Perhaps the most famed hole in golf, the par-4 17th at the Old Course at St. Andrews was C.B. Macdonald’s inspiration for his “Road” template hole. Macdonald spent his college years studying at St. Andrews University, and while there he learned from Old Tom Morris. The pair also played a good amount of rounds at the Old Course. Macdonald first used the template in America at Piping Rock.
Typically a long par-4 or a short par-5, a road hole has some easily identifiable characteristics. The original hole at St. Andrews has a hotel that guards the dogleg, penalizing any tee shot that tries to cut off too much. To replicate this without infrastructure, Macdonald and Seth Raynor would often put a bunker or hazard along the inside of the dogleg.
On the approach, players must navigate a deep pot bunker that sits in the middle of a shallow but wide green complex that typically runs diagonally from the right to left. At St. Andrews, immediately behind the green is a road which is out of bounds. To simulate this, Macdonald and Raynor would often place a bunker behind their road hole greens. The bunkering and shallow green make the long iron approach a very difficult shot. In my opinion, the Road Hole template is the toughest par-4 design in the world as it requires a player to hit excellent shots and utilize strategy in order to make a birdie.
Whether a par-4 or par-5, a good way to look at a Road Hole is a par-4 ½. Four is good, six is not. The ideal tee shot hugs the inside of the dogleg and brings the hazard or bunker into play. If pulled off, a tee shot down the right side allows a player to hit an approach to the shallow green without having to go over the deep pot bunker that guards the green. A tee shot that plays to the left away from the hazard results in a longer approach over the pot bunker to the shallow green. A common spot for a player to bail out is short and right of the green, leaving a tough up and down for par.
“The Original Gangster” – 17th at the Old Course at St. Andrews – par 4 – 495 yards
Possibly the best par-4 in the world, the 17th has given the world’s best golfers fits since its creation. The dogleg right requires a player to hit a tee shot over the Old Course Hotel which will leave a mid to long iron approach into the shallow green.
From the fairway, a player’s long iron is sternly tested by the treacherous bunker that guards the front of the green and O.B. behind.
National Golf Links of America – 7th – par 5 – 478 yards
Dubbed “St. Andrews”, the 7th at National Golf Links of America is a great birdie opportunity, but disaster awaits a player that hits their ball in the wrong spot. The hole is guarded by tough fairway bunkers on the inside of the dogleg that serve as the hotel does in Scotland. Finding one of these bunkers quickly turns The Road into a three shot hole and a much more difficult birdie. The approach shot features one of the deepest Road bunkers in American golf. Don’t miss long or you will find yourself in the back bunker with the green that slopes away.
The intimidating tee shot on NGLA's Road Hole 7th - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
The look from the right side of the landing area - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
Short of the green, with its steep face staring you down - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
The treacherous Road bunker has wrecked many a card - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
A miss long at NGLA's 7th presents its own recovery challenges - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
Chicago Golf Club – 2nd – 481 yards – par 4
Part of Chicago Golf Club’s tough starting stretch is the Road Hole second. Players must test the fescue grass up the right side of the hole to gain the best angle, and the left side has a series of deep fairway bunkers. The approach to the green gives players the first look at one of the many severe false fronts at Chicago Golf. The bunker that guards the left side of the green makes any back left pin a difficult shot to hit.
The tee shot at the second hole of Chicago Golf.
Bunkers down the left, the hotel mound and fescue down the right - a solid drive is demanded
The approach, with the false front and Road bunker to navigate
The look back illustrates how tough the back left pin can be
Shoreacres – 10th – par 4 – 490 yards – par 4
The 10th at Shoreacres — as hard a par-4 as you can ask for — recently had a back tee added behind the road (fittingly). From the back tees carrying the ravine on the right is a tall task for even the longest players. A good tee shot sets up a mid to long iron approach to a very shallow green. When the conditions are firm and the pin is behind the bunker it is nearly impossible to have a shot hit at the pin hold the green and avoid the runoff areas.
The approach shot to the challenging par 4 10th at Shoreacres
A look at Shoreacres 10th green
Fishers Island – 8th – 465 yards – par 4
The 8th hole at Fishers plays as a par-4 from the back tee box and a par-5 from the members’ tee. The prevailing wind blows into and from the right. The ideal line is up the right side of the fairway to set up the angle to approach the green. Obstructing this line is the ocean on the right as well as a fairway which slopes severely to the left.
The 8th tee shot at Fishers Island - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
The approach into the angled green, guarded by the deep bunker short left - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
Looking at the depth of the 8th's greenside bunker - Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier
Camargo Club – 17th – par 5 – 521 yards – par 5
Seth Raynor’s Camargo Club in Cincinnati has a par-5 Road Hole that is missing much of its original luster. A good tee shot cuts the corner of the dogleg right that is guarded by bunkers. The 17th’s green is a fraction of the size of its original design – it should extend far to the left.
The tee shot at Camargo's 17th - Photo Credit: @GolfGuy77
The approach to to the green, perched on the hill - Photo Credit: @GolfGuy77
The Course at Yale – 4th – 437 yards – par 4
Like the rest of the course, Yale’s fourth hole is very intimidating. The lake on the right side and a thick grove of trees on the left make the tee shot a demanding one. Playing up the right is the ideal line as it yields a far shorter approach shot into the elevated green. The putting surface is massive and slopes hard from left to right. Shots that miss the approach to the right will carom further away from the 4th green.
Yale's road hole 4th (left)
The 4th green at Yale
Blue Mound G.C.C. – 5th – 495 yards – par 5
The fifth at Blue Mound features a par-5 Road Hole and is a great birdie opportunity. An ideal tee shot avoids the bunkers along the right side of the fairway, which will leave a long-iron approach to the green. When I played this hole my tee shot found the intermediate cut of rough on the left side. This forced me to run the ball up on the right side of the green, leaving a lengthy eagle attempt. Meanwhile, my friend was able to cut the right side and hit a high approach at the pin that sat over the pot bunker. Long is not a good miss, as the back bunker is extremely deep and the green sloping away from the player will make for a difficult up and down.
The tee shot at the 5th at Blue Mound, with bunkers guarding the inside right
The approach to the wide, elevated green
Short right leaves the best angle, but the slick green still requires a deft touch
Yeamans Hall Club – 7th – 435 yards – par 4
The Road Hole seventh at Yeamans Hall may seem short at 435 yards, but both the tee shot and the approach play uphill. A good tee shot hugs the right side of the fairway to set up the approach to the uphill green.
The par 4 7th at Yeamans Hall Club - Photo Credit: Michael Blackham
St. Louis C.C. – 4th – 505 yards – par 5
The fourth hole at Macdonald’s St. Louis C.C. is another named St. Andrew’s but this version features a reverse Road Hole green. This par-4 uses a slightly blind tee box and it’s best if the player ends up on the left side of the fairway. From there the green opens up for an ideal uphill approach. Unlike most American Road Holes, St. Louis C.C.’s actually has a road behind it!
The tee shot at SLCC's 4th
A look at the 4th green and pot bunker
From behind the green, over the road, looking back
Old Macdonald – 11th – 445 yards – par 4
Tom Doak and Jim Urbina’s interpretation of the Road Hole at Bandon Dunes’s Old Macdonald Course is of the par-4 variety and doglegs to the right. Their version is nearly identical to the Old Course, except for the tee shot, which isn’t blind. The right side of the fairway is guarded by fescue and bunkers which causes many players to bail left and leave a longer and tougher approach to the green. The green is guarded by a great pot bunker and is the traditional shallow green which moves back and to the left.
The tee shot at the 11th at Old Macdonald - Photo Credit: Bandon Dunes Golf Resort & Timothy Scahill
The approach to the 11th is very difficult with the pot bunker that guards the left side of Old Macdonald's green - Photo Credit: Bandon Dunes Golf Resort & Timothy Scahill