Western Pennsylvania's 18 best public golf holes
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Most players have favorite courses in Western Pennsylvania, whether it is a high-priced designer layout such as Olde Stonewall, Totteridge and Mystic Rock or long-time popular haunts such as Cedarbrook, Butler's and Lindenwood.
Some players have favorite holes, whether it's No. 11, the No. 1 handicap hole at South Park; the tight, tree-lined fourth at Champion Lakes or any of the neat par 3s at the Madison Club.
But what if one course had all your favorite holes, right here in Western Pennsylvania? A sort of Tour 18, if you will.
The Post-Gazette has put together a course with the best 18 holes in Western Pennsylvania -- a 6,774-yard, par-69 layout that would be the envy of any public facility in the country. From Freeport to Fayette County, Bedford to Belle Vernon, it includes holes designed by Donald Ross and Pete Dye, par 4s with covered bridges and statues of golfing legends, par 3s played by PGA Tour pros and Champions Tour players.
To compile the exclusive list, the Post-Gazette asked a panel of more than 20 golf professionals and general managers, plus several members of the media, to vote for the best 18 public golf holes in Western Pennsylvania. A public course was any resort or daily-fee facility.
Courses in Ohio and West Virginia were not included on the list.
In addition, each voter was asked to select holes in five other categories -- best par 3, best par 4, best par 5, toughest hole and prettiest hole.
The only prerequisite: A golf professional or general manager could not vote for a hole from his course.
In an attempt to come up with a fair and balanced compilation, the Post-Gazette also instituted its own in-house rule: No course could have more than two holes on the list.
Otherwise, courses such as Mystic Rock, the $25 million Pete Dye design at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington; and Olde Stonewall, the high-priced layout in Ellwood City that is considered one of the top public courses in the state; and even Oak Tree Country Club in West Middlesex, a former private facility, would have taken up most of the list.
(Back in the late 1990s, I compiled my list of the best 18 public-course holes in Western Pennsylvania, and it was called "The Post-Gazette Golf Club." But that was before facilities such as Oak Tree, Totteridge, Alcoma and St. Jude -- all former private facilities -- converted to daily-fee. And before the Old Course at Bedford Springs Resort, an original Donald Ross design, was refurbished and re-opened in 2007. Their inclusion on this list has robbed such long-time popular public courses such as Blackhawk, Butler's, Champion Lakes, Lindenwood, Pittsburgh North, Riverview, South Park and Tam O'Shanter from placing holes among the top 18.)
For example, Mystic Rock had two holes -- No. 2, a 473-yard par 4 that doglegs around a boulder-strewn ravine; and No. 17, a 211-yard par 3 with water running the entire left side of the hole -- place among the top three vote-getters. But the course, once home to the PGA Tour's 84 Lumber Classic, had eight other holes receive votes.
Same with Olde Stonewall, which also placed two holes on the list -- the par 4 10th (something of a surprise) and the majestic 474-yard 16th, which also won as the prettiest par 4. The Michael Hurdzan/Dana Frye design had three other holes receive multiple votes.
Two other courses also had two holes make the list: Totteridge, the Rees Jones design in Greensburg that went public last year (the scenic par-3 eighth and the stunning 483-yard, par-4 18th); and old favorite Quicksilver, former site of the Hogan Tour and PGA Senior Tour (the peninsula 199-yard eighth and the narrow 577-yard 15th).
Oak Tree landed only one hole on the list -- the 411-yard fifth, which also won as the best par 4 -- but the scenic Ed Ault design had seven holes receive votes, second only to Mystic Rock.
Then there was Tam O'Shanter, a well-maintained 18-hole layout in West Middlesex and a long-time favorite for people in Mercer County. The course had five holes receive votes, but none had enough to make the best 18.
Curiously, Cranberry Highlands, a municipal course designed by Bill Love (Tom's Run, TPV at Avenel), had only two holes receive votes. One of them, though, was a resounding favorite: The 347-yard 12th, which received the second-most votes of any hole in the balloting.
On paper, it's a scintillating, challenging and impressive collection of holes. The only thing better would be to play them all in a single round.
HOLE # 1 -- 473 yards, Par 4
This majestic par-4, with a statue of Gene Sarazen leaning on his club on the tee, received more votes than any other. The reason: The gamblers will try to bite off the inside of the dogleg by carrying a ravine of boulders and shrubs, not to mention a mounded fairway bunker. It is tough, beguiling, stunning.
HOLE # 2 -- 347 yards, par 4
It's not demanding in length, but the hole will test your nerve and shot-making ability, both off the tee and from the fairway That's because a pond runs the entire length of the right side of the hole, waiting to swallow an errant tee shot and setting up a delicate approach to an angled green.
HOLE # 3 -- 214 yards, par 3
A Florida-style par 3 that is as fair as it is demanding, even with a deep, narrow green. Water and boulders frame the entire left side of the hole, but this Pete Dye original offers a shaved bailout area to the right for the faint of heart.
HOLE # 4 -- 469 yards, par 4
There aren't many holes anywhere in the region tougher than this stout par 4. Mounded rough and high grass penalize players who try to cut some of the angle to the dogleg-left fairway. And the gently climbing fairway to a bunker-protected greens makes the second shot play at least one club longer.
HOLE # 5 -- 201 yards, par 3
Redesigned by owner Bob Murphy when the course played host to the former Hogan Tour and Senior PGA Tour, this downhill par 3 features a variety of tees to a wide peninsula green. Miss long and a wide sand bunker awaits.
HOLE # 6 -- 531 yards, par 5
This is a fitting end to the Dominic Palombo-designed layout that opened in 2000 -- a risk-reward downhill par 5 in which the tee shot is played between a pair of matching fairway bunkers. Get in the go-zone and players who are tempted to get home in two must carry a pond that fronts the entire width of the green.
HOLE # 7 -- 421 yards, par 4
Not many holes are as demanding as they are scenic, but this West Middlesex classic is both: A dogleg-left through the trees to an angled green protected on the right by sand bunkers and a lake. One of many beauties on this charming Ed Ault design.
HOLE # 8 -- 577 yards, par 5
A yawning par 5 nestled at the low point of the 7,083-yard layout in which the tee shot is most critical. Miss right and a pond that abuts the fairway awaits. Miss left and a pair of fairway bunkers or, worse, high fescue grass is just as penal.
HOLE # 9 -- 426 yards, par 4
With a covered bridge and a fountain pond fronting the green, this hole is as tranquil and charming as it is difficult. The problem comes on the approach, trying to stop a mid- to long-iron on a shallow green.
HOLE # 10 -- 474 yards, par 4
If you're going to play this scenic hole, you might as well go all the way up to the silver tees and take in the awesome vista. It's a 110-foot drop to the fairway and the second shot has to traverse a penal ravine to a two-tiered green.
HOLE # 11 -- 358 yards, par 4
When architect Ron Forse redesigned this 87-year-old Donald Ross original, he created a masterpiece with this scenic, tree-framed hole, aptly named Ross' Cathedral. A crossing pond threatens a tee shot and bunkers line each side of a gently climbing fairway.
HOLE # 12 -- 465 yards, par 4
One of the toughest holes in Western Pennsylvania, this Ault & Clark-designed beauty requires a long tee shot down the right side of a mounded fairway that doglegs gently to the left. But a deep green was designed to accept what will be a long-iron or hybrid approach from the fairway.
HOLE # 13 -- 483 yards, par 4
The Rees Jones-designed course has some of the best and toughest par 4s in the area, but this is a classic: A gentle dogleg right with mounds and grassy slopes to the left of the fairway and a long-iron or hybrid approach to a deep green framed by sand bunkers.
HOLE # 14 -- 202 yards, par 3
There aren't many holes that can capture a South Carolina-look, but this is it: Fescue grass frames a kidney-shape green that is protected on the left side by a pond and on the right by a large sand bunker.
HOLE # 15 -- 208 yards, par 3
This downhill par 3 is one of the most scenic in Pennsylvania. A large pond guards the right side of a deep green that slopes treacherously toward the water.
HOLE # 16 -- 308 yards, par 4
Proof that holes don't have to be long to be good: This testy little par 4 can tempt long drivers off the tee, but three fairway bunkers to the left and water trouble to the right suggest a shorter club off the tee, setting up a delicate approach.
HOLE # 17 -- 153 yards, par 3
On a course littered with maybe the best collection of public par 3s in Western Pennsylvania, this eye-appealing gem stands out. A mid- to short-iron approach over water to a wide, gently mounded green gives the hole a southern look.
HOLE # 18 -- 463 yards, par 4
This hole was originally designed to be a par 5, which explains the small green guarded on each side by sand bunkers. The right side of the fairway is the best spot from which to approach the green, but that means carrying a large fairway bunker off the tee.
First Published April 11, 2010 12:00 am