#18in18: The most dramatic opening holes you can play

On these golf courses, the best hole may very well be the first hole.
The long, winding road down to the Mull of Kintyre reveals one of the greatest opening holes of golf at Machrihanish Golf Club.

There are golf courses in the world designed to ease the golfer into the round, starting with a fairly modest and manageable opening hole. Pebble Beach doesn't really ramp up until midway through the opening nine. The Old Course in St. Andrews provides a fairway over 100 yards wide to help ease the nerves.

Other courses kick the round off with a bang, featuring a combination of high drama and excellent scenery. It's something many of the early courses in Great Britain and Ireland employed, and later in North America with Golden-Era architects employed from time-to-time like C.B. Macdonald, Alister MacKenzie and Donald Ross. Modern courses have typically saved their dazzling holes for the closing holes of nines instead of their openers, but there are some that utilize their clubhouse's lofty perches to create fantastic elevated tee shots. Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw are a duo that don't seem to shy away from creating a memorable opener.

I've sorted through my scorecards and consulted with my staff at Golf Advisor to reveal 18 of the best opening holes around. I've played many of them, while others I've heard and seen plenty about. What are your favorite opening holes to play? Let us know in the comments below.

Arizona

Coore & Crenshaw welcome visitors escaping the bustling Phoenix-Scottsdale metro area to the East Valley and the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation tribal lands with a scenic opener. The elevated tee shot heads gently downhill on this opening, long par 4 with a generous fairway.

The opening par 4 on the Saguaro Course heads gently downhill over a rippling fairway with 360-degree mountain views.

Cape Breton Island, Canada

Not far from Cabot Links is a lesser-known course in Cheticamp whose opening par 5 rivals any opener on the island. It's even more stunning when you consider the entrance to the club is hardly Magnolia Lane: Drivers pull off the main coastal highway into what feels like an industrial complex. But once you round the corner of the clubhouse, it's nothing but green grass and mountains.

A scenic, opening par 5 kicks off the round at Cape Breton's Le Portage.

Michigan

Elevated tee shots are everywhere in Northern Michigan, and at The Legend, designer Arnold Palmer encourages golfers to be aggressive from the start with this very reachable, downhill par 5.

The opening hole on the Legend golf course at Shanty Creek Resorts is a short, downhill par 5.

Texas

The Cap Rock clubhouse (currently being rebuilt following a 2011 fire) at Horseshoe Bay sits on high ground and serves two of the three Robert Trent Jones Sr. designs at Horseshoe Bay. Both Ram Rock and Apple Rock have fantastic, elevated tee shots that kick off their respective routings. This spring, Patrick Reed showed onlookers how it's done on the first tee of Ram Rock for the grand reopening.

New York

Donald Ross doesn't shy away from long, par-4 opening holes. The Sagamore starts from an elevated tee and plays down to a fairway before heading back uphill to the green. There's a wonderful lake backdrop as well.

The first hole at The Sagamore GC is a straight shot toward Lake George.

Washington

U.S. Open hosts don't typically feature many birdie opportunities, but those who can hit a big drive on the opening par 5 at Chambers Bay set themselves up for a great start. Named "Puget Sound," the hole heads straight towards the water.

Sergio Garcia of Spain tees off on the first hole during the second round of the 115th U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay.

Florida

Streamsong's Blue and Red courses kick off with a bang. Streamsong Red's opener is a long par 4 with plenty of water and sand to worry about.

Streamsong Red, a Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design, makes a great first impression with the 474-yard par-4 first.

Michigan

The Treetops North clubhouse is set on high ground, and the Fazio Premier and Smith Signature courses both kick off with elevated tee shots. The Smith is particularly scenic with long views of Northern Michigan.

The downhill first hole at the Smith Signature Course at Treetops Resort in Northern Michigan.

Wales

A foursome of fearsome pot bunkers warn golfers at the start of their round at Royal Porthcawl, Wales' undisputed medal links. It kicks off a marvelous stretch of three holes that play along the beach.

Eddie Pepperell of England plays his second shot on the first hole on the Royal Porthcawl Golf Club.

Hawaii

The Plantation course has a lofty setting on Maui and it's all on display on the opening hole, which overlooks the ocean and island of Lanai. The approach shot requires a forced carry over a hazard.

The Plantation Course at Kapalua roams up and down the hills of Maui.

Nevada

It's a sensory overload from the get-go at Wolf Creek, which features one dramatic look after another.

The elevated tee at No. 1 introduces the dramatic Wolf Creek Golf Club.

Hawaii

The opening hole of the Emerald Course at Wailea is about as player-friendly as it gets. At 380 yards from the back tees and 325 from the whites, bigger hitters could chase it up pretty close to the green. A bailout area right collects balls providing for an easy approach. The Emerald course personifies Hawaii "resort golf" and there are few better birdie opportunities out of the gate on Maui than here.

Few destinations are better for golf than Hawaii, but it's not a buddy trip hotbed. Pictured here is the Emerald Course at Wailea Golf Club.

Northern Ireland

A long, dogleg par 4 greets golfers at Portstewart and comes with an exposed and elevated tee shot. The remaining holes snake thru dunes and finish above them.

The first tee on the Strand Course at the Portstewart Golf Club provides a great view.

West Virginia

Nervy swings that top their shot will find embarrassment in the stream that runs in front of the tee box. Instead, feast your eyes on the mountain backdrop and swing easy on this 449-yard opener.

The opener at TPC Old White, deisigned by C.B. MacDonald.

California

While Pebble Beach needs a few holes to get golfers out to the ocean, Spyglass Hill wastes no time with this doglegging par 5 that plays nearly 600 yards from the tips and finishes by the beach.

Pebble Beach Resort's Spyglass Hill heads out to the ocean on the first hole.

California

The best tee shot at Alister MacKenzie's Pasatiempo may very well be the elevated first. You'll want a good poke here to provide a manageable approach shot into the green on this long par 4.

A lone golfer walks the first fairway at Pasatiempo Golf Club in the fading light.

Scotland

One of Old Tom Morris' most famous holes is the opener at remote Machrihanish. Golfers are dared to bite off as much of the beach as they can on this dogleg left.

Machrihanish Golf Club is the most isolated of the many World Top 100 courses in Scotland.

Northern Ireland

Not far from Royal County Down, perhaps the best opening hole anywhere is at Ardglass. The crashing waves along the shoreline coupled with a tee box steps from the remains of the 13th century castle wall will get your motor running in a hurry. The tee shot heads uphill and the closer to the cliffs you play, the better approach shot you'll have. Locals will advise visitors that "you've got the whole of Ireland to your right." (Or at the very least, the 18th hole fairway). It kicks off one of the most dramatic rounds in Ireland. It's hard to call it a "hidden gem" these days as golfers are more and more familiar with this spectacular clifftop course.

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.
11 Comments
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MichaelLowe
Can attest to the opening hole at Streamsong Red. Especially from the black tees, it's a bear.
Steve
For the intimidation factor alone, No.1 on the Black Course at Bethpage makes it memorable, the elevated tee, the sign warning you of the difficult task ahead and including a gallery of onlookers from the practice green and of those waiting to tee off.
Andy
How can #1 on the Judge on the RTJ Trail at Capitol Hill not be on this list? 200 ft down to the Alabama River valley floor from the bluff above, for your first tee shot of the day? The starter the day we played there gave one of the great lines I've heard on a course: "We're OK to go down to the Judge during the day, but at night, things come out of the river and we leave the Judge alone at night."
pkkenny71
Errrrrr ... slight miss here. Just a little Scottish course you may have heard of called St Andrews Old. The clubhouse, being announced by the starter, meeting your caddy, the photos for the scrapbook, the double fairway, the Swilcan Burn .... the home of golf!! Does it get more 'dramatic ???
Tony
No arguments about Machrihanish being right up there. With the tide fully in, the wind making your trouser cuffs snap like flags in a gale and a gallery of players waiting behind you, it is a daunting as well as totally stunning start to a round of golf.
Ian
Agree with previous post. 1st at St Andrews old course is a glaring miss from this list.
BrandonTuckerGA
@ian and @pkenney71, I mention St. Andrews in the intro but frankly I think it's one of the weakest holes on the course aside from where the tee box is located. It is certainly nerve-wracking. Maybe I'm salty because I've gone OB 2 out of 3 times I've played it.
Steve
First at The Judge, Prattville RTJ trail, worth consideration.
Boyd
I’ve got to add Ballybunion old. To have your caddy tell you not to go right into the looming graveyard “ because you’ll be there soon enough” gets your attention, especially in a stiff left to right wind.
Charles
The sign at the tee at #1 on The Judge says, "Prepare to be Judged." 200 foot drop. Pretty dramatic. I have played Streamsong Red, Spyglass, and the Plantation Course, and the first hole at The Judge is way better.
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#18in18: The most dramatic opening holes you can play
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