RIDGEDALE, Mo. -- When most golfers arrive at the 19th hole, they grab a beer.
At Payne’s Valley – and a few other courses like it around the world – they grab a club.
The Payne’s Valley Cup, a televised exhibition match featuring Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas against Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose Sept. 22, revealed the stunning 19th hole of the new Woods design at Big Cedar Lodge in the Ozark Mountains. The extra 136-yard par 3 provides the visual exclamation point on an already memorable layout, ending at an island green guarded by a front bunker in Lunker Lake. Don’t be distracted by the waterfall spilling off of 250-foot rock cliffs that frame the hole like an amphitheater.
The concept of the 19th hole – an extra or “bye” hole to be played after a normal round – was originally made to settle bets. In the modern age of architecture and social media, it has become so much more. It’s a marketing tool, an Instagram darling, used to lure golfers who want to experience something beyond just a simple round of golf. It’s the shot they’ll remember and brag about at the real 19th hole for the rest of their days. Playing that hole alone might be worth the $225 green fee at Payne's Valley.
Watch highlights from the Payne's Valley Cup
I’ve been fortunate enough to play a handful of golf’s standout 19th holes. Some are simply extra par 3s like the 150-yarder available for anyone who visits Streamsong Red or Blue in central Florida. Others are grandiose experiences.
The total 19th hole experience at Payne’s Valley ranks among the best of them. Johnny Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops and the owner of Big Cedar Lodge, is getting credited for its design. After the round, golfers drive up the “Cliffhanger Trail," a nearly mile-long trek that switchbacks through a cave and splashes over parts of the waterfall before returning to the clifftop clubhouse. It’s epic in every way. As for the hole itself, every major champion who played it during the Payne's Valley Cup - Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Rose, Woods, McIlroy and Thomas - had no trouble hitting the green, but only Thomas hit it close enough (9 feet) to make birdie.
The only more extraordinary 19th hole I've seen is out of reach for most golfers: The “Extreme 19th” at the Legend Golf & Safari Resort in the Limpopo Province of South Africa a couple hours from Johannesburg. It’s the only hole in the world that requires a helicopter to reach. They say the 400-yard elevation drop off of Hanglip Mountain takes a 260-yard shot to hit the green shaped like Africa 400 yards away. I’m not entirely convinced. A threesome of golf writers, myself included, all failed to hit tee shots over the jungle on each of our six attempts. Despite our failures, it's definitely worth the added expense after playing the resort's Signature course.
The model for a good 19th hole seems to be to build it with a unique feature without being too gimmicky. Island greens are a popular choice. The Gambling Hole at Koasati Pines at Coushatta Casino Resort in Kinder, La., plays anywhere from 85 yards to 150 yards to an island green.
Another one, the 75-yard extra hole at Indian River Preserve, the former Walkabout Golf Club in Mims, Fla., features an island green shaped like Australia, the native country of course architect and former LPGA Tour calendar girl, Jan Stephenson. The 19th hole at Forest Dunes in Roscommon, Mich., stands out for the tiny pot-like bunker dug into the middle of the green. Even with a wedge in hand on the 117-yard shot, I’ve still managed to bury my ball in it.
Not all bye holes come at the end of the round. Hole 3b on the Pacifico Course at Punta Mita Golf Club, a Jack Nicklaus design in Punta Mita, Mexico, is a natural wonder called "Tail of the Whale" that plays to a rocky island in the middle of the ocean. Golfers tackle it after a more simplistic 3a hole. At 199 yards, often protected by swirling seaside winds, 3B might be the hardest green to hit out of all the 19th holes (excluding the Extreme 19th). I rinsed two attempts the only time I've played it. No matter. The amphibious golf cart that usually ferries golfers out to the green was broken and the tide was in that day, making the cart path impassable (visible in the second photo below). I wouldn’t have retrieved my balls even if they were dry.
Revealing the 19th hole at Payne's Valley on TV - coupled with Phil Mickelson's debut win on the PGA Tour Champions at Ozarks National - probably put Big Cedar Lodge on the map for many golfers. Whenever I put out a photo or video of the hole on social media, the reaction is the same: "Wow", "Looks breathtaking", "Phenomenal." I wouldn't be surprised if 19th holes grow as a trend. Who doesn't love bonus golf on a spectacular hole? The other 19th hole can wait.
What's your favorite 19th hole in golf? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.