Bizarre Golf Course Feature You've Never Seen

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It's rare I come across something I've never seen before on a golf course, but that's exactly what happened to me last week.

And, I'm willing to bet that unless you've played where I was playing, you have never seen this either.

In fact, it might be the first of its kind in the entire world.

What was so unusual?

The course was the Four Seasons Golf Club in Costa Rica, but the bizarre sight was NOT the white-faced and howler monkeys all over the place.

(Monkeys on a golf course are unusual, but not unprecedented; you can also find them in Barbados at Sandy Lane's aptly-named Green Monkey course).

Rather, I noticed the most unusual feature on the par-3 fifth hole.

From the tips it is listed at a meaty 215 yards and the entire green is guarded by a long pond on the right. There is bail out room on the left, but a line of bunkers stands ready to swallow wayward shots (see below).

The par-3 fifth hole at Four Seasons Golf Club Costa Rica is "No.1."

As I glanced at my scorecard, I noticed this was the number one handicap hole on the entire golf course.

Four Seasons scorecard

This got me thinking: surely I have played many difficult par-3s, but has one ever been the No. 1 handicap hole?

So, I searched my memory and came up with some contenders:

The 5th at Pine Valley...

The 9th at Yale...

The 14th at Royal Portrush...

The 16th at Cypress Point...

The 17th at Kiawah's Ocean Course...

Alas, these contenders were all pretenders.

Very difficult holes, yes, but none is the No. 1 handicap on its course.

By the way, "No. 1 handicap hole" doesn't mean, "the hardest hole."

Instead, it's the hole where a bogey golfer will most likely need a stroke as an "equalizer" against a scratch golfer.

Said another way: the hole that typically produces the biggest differential in their scores.

(Use that, my fellow bogey golfers, if anyone tries to deny you a stroke on a par-3 simply because it's a par-3.)

And guess what? I played three rounds at this course and shot double bogey, double bogey, bogey on the hole.

So, as bizarre as it seemed at first, this par-3 surely felt accurately handicapped at No. 1.

How about you? Have you ever come across a par-3 that was the number one handicap...or one that should be? Do you see anything wrong with giving strokes on a par-3 even if it's highly handicapped?

Please share your thoughts or read what other are saying below.

Mar 28, 2014

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Stanley Pasarell's avatar
Stanley Pasarell wrote at 2014-04-21 22:41:59+00:00:

Just like hole 5 at Papagayo's Four Season in Costa Rica, Puerto Rico's Royal Isabela hole 17 is a 215 yard par 3. Without question our most difficult golf hole. 17 has 11 tee boxes...most perched at cliff's edge 180 feet above the Atlantic. Your tee shot must account for wind in to safely carry the chasm before reaching the green. The 3 level green juts out to a penninsula across that soars 150 feet above the Atlnatic. As our dear friend, golf architect David W. Pfaff, use to say "a monkey could have designed this hole". David along with my brother, Charlie, and I design Royal Isabela. On a sad note, David passed away about a year ago...we miss him...

Bob Pegram's avatar
Bob Pegram wrote at 2014-04-08 18:36:50+00:00:

Most people think the handicap ratings on holes are a ranking that shows which holes require a stroke to stay even with a scratch golfer. That is not the case. It should be, but isn't. The hole handicap ratings start with the holes on which a golfer would score the highest numerical score. It has nothing to do with par. A 600 yard par 5 is more difficult than a 215 par 3. The two double bogeys the author shot would be pars on a par 5. His gross score is likely to be higher than on any par 3 hole, therefore it should be handicapped as more difficult than any par 3.

If the handicapping works the way it is designed to work, and a golfer shoots exactly according to averages, he would score a net 4 on every hole regardless of par (assuming a total par of 72 and a course rating of 72).

I don't agree with this method of hole handicapping, but that is how it is supposed to work.

TR's avatar
TR wrote at 2014-04-03 15:35:55+00:00:


John's avatar
John wrote at 2014-03-31 18:26:06+00:00:

Portage Country Club in Portage Wisconsin has a par 3 hole (#3) rated as the number one hanidcap hole. It's 213 yards from the white tee, into the prevailing wind, with water on the entire left side and behind the green. To the right is a wooded hillside, a popular landing place but a difficult bogey if you go there.

Bobby's avatar
Bobby wrote at 2014-03-30 23:48:44+00:00:

Oakmont #8 is a beast!

rich cecil's avatar
rich cecil wrote at 2014-03-29 11:39:09+00:00:

A note regarding Calvin's comment about Cacapon State Park #18 green with a chimney in the middle of it. It is actually in the middle of the practice putting green. By the way this course is one of the best kept secrets around. Just a beautiful, quiet, challenging golf experience in a wonderful country setting. One of my favorites.


Ron Leporati, PGA's avatar
Ron Leporati, PGA wrote at 2014-03-29 11:38:41+00:00:

The Old Course at Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford, Pennsylvania has a par-3 ranked as the #1 handicap hole. Our fourth hole, adequately named "Volcano," is 223 yards uphill to a green that appears to sit at the top of a volcano. Our course is also ranked the #1 Public and #1 Resort Golf Course in Pennsylvania by GolfWeek Magazine as well as #53 on their "Top 100 Resort Courses in the United States" list. Come see us!

Rod's avatar
Rod wrote at 2014-03-29 04:26:00+00:00:

This one is easy - the 5th hole at Anstruther Golf Club in Scotland. Of course most have never heard of this little 9 hole course 9 miles south of St Andrews and along the coast between Anstruther and Pittenweem. It is another one of those unique Scottish courses like Shiskine and Stonehaven that offer just spectacular scenery, great hospitality and pure fun.

The par 3 called Rockies was voted the toughest par 3 in the UK. "From the elevated tee you must hit the ball onto the small fairway which is guarded on the right by a steep gorse and rough bank and on the left by the Firth of Forth which is out of bounds.

The more adventurous golfer can go for the green but a knowe that obscures half of the green makes this an extremely difficult and high risk shot. Best results are achieved by playing it as a par 4."

And the unfortunate thing is, being a nine-hole course, you have to play it twice

Brian Lowe's avatar
Brian Lowe wrote at 2014-03-29 01:31:48+00:00:

There are quite a number of courses in Australia that have different stroke and match play ratings for each hole in the round marked on the card.

John M's avatar
John M wrote at 2014-03-29 01:06:33+00:00:

I would like to question the reasoning behind the toughest par 3 on our course that is rated as the #18 handicap hole! The handicap committee & the club pro all agree with the rating that was set many years ago & never changed. Unless there is greater than a 17-stroke handicap differential between two match play players, the low handicapper has an advantage over a higher handicapper.

It is 187 yards into the prevailing wind (if the wind ever stopped blowing, everyone would fall over!) to a long, narrow from side to side, domed green.

It has a bunker guarding the right front with a strategic tree to the front left and right of the green to prevent shot shaping. If your tee shot misses the green pin high, you have a difficult chip, which if short, it rolls off & you do it again, if long it rolls off & you chip again. The reason the hole is rated #18 is because it is the hole a low handicapper would least wish to give a stroke to a higher handicapper in match play!!!!! That seems one-sided favouring low handicappers.

Donald Dahler's avatar
Donald Dahler wrote at 2014-03-28 23:43:34+00:00:

I believe that strokes should be given based on the handicap of the hole which, includes any par 3. Only scratch golfers would not like giving strokes on a par 3 that has a high handicap rating as that increases the scratch advantage which he already has over the high handicapper do to the way that the handicaps are figured to start with.

Gregory's avatar
Gregory wrote at 2014-03-28 23:30:27+00:00:

I never like losing a hole to someone getting strokes when it only requires they hit one decent shot which is the case on par 3's. This is why they're usually listed as the higher handicap holes.

Craig Beinke's avatar
Craig Beinke wrote at 2014-03-28 23:13:05+00:00:

Pacific Harbour Golf and Country Club

Par 3 8th hole, 235 yards from the tips.

Longest bunker in the southern hemisphere protects the right side, trees and OOB on the left, deep green side bunkers make a sand save difficult. If you manage to hit the multi-tiered green from the tee, a 3-putt is not out of the question.

Fred White's avatar
Fred White wrote at 2014-03-28 22:51:16+00:00:

Since most courses use only one male and one female hole ranking it is easy to see how a par three that can stretch 50 or 60 yards and have water or other hazards in play can be an should be the #1 hole. If a course determined handicap ranking from different tee boxes it would be more reflective of actual relative difficulty.

Ron's avatar
Ron wrote at 2014-03-28 22:27:35+00:00:

explains the difference between a match play allocation of handicap strokes (the normal definition) and stroke play or stableford allocation. I've seen a few scorecards, mostly in Britain that include both. This rating could be right for stroke play allocation but is likely wrong for the standard match play stroke allocation based on the USGA Handicap manual. If the goal was to attract interest from potential customers it sounds like the choice was spot on.

Larry's avatar
Larry wrote at 2014-03-28 22:20:18+00:00:

I once finished 3, 3, 3 at Pinehurst #2 and the 3 on 17 was the best score of the round by far.

Dave's avatar
Dave wrote at 2014-03-28 20:18:36+00:00:

The 16th at Carnousti comes to mind.

Roger Dickinson's avatar
Roger Dickinson wrote at 2014-03-28 20:09:15+00:00:

On the question of whether there shoud be a different stroke index between match play and stroke play the current system is somewhat illogical. Strokes should be taken on the highest stroke indexes, not the lowest. On stroke index 1 all us lesser mortals are expected to make a bogey so what is the advantage to the higher handicap. It is the holes where the lower handicap player is expected to make par and his opponent is expected to make bogey where the playing field needs to be levelled. Therefore if you are off 10 and I am off 13, in match play you should be giving me shots on stroke indexes 11, 12 and 13. Perhaps the rules committee thought this would be too complicated for people to work out each week. It does make more sense though.

I think I did play a course in the UK where a par 3 was stroke index one. I am sure Google must know the answer.

Adam Dean's avatar
Adam Dean wrote at 2014-03-28 19:36:03+00:00:

For years I thought WE were the only course in the world with a #1 handicap Par 3 hole. The 5th hole on the fearsome Karakung Golf Club @ Cobbs Creek (Karakung is the "short" Par 70 course on the property) is a very demanding downhill Par 3 on which most players card a bogey or worse. There are only 2 Par 3 holes on the golf course and only 2 Par 5 holes as well. I have made a lot of money over the years playing folks on what appears to be an easy course but in fact is quite challenging due to postage-stamp greens - need a ton of local knowledge here!

Fearless Phil's avatar
Fearless Phil wrote at 2014-03-28 18:17:16+00:00:

My home course in Sioux City Iowa has a 235 yard par 3 with a pond in front of the tee box and a creek/pond on the left side of the elevated green. This had been the #1 handicap hole for decades, before the course was rated again a couple years ago. I still find #7 to be tougher than the new #1 handicap that is now par-4 #4.

Len's avatar
Len wrote at 2014-03-28 18:08:35+00:00:

What is your definition of "the hardest hole" if it is not "the hole at which a bogey golfer will take the most strokes" above par?

bob webster's avatar
bob webster wrote at 2014-03-28 16:25:34+00:00:

Actually the number one handicap hole is where the one handicaper gets his stroke against the scratch player and it is a measure of the hole's difficulty. Number 18 would be considered the easiest where a bogey and scratch player are straight up. (Scratch vs 17 )


Charlie McGorray's avatar
Charlie McGorray wrote at 2014-03-28 16:20:59+00:00:

Though I've never run across a #1 handicap par 3, I understand how it could easily happen. At 215 yards, it may be too long for many high handicappers to reach to begin with. Add in a large pond and many deep bunkers and many high handicappers, not to mention mid-handicappers could easily take 5-6 strokes.

Bob Campbell's avatar
Bob Campbell wrote at 2014-03-28 16:19:12+00:00:

Stonebridge Golf Club in Ann Arbor, MI - an Arthur Hills design - has a par 3 as the #1 handicap hole. The 6th hole has a green well protected with bunkers and OB very close on both sides.

peter grad's avatar
peter grad wrote at 2014-03-28 16:18:05+00:00:

At Bel Air CC in Los Angeles, the three par threes on the back nine are all two hundred yards and extremely difficult. My guess is that no other course has three par threes on one nine any harder than Bel Air.

PJ Thompson's avatar
PJ Thompson wrote at 2014-03-28 16:06:09+00:00:

I can't think of an instance where I've seen this before. Definitely a tough hole for the higher handicap player. Looking at the card it's possible the par 5 ninth was actually 'true' #1, but the committee in charge elected to move #1 per USGA recommendation. You don't want #1 to fall late on a nine where it might not get to influence a handicap competition, or early where it influences a playoff. So the committee either 'lucked out' and found #1 in the middle of the nine or simply chose the middle. I can't say I necessarily disagree, but it certainly is unusual.

Mike C's avatar
Mike C wrote at 2014-03-28 15:59:27+00:00:

I take friendly exception to your statements about giving up strokes to someone on a par 3. My index is 8.5, not great, was better, I know, get to the point...Most of the golfers I play with (several age 60+, I am 68) have handicaps higher, some over twice as much, and all of us play from the whites-not the tips, and I am giving strokes like there is no tomorrow. We would be playing it from 168-I'm sure you wouldn't want to give me a stroke on a 168 yard par 3. At 215, a stroke makes sense, as NONE of us could hit an iron on the green or a wood that would hold and a large % of us would hit in the water, making double bogey at best. If I had to play this hole from 215, I'd hit 2 irons, hope I've given myself a makeable putt for par and just be happy I saved a ball and made bogey-and you'd have to make par to tie or birdie to win the hole.

Calvin Eggers's avatar
Calvin Eggers wrote at 2014-03-28 15:59:05+00:00:

Speaking of bizarre...

The above course has a chimney on one Green, I think #18.

It is a historical artifact of a home that were once on that land and they choose to preserve it.

J. McKendry's avatar
J. McKendry wrote at 2014-03-28 15:40:05+00:00:

Forget differentials & handicap as an "equalizer" and play the stroke. There is no "equalizer" in the game except hard work and ability. And it is this that develops the confidence to play a hole like the one you have highlighted - and it is a nice hole. The delusion of this accounts for the lack of long term improvement in handicaps/scores among amateurs and the departure of so many would-be golfers who will not or cannot invest in the hard work required for game improvement.

Landy Blank's avatar
Landy Blank wrote at 2014-03-28 15:31:32+00:00:

Having played the Four Seasons course in Costa Rica many times I can vouch that this hole is in fact deserving of the #1 handicap rating. The 192 yard shot from the Blue's is just as intimidating and a par on this hole is always followed by a sigh of relief.

A hole worth mentioning is the 245 yard Par 3 number #4 at Whitemarsh Country Club outside Philadelphia. Whitemarsh was the host of the PGA event IVB from the mid-sixties until Merion held the Open in 1981. It was the #1 handicap when I use to play there but I understand it is no longer #1. When 90% of your golfers have to hit a driver to a two tied green with trouble on both sides of the fairway you can imagine the scores. In the 15 years they held the PGA event only one hole-in-one was made.

Mike's avatar
Mike wrote at 2014-03-28 15:20:26+00:00:

I never like giving up strokes on par 3's !! Not right. plenty of other par 4's out there.

Dustin Fasbender's avatar
Dustin Fasbender wrote at 2014-03-28 15:11:38+00:00:

Paradise Pointe in Smithville Missouri

The Outlaw Course

210 yard par three that juts out into a lake (water on both sides)

Only par three number one handicap I have ever seen.

Jeffrey Lanford's avatar
Jeffrey Lanford wrote at 2014-03-28 15:00:23+00:00:

The 4th at Augusta!

Mickey Villella's avatar
Mickey Villella wrote at 2014-03-28 14:52:14+00:00:

This scorecard is a joke as to assessment of handicap holes. They have a 174 yard par three rated harder that a 390 yard par four and a 163 yard par three rated harder than a 550 yard par five.

The five par threes are rated 1,8,9,10 and 17. I have never seen that on any course.

Rob Tyska's avatar
Rob Tyska wrote at 2014-03-28 14:49:06+00:00:

We just recalculated the handicap holes at our course and a par 3 came out as the number 2 handicap hole, but would have been the number 1 if it was on the front 9. It's the 13th at E Gaynor Brennan Golf Course in Stamford, CT. A 230 yarder with the most severe green on the course. The "B" group average score was 4.56 meaning they usually don't hit the green, get on in two, and 3 putt half of the time. In the alternate calculation method that is used for Four-Ball and Best-Ball Stroke Play and Stableford it is the number 1 handicap hole.

mike chupka's avatar
mike chupka wrote at 2014-03-28 14:40:09+00:00:

Sounds to me the par three #5 was the hardest hole on the course, and you proved it.

Fran's avatar
Fran wrote at 2014-03-28 14:37:11+00:00:

I did play the 14th at Royal Portrush and it is a bear. it could certainly be a one handicap on most courses but there were a half dozen holes on royal Portrush contending for that honor. I pulled my shot to the left so as not to have to climb down what seemed like a mountain side for a recovery shot. As it turned out though my shot ended up in the nasty, long grass that Irish links is known for and the ball was lost. I ended up with a five on my scorecard. The only other par three that comes to mind is the 15th at Cypress Point.

Mark Pawelski's avatar
Mark Pawelski wrote at 2014-03-28 14:30:42+00:00:

Just remember that a hole's handicap rating has NOTHING to do with it's difficulty. In this example which hole on the course would a 1-handicapper need a stroke from a scratch player to keep the match EVEN.

Craig Better's avatar
Craig Better wrote at 2014-03-28 14:30:31+00:00:

Interesting idea, Ed. Thanks.

Ed's avatar
Ed wrote at 2014-03-28 14:29:08+00:00:

It would be complicated, but I've always felt that courses should have holes handicapped separately for stroke and match play. In match play the higher handicap needs strokes on the longer holes. In best ball stroke play getting strokes on the hardest holes vs. par makes more sense.

Craig Better

Staff Writer

Craig Better is one of the founding editors of Golf Vacation Insider. In addition to traveling to 15 foreign countries, he has twice traveled across America to play golf courses in all 50 United States. Prior to joining Golf Vacation Insider, Craig was a freelance writer who contributed to GOLF Magazine, Travel + Leisure Golf, Maxim Magazine,, and co-authored Zagat Survey’s book, America’s Top Golf Courses.