When it comes to finding a challenge on the golf course, some players seek out the toughest golf courses in the world, where the line between difficult and torturous is razor-thin. In this list, we’ve scoured the globe to find the courses that have brought even the most skilled golfers to their knees. Therefore, it’s advisable to invest in some lessons to improve your game before heading to any of these spots.
Most Challenging Golf Courses in the World
1. The Ocean Course, the United States
At the top of our list of the hardest golf courses in the world is the Ocean Course, designed by the infamous Pete Dye, who is known for his torturous course designs and has earned the moniker “The Marquis de Sod.”
Nowhere is this reputation more apparent than at the Ocean Course, which can be played at a length of over 7,900 yards from the back tees. The course’s combination of massive sand dunes, thorny marshes, treacherous pot bunkers, and lightning-fast greens has been known to reduce even the world’s best golfers to gibbering wrecks.
In fact, the course is so tough that during the 1991 Ryder Cup, which was held at the Ocean Course, even the game’s top players like Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Fred Couples, and Payne Stewart were winning holes with double-bogeys.
2. Carnoustie Golf Links, Scotland
Located on the unforgiving North Sea coast, Carnoustie Golf Links quickly gained the nickname “Carnasty” during the 1999 Open Championship, which was so tough that it reduced Sergio Garcia to tears after he finished last.
The par-71 course measures 7,421 yards and can play even longer when the wind gusts in from the North Sea, as it often does. It’s filled with treacherous pot bunkers and has even given rise to a phrase in 21st-century warfare known as the “Carnoustie effect,” which refers to the “psychic shock experienced on collision with reality by those whose expectations are founded on false assumptions.”
This is likely what happened to Jean Van de Velde at the 1999 Open, who was leading by three shots when he arrived at the final hole. The Frenchman then suffered a meltdown, including a visit to the notorious Barry Burn, taking seven shots to finish the hole and losing the resulting playoff to Scotsman Paul Lawrie.
3. Whistling Straits, the United States
Whistling Straits, another Pete Dye-designed exercise in golfing masochism, is appropriately situated on the site of a deserted artillery range on the shores of Lake Michigan.When current world No. 3 Lee Westwood first saw the course, he commented, “I had been informed that there are ten difficult holes and eight impossible ones. I am still attempting to determine which the ten difficult holes are.”
According to Golf Digest magazine’s staff, there are staggering 967 bunkers. That equates to an average of nearly 54 bunkers per hole. Some of them are so tiny that there’s hardly any space for a golfer and a ball. Others are scarcely recognizable as bunkers, as Dustin Johnson discovered to his dismay on the final hole of the 2010 US PGA Championship when he held a one-shot lead.
4. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club, China
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is the longest and one of the most challenging golf courses in the world, measuring 8,548 yards. It features a 711-yard par-five (as well as two more that are over 680 yards), a 525-yard par-four, and a 270-yard par-three. The course is located more than 3,040 meters above sea level in the Himalayas, where the thin air allows the golf ball to travel further. However, it also causes the ball to veer more to the left or right, making it an exceptionally demanding course for even the most skilled golfers to shoot under 80.
5. Saujana Golf Club – Palm Course, Malaysia
The Palm Course at Saujana Golf Club is famously known as “The Cobra,” owing to its immense difficulty. Over the years, it has hosted six of the last 13 Malaysian Opens, which is a co-sanctioned European/Asian Tour event. Past champions of the tournament include the former world number one, Vijay Singh.
The fairways of The Cobra are lined with dense jungle and water. Sand hazards are scattered throughout the course. Merely reaching the greens is a significant challenge. However, the real difficulty begins on the greens themselves. The putting surfaces at Saujana Golf Club are incredibly fast and have heavily undulating contours, making them perhaps the most challenging putting greens in the world, even more than those at Augusta. Only golfers who excel at putting can hope to emerge victorious at this club.
6. Kingston Heath, Australia
Kingston Heath, situated in the suburbs of Melbourne, is also one of the toughest golf courses in the world. Originally, it opened as a par-82, the longest golf course in the country. Its founders later decided to shorten it, turning it into a par-72 at 6,352 meters. The opening hole boasts a vast fairway, but the course quickly becomes challenging, especially due to the strategic and difficult bunker placement. Although the greens and fairways are relatively flat, the bunkers’ angles make it hard to hold the ball on the green when hitting out of the sand.
According to golf author John Sabino, the bunkers’ position is unique and challenging for players. What sets Kingston Heath apart, according to Greg Norman, are its best-in-the-world par-3s without water. The course’s combination of short holes and bunkers make it a distinctive and formidable test for any golfer.
7. Hirono Golf Club, Japan
Hirono Golf Club is a renowned golf course located in Japan, specifically in the Hyogo Prefecture. One of the main challenges of this club is the terrain. It is situated on a hilly terrain, with many holes featuring elevated greens and fairways. This makes it difficult to achieve accurate shots, especially for golfers who are not used to playing on hilly courses. The undulating terrain also means that players need to have a good sense of distance and be able to accurately gauge the slope and elevation changes.
Another challenge of Hirono Golf Club is the design of the holes. The course features several doglegs, blind shots, and strategically placed bunkers and hazards that require players to use different types of shots to navigate the course. The par-3 16th hole is an example that requires a precise shot over water to reach the green. The 18th hole, on the other hand, is a challenging par 4 that features a narrow fairway and a deep bunker that requires a precise tee shot to avoid.
The greens at Hirono Golf Club are also notoriously difficult. They are known for being fast and undulating, making it challenging for players to get the ball close to the hole. The course also features many multi-tiered greens, which require players to be strategic in their approach shots and putting. Moreover, the course is situated in a region that is prone to strong winds, which can make shots more difficult and affect the ball’s trajectory.
8. Morfontaine Golf Club, France
Morfontaine Golf Club is a historic and challenging golf course located in the countryside of France, just 30 kilometers north of Paris. It is a classic and traditional course, designed by Tom Simpson and opened in 1913. The course is renowned for its immaculate fairways, tight bunkering, and challenging greens.
One of the main challenges of Morfontaine is its undulating terrain, which adds an extra layer of difficulty to each shot. The course is also heavily wooded, with narrow fairways, requiring golfers to navigate through the trees and avoid the rough. The greens are small and tricky, with subtle breaks and undulations, making it difficult to read the putts.
Morfontaine’s most famous hole is the par-3 13th, known as the “Valley of Sin”. The hole is set in a deep valley, with a large bunker guarding the front and a steep slope behind the green. The hole requires a well-struck shot to land on the narrow green, and a missed shot is likely to roll down into the valley, leaving a difficult recovery shot.
9. Air Force City Golf Course, Philippines
Air Force City Golf Course is also ranked one of the most difficult golf courses in the world. One of the main factors that make Air Force City Golf Course so tough is its length. It measures 7,031 yards from the championship tees, making it one of the longest courses in the Philippines. The fairways are narrow and lined with trees, which require accurate tee shots to avoid trouble.
The course’s greens are also notoriously difficult to read and putt. They are fast and undulating, making it challenging for golfers to judge their approach shots and avoid three-putts. Additionally, the course features several water hazards and bunkers strategically placed. The weather conditions in the area can also pose a challenge for golfers. The Philippines is a tropical country, and the course is subject to frequent rain and high humidity, which can affect ball flight and make playing conditions more challenging.
>>> See more: Top 10 toughest golf courses in the Philippines.
10. Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, UAE
The hole at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club is widely recognized as the most famous in the region and was the clear winner of the Hardest Par 4 award in the UAE. Despite being significantly shorter than other contenders, with a length of only 421 yards, the final hole’s reputation as a challenging course is well-deserved. The drive to the hole is rife with hazards, and the approach shot presents even more difficulty. Even when players reach the green, their task is far from over.
Since this hole appears at the end of the game, it has the potential to ruin a player’s scorecard, causing golfers to approach the panoramic tee box with apprehension. Due to the wind blowing into and off the creek, more than half of the tee shots end up in the waste sand to the right of the fairway. Only the cleanest hit can reach the putting surface. With water on the front, left, and right sides, as well as three bunkers guarding the left, the fiendishly sloping green is often ignored.
11. Bethpage Golf Course, the United States
Bethpage Golf Course is comprised of five distinct courses, each with its own unique name. Of these courses, only the Black features signs cautioning that it is one of the toughest golf courses in the world, and should only be attempted by highly skilled golfers. It is advisable to avoid obstacles and difficult terrain, but once you complete the course, it is recommended to let go of your ego and appreciate the magnificence of this public golf course. Playing from the back tees provides a total yardage of 7,846, and it is said that one cannot consider themselves a true athlete without tackling the challenging back nine holes.
12. Koolau Golf Course, the United States
Despite its challenging nature, Koolau Golf Course remains a monster in the sport and has received numerous accolades as one of the most difficult courses in the world. Initially rated as a 160 for difficulty upon its opening, the USGA Headquarters rejected this assessment after sending their teams to evaluate the course due to its significantly greater difficulty. As a result, the course received a slope rating of 171. While the course has since been restructured to be simpler, with an elevation of 152, it still poses a formidable challenge with its fairway enclosed by Hawaiian jungle and boasting an impressive depth featuring over 80 bunkers.
13. Le Touessrok Golf Course, Mauritius
Le Touessrok Golf Course, designed by two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer of Germany, is situated on a picturesque island accessible only by speedboat or helicopter. The course’s breathtaking scenery and challenging design make it truly unique.
While Le Touessrok’s stunning natural beauty is undeniable, the course is famous for being one of the most challenging golf courses in the world. Several holes require long carries from tee to fairway or from fairway to green over treacherous obstacles, such as mangrove swamps, water hazards, or massive bunkers – some of which measure over 200 yards in length.
Thankfully, multiple tees are available to help average golfers reduce the carry distance from tee to fairway. However, the carry from fairway to green remains unchanged, providing a formidable challenge to players of all levels. It would be fascinating to see the world’s top professionals tackle the course from the back tees.
14. Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand
Cape Kidnappers is not only one of the toughest golf courses in the world but also a hazardous one, as several fairways run perilously close to 183-meter cliffs that plunge directly into the sea.
Designed by Tom Doak, the course features many holes that are fully exposed to strong winds coming off the Pacific Ocean. This makes keeping the ball on course a difficult task. The front nine’s rumpled fairways can cause tee shots to stray into the rough, while well-placed approaches can easily roll off the putting surface and into deep greenside bunkers.
However, it’s the back nine that truly sets Cape Kidnappers apart. These holes are both spectacularly beautiful and incredibly difficult, with narrow strips of fairway running between towering cliffs and deep chasms filled with scrub, rough, and trees.
15. Royal County Down, Northern Ireland
Royal County Down, frequently hailed as the world’s finest golf course outside of the United States, is also renowned for its formidable challenges.
The fairways, flanked by vibrant purple heather and golden yellow gorse, are narrow and almost impossible to recover from if one goes astray. Meanwhile, the course’s deep bunkers present an additional obstacle that many golfers find difficult to overcome.
Numerous blind shots demand that first-time players of Royal County Down enlist the aid of a local caddy to guide them to the correct target. Additionally, the greens are often domed, meaning anything less than perfect can easily land a ball in a nearby bunker or rough.
Although each hole is separated from the next by massive sand dunes, the wind from Dundrum Bay can be unpredictable and may add an additional challenge for players to contend with.
Nevertheless, golfers are treated to stunning views of the majestic Mourne Mountains from every hole. This unique “Beauty and the Beast” experience cements Royal County Down’s status as one of the toughest golf courses in the world, and a fitting conclusion to our tour of such courses.