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The most difficult courses on the PGA Tour

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March 18th, 2020

The PGA Tour challenges professional golfers with some of the toughest golf courses in the world. Some are defended by water or innovative designs, while others rely on wind to be at their toughest.

It was a difficult task to compile a list of the five toughest courses on the PGA Tour, but I gave it a shot.

PGA National

With water on 15 holes, 78 sand traps, and often a lot of wind, the Champion Course at PGA National is no doubt one of the toughest courses pro golfers have to face. It presents two of the most challenging three-hole stretches around, including the well-known Bear Trap (holes 15 through 17), and players can post a big number on almost every hole.

The course’s difficulty is on display each season at the Honda Classic, where most years we see a winning score in single digits under par and a cut line over par. Sungjae Im captured his first PGA Tour victory at the 2020 Honda Classic, with a winning tally of 6-under, and it only took a score of 3-over to get to the weekend.

Quail Hollow

This venue in Charlotte, North Carolina is one of the lengthier courses on Tour and concludes with one of the nastiest three-hole stretches, dubbed the “Green Mile.” The nearly 7,600-yard layout requires distance off the tee, especially when renovations after the 2016 event made it even longer.

The par-71 design usually sees a winning score between 10- and 15-under, but does not yield many rounds of 65 or lower and is extremely difficult to get through with a bogey-free card. Max Homa was one of three golfers who shot 10-under or better when he beat Joel Dahmen by three strokes last year. It was his first win on the PGA Tour.

Augusta National

A list like this would not be complete without the course that annually hosts the first major of the season — the Masters. When it comes to scoring, the par-72, 7,475-yard course has seen winning scores between 7- to 16-under, dating back to the start of the century, with the exception of 2007 and 2016, when weather wreaked havoc at the event. Augusta does not play as difficult as a course like PGA National for a number of reasons, but much of that has to do with the world’s best golfers' familiarity with the layout.

Tiger Woods captured the sports world with his 13-under victory in 2019, when he bested Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and Xander Schauffele by one stroke.

Innisbrook

The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook requires accurate ball striking, because it has narrow, tree-lined fairways on a par-71, 7,300-yard track. Distance is the key to success on many PGA courses, but not this one, where hitting the ball too far can make your approach shots more challenging. Instead, players often opt to play woods or irons off the tee and focus on the angles that are necessary to be successful at the Valspar Championship.

Much like Quail Hollow, the final three holes, called the Snake Pit, can ruin a good round in a hurry. 

Winning scores have been anywhere between 7- and 17-under, with the exception of 2008, when Sean O’Hair won at just 4-under. Englishman Paul Casey has won the event each of the last two seasons, by one stroke.

Bay Hill

The host site for the Arnold Palmer Invitational is a par-72, 7,454-yard layout that has four easy par 5s, but four extremely challenging and long par 3s. The fairways are not narrow like at Innisbrook, but the rough is penal.

When the winds are down, the winning score can be in the high teens, exemplified by Rory McIlroy’s 18-under tally in 2018. However, when the winds are gusting, it is as tough as nails.

We saw the course at its toughest this year, when Tyrrell Hatton was one of just four pros to shoot under par and captured his first PGA Tour event with a score of 4-under.


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