18 to Make You Cry “Uncle”

This area is home to some of the most difficult courses in the country. After surveying nearly 100 local golf professionals, we found many had trouble pinning down one hole as the absolute hardest. But after appealing to their darker angels by mentioning things like “rain checks,” “unrepaired ball marks” and “crabgrass,” they’ve come up with a fair representation of our 18 toughest. Galloping doglegs, magnet-like water hazards, anti-matter bunkers and tsunami-swift greens—you name it, these holes deliver. (Listed alphabetically, not by anxiety level.)

Photograph by Greg SachsConcord Country Club No. 13
Concordville, Pennsylvania
“Simply put, a very demanding hole,” says John Rudolph, head pro at White Clay Creek Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware, in describing the 13th hole at this venerable 82-year-old course. “This is a long par 4 that requires the best of tee shots, as a stream bisects the fairway,” he says. A downhill approach shot to an uphill green makes it that much more difficult, according to assistant golf pro Bryant Shuford of Concord Country Club in Concordville, Pennsylvania. “If you miss the green, you’re dead.”

Aronimink Golf Club No. 8
Newtown Square, Pennsylvania
When the 2008 Philadelphia PGA teacher of the year picks a tough hole, you can be assured it will be one of the toughest you’ll ever encounter. Longtime golf instructor and author John Dunigan says the eighth hole at Aronimink gets his vote as the toughest he’s played around here. “It’s a long, downhill par 3 that does not lend itself to many birdies,” Dunigan says. If you go over the green, it’s virtually impossible to get up and down. The green is small, shallow and well bunkered. If you miss, miss short, and then a very good up and down will provide a well-earned par.”

Bayside Resort Golf Club No. 2
Fenwick Island, Delaware
Don’t be fooled by the natural beauty of this par 5 at Delaware’s first Jack Nicklaus Signature course. Waterways and marshes border the hole, providing a scenic backdrop—and a potentially toxic challenge. A lengthy tee shot finds a roomy fairway, while the second and third shots force you to avoid strategically placed bunkers. “After each shot, you think that you must be closer than you are. It seems to keep expanding,” says Josh Esworthy, head golf professional at The Links at Lighthouse Sound. Even those who reach in regulation find a complex green, one crowned and sloped severely off all edges.

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Bidermann Golf Club No. 16
Wilmington, Delaware
You wouldn’t think that par 3s figure much into the mix of the toughest holes to play. After all, you can generally see the green right in front of you. You won’t even need a driver to reach it. Therein lies the rub. Short irons are control clubs, and par 3s demand control, meaning the premium is on accuracy. Allen Liddicoat, architect of Back Creek Golf Course in Middletown, Delaware, believes this gem demands all the accuracy of a great par 3. “It’s 235 yards from the tips, making it a long iron or hybrid tee shot,” says Liddicoat. “The green runs diagonally left to right, with a bunker guarding the left side. Even a good shot making the green leaves no bargain, because it’s three-tiered. Landing on the wrong tier for the pin placement means a two-putt par is no cinch.”

Cripple Creek Golf and Country Club No. 9
Dagsboro, Delaware
PGA-certified professional Butch Holtzclaw of The Rookery in Milton, Delaware, says there are plenty of tough golf holes in the Rehoboth Beach area, but the ninth at Cripple Creek may be the toughest. “It’s a long par-4 dogleg right and tree-lined on both sides of the fairway. The challenge is the approach, which requires a medium to a long iron to a narrow target. The green is deep, but has only a narrow opening in front, so the premium is on accuracy over distance.”

DuPont Country Club No. 15
Wilmington, Delaware
There’s trouble on all sides when playing the 15th at DuPont’s Championship course. Spanning 460 yards from the back tees, this par 4 has a “water hazard all down the right-hand side that cuts back across the fairway short of the green,” says Chris Wisler, assistant pro at Wild Quail Golf Club near Dover, Delaware. A bunker on the left side of the fairway and woods behind the green come into play, according to Scott Mitchell of Hartefeld National Golf Club in Avondale, Pennsylvania. He warns not to hit the ball too far, or you’ll put yourself out of position for the approach.


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Huntingdon Valley Country Club No. 18
Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania
This country club got its start in 1897, and it continues to baffle golfers in 2009, as exemplified by this dogleg right on its Flynn Nine course. Jonathan Doctor, golf pro at Chester Valley Golf Club in Malvern, Pennsylvania, cites this par 4’s tricky elevated tee shot, blind second shot and huge green for making it difficult. “You might hit the green but still be 30 yards from the flag. It’s very hard to gauge,” Doctor says. “The tee shot has to be perfect.” A 220-yard carry over a ravine poses an additional threat, says Jack Connelly of Huntingdon Valley.

Kings Creek Country Club No. 12
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
One of course designer Allen Liddicoat’s favorite holes, this 580-yard par 5 demands a strong opening drive to a tight landing area. “With trees on both sides, your second shot will be from a hanging lie,” he says. “But you can’t back down and play conservatively, because you’ll be facing a difficult, well-bunkered, undulating green if you don’t arrive in regulation.”

Laurel Creek Country Club No. 18
Mount Laurel, New Jersey
The final hole at Laurel Creek is a “tough drive surrounded by a hazard,” says Scott Hunter of Overbrook Golf Club in Villanova, Pennsylvania. A dogleg right with a green that slopes severely from side to side, this par 4 would have been a challenge without the surrounding wetlands, which have been known to swallow many a golfer’s carefully aimed drive. If you want a chance at making par, Laurel Creek’s pro suggests laying up short of the wetland with a medium to long iron and leaving a short pitch to the green.

The Links at Lighthouse Sound No. 5
Bishopville, Maryland
Bordering the bay and just south of Bayside, Lighthouse Sound offers more than an amazing view, especially on its fifth hole. If you get distracted by the Ocean City skyline, strong winds may send your ball into the water on this par 3. The green is narrow and requires a 200-yard carry over a marsh to reach in regulation. According to course pro Josh Esworthy, “The distance from the water and the green all depends on the time of the day and time of the year and whether there is a high tide or not. It’s a spectacular hole that has both breathtaking views and all sorts of challenges.”

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Merion Golf Club No. 11
Ardmore, Pennsylvania
Merion Golf Club has hosted more USGA championships than any other golf club in the nation, so it comes as no surprise that two of its holes made our top toughest list. This Main Line club will offer quite the challenge when it hosts the 2013 U.S. Open, especially on the East Course’s 11th hole. “It requires a very accurate tee shot, and you have to pinpoint the section of the fairway to get the right angle,” says Lori Van Sickle, golf pro at Broad Run Golfer’s Club in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The narrow green is well protected with a surrounding creek and a deep bunker on the left, so your approach must be just about perfect. Merion’s Chandler Withington warns, “For a hole that only measures 370 yards, it may look innocent on the scorecard, but it has plenty of sting to it.”

Merion Golf Club No. 18
Ardmore, Pennsylvania
The tee shot on this par 4 leaves no room for error, as the ball must be carried 240 yards over a quarry that intersects both the 16th and 18th. Harry Heagy of Edgmont Country Club in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, says the golfer is faced with a medium-to-long iron second shot that is tricky to hold. “It’s a difficult green to make in two putts,” he says. “Par is a great score, and a birdie on this closing hole is one to be cherished,” Withington says.

Philadelphia Country Club No. 17
Gladwyne, Pennsylvania
Dale Loeslein, director of golf at the new Odessa National Golf Club in Townsend, Delaware, believes the 17th hole at historic Philadelphia Country Club to be among the toughest he’s ever played. “It’s a long par 4 that demands a tee shot made difficult by the fact you must cut a part of the dogleg in order to keep the ball in the center of the fairway for your approach. Failure to cut the dogleg lands you in the rough. The approach is to a shallow green with bunkers left and a waste area on the right.”
Pine Valley Golf Club No. 5
Clementon, New Jersey
Having received many well-deserved accolades, including Golf Magazine’s 2007 top world ranking, this historic layout is renowned for its extreme difficulty throughout. Our list features two holes, including this long par 3. Rich Steinmetz, golf pro at Spring Ford Country Club in Royersford, Pennsylvania, believes this to be the most challenging he has played. “It’s 245 yards uphill with a small green as your target,” he says. Dan Elliot of Heritage Shores Golf Club in Bridgeville, Delaware, says simply that the only opportunity to play the hole properly “is to hit the green” to make par. “It places a premium on both accuracy and distance.”

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Pine Valley Golf Club No. 10
Clementon, New Jersey
Director of golf Chris Everett at Glenhardie Country Club in Wayne, Pennsylvania, calls the 10th hole “the most revered hole” at Pine Valley. “It’s the most intriguing hole I’ve ever played.” This hole plays 145 yards and, like the fifth, “if you don’t hit green, you are in trouble,” he says.

Turtle Creek Golf Course No. 18
Limerick, Pennsylvania
Called “No Way” or “Tin Cup,” this hole is located on a course that was part of a 500-acre land grant from William Penn in 1718. Assistant pro Jeff Jupane of Center Square Golf Club in Worcester, Pennsylvania, says, “Even if you lay up, there is still 140 yards of carry left over water.” Nevertheless, the pros at Turtle Creek advise laying up to that distance, leaving a level lie on the top of the hill above the pond.

White Clay Creek Country Club No. 11
Wilmington, Delaware
“Bring your A game to this hole,” a dogleg to the right, says White Clay Creek Country Club head pro John Rudolph. Says the club’s head instructor, Spencer Graham, “If you try to play a cut or left-to-right shot on the hole—cut the corner, so to speak—you will have a tough time getting over White Clay Creek, which runs up the entire right side of the hole. I personally think it is one of the most difficult in the region, as well as one of the most beautiful.”

White Manor Country Club No. 3
Malvern, Pennsylvania
Golfers, get ready for this par 3, where length will test your abilities. The hole is set 244 yards from the back tees. It features a large bunker on the right side of the green and a collection area on the left. Director of golf operations Steve Holauchock at Hickory Valley Golf Club in Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania, says, “This length for a par 3 makes it challenging.” Pro Marc Levine of White Manor Country Club says this hole “usually plays into the prevailing wind, which means a three-metal or hybrid is left for your approach to a large undulating green.”

Whether paying your daily fee or playing as a guest at one of these private clubs, keep these holes in mind the next time you visit one of these fine Delaware Valley tracks. These are just some of the make-or-break holes that will determine how you feel about your game at the end of the day. Good golfing.

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