In Part 6 of my quest to discover the best holes in the history of RCGC, the course reaches its climax with a thrilling run of holes from the 16th to the 18th.
16th Hole – 410 yards Par 4 (1895)
For our 16th hole, we reach back over 100 years. This epic hole remained in use until 1979 (moving to the 17th for the second half of its existence) when, following a series of cliff falls that reduced the width of the fairway, the decision was taken to remove it from play. It remains the single biggest loss to the strength of the layout, made more reflective by the fact that since it was taken out of play, no further land has been lost.
Once again, it is former Professional Ernie Plummer in his course guide that describes the hole most eloquently:
‘A good long hole which plays every inch of its 410 yards, as it is all uphill. We drive from a hillside over gorse and valley to a rising slope, playing straight on the guide pin. A bad slice puts us out of bounds over the cliff. The second shot, over a cross-bunker, is uphill towards a double-terraced green surrounded on three sides by grassy banks. This hole often requires two woods’.
The hole was captured on an old cigarette card from around 1910:
It shows the width of fairway that was a trait of Old Tom Morris, but also the brutal rough that awaited a pushed tee shot.
In terms of location, golfers teed off from the high ground above the current 8th green, playing back towards the lighthouse. The ‘guide pin’ that Plummer mentions is still in place behind the 15th green (the two greens were formally back to back).
With the lighthouse and Pier in the background, the 16th perhaps formed the aesthetic peak of a course not short on wow moments.
17th Hole – 119 yards Par 3 (2019)
At the 17th we find our last Par 3, and indeed the shortest hole on the course.
In the latest issue of Today’s Golfer magazine, a reviewer describes this hole as ‘weak’. How misguided they are! Since its creation in 1979, this hole has matured into a thrilling challenge, requiring anything from a wedge to a 5-iron depending upon the wind.
It has never looked better than in the last 12 months.
As with any great hole of this length, the penalties for missing the green must be severe (see the 7th at Pebble Beach or the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon). Not only penal, but enough that it raises the golfers pulse and causes a little twitch in the fingers. Enough that if the fear is overcome and a successful result is achieved the heart sings a little to itself.
And so it is with the 17th at RCGC. The green takes on an infinity look from the tee and indeed it is left where the so called ‘devils pits’ await (below).
These positions are as intimidating as the name suggests and have ruined many a scorecard.
18th Hole – 385 yards Par 4 (2018)
For our finishing hole, we remain in the present day, although this hole has been part of the layout since around 1925.
The competition for the final hole included the original 18th, which played down the hill towards the clubhouse in Happy Valley. It was captured by this painting from 1906:
This hole, a short par 4, received instant notoriety when both JH Taylor and his fellow Open Champion Sandy Herd hit their tee shots into the clubhouse on the opening day of the 18 hole layout in 1895.In reality, it would have been quite a bland hole through open ground.
For a while in the 1970’s, the lighthouse hole was used as the final hole, but this has already been included in our ultimate 18 as the 14th.
The hole that made the final cut is described in the handbook thus:
‘We need a good well-placed drive here, and the best line is to play straight on the lighthouse which is easily seen in the far distance. The green can be reached by most players in two shots but a sliced drive may find trouble on the rough hill-side, similarly with regard to the second shot. The line for this second shot is slightly to the right of the pin, as the ground slopes away to the left.’
In recent years, the quality of this hole has been elevated by the strength of the bunker work, with the left side of the green now offered significant protection by the fearsome row of traps.
The double-tiered green is unique to the current layout and a back left pin position adds at least half a shot of difficulty to the challenge.
All in all, a very worthy finishing stretch to complete a magnificent 18 hole. Next week we will summarise the course and pit the 1895 design against the 2019 version and ask ourselves which is best?