rough. When you couple the Great Hazard with OB along the left side and the nearly 600 yards of length, the 3rd at Ridgewood is a bear of a par 5.
A look at "Gorilla" from the fairway. Photo: Andy Johnson
The 3rd green at Ridgewood from behind. Photo: Andy Johnson
Ridgewood's 3rd from above (Google Earth)
The Ridgewood Country Club (Championship Routing) – 13th hole, 586 yards, par 5
Ridgewood’s second Great Hazard can be found on a par 5 named “Muckle,” the 13th hole on the club’s championship routing. The hole runs slightly downhill, and rough-covered mounds bisect the fairway. Clearing the Great Hazard in two shots requires 410 yards of distance, a tough task if you miss the fairway off the tee.
The tee shot on the 13th at Ridgewood. Photo: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
The Great Hazard leading into the 13th at Ridgewood. Photo: Andy Johnson
The 13th, dubbed "Muckle." Photo: Andy Johnson
National Golf Links of America – 9th hole, 540 yards, par 5
A non-Tillinghast example of a Great Hazard from the Golden Age is the 9th hole at C.B. Macdonald’s National Golf Links. This hole is usually considered to be an instance of Macdonald’s Long template, which features cross bunkers that cut into the fairway. At NGLA, Macdonald stretches the bunkers all the way across, creating something resembling a Great Hazard.
A look at NGLA's 9th from the tee. Photo: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
A closer look at the bunkering at NGLA's 9th. Photo: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
NGLA's 9th hole, with bunkering that resembles a Great Hazard (Google Earth)
Quaker Ridge Golf Club – 14th hole, 576 yards, par 5
At “Tilly’s Treasure,” Quaker Ridge, the 14th is a standout example of the Great Hazard. The bunkers are angled so that the left side offers the preferred angle into the green as well as the shorter carry. However, this left side of the fairway is guarded by bunkers all the way down. Players are therefore forced to decide if they want to take the risk on the left or play it safe, while accepting the inferior angle and longer route, down the right. Clearing the cross bunkers requires 480 uphill yards.
A look at the Great Hazard at Quaker Ridge. Photo: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
Approaching the Great Hazard on the 14th at Quaker Ridge. Photo: Quaker Ridge Golf Club
The 14th at Quaker Ridge (Google Earth)
Swope Memorial Golf Course – 9th hole, 477 yards, par 5
Along with Bethpage Black, Swope Park in Kansas City is one of A.W. Tillinghast’s two great municipal courses. Swope would keenly benefit from a restoration, but the bones of the course are there. The Great Hazard 9th hole is short by today’s standards; longer players can carry the Great Hazard off the tee but may struggle with the downhill lie on their second shot. Shorter players will likely lay up with something shorter than driver and then hit a mid-iron to wedge distance. Although it’s only 477 yards, don’t judge this hole by the scorecard—big numbers lurk.
From the green back toward the Great Hazard at Swope Memorial's 9th. Photo: Swope Memorial
The great hazard at Swope Park (Google Earth)