Some teed-off golfers abound at these holes

June 07, 1994|By Phil Jackman

It was after gazing upon and playing the ninth hole at Avenel the first year the course hosted the Kemper Open that Greg Norman said, "That ninth green should be dynamited."

"The Shark" felt sufficiently strong about it that he studiously avoided the Washington stop on the PGA Tour a few times and later, when they decided to re-design the hole, Norman was invited to push the plunger detonating the dynamite that would blow the green to kingdom come.

Actually, the par-3, a 9-iron belt straight down a hill to a narrow green running away and bordered by a creek on three sides and a trap on the other, wasn't that bad. Not after reading the book "America's Worst Golf Courses," anyway.

The signature course, according to author John Garrity, is one of those layouts crammed into space insufficient for nine holes, much less 18. While waiting to tee off, players press themselves against a fence for protection on several holes. The 16th tee is located between the 14th, 15th and 17th greens "in a space you couldn't park a motor home on."

Management makes no bones about the danger involved while playing a round at Plantation Golf and Country Club in Gretna, La. "Never look back," several signs warn. "Look forward. Don't worry about the group behind you. Stay with the group in front of you." Oh, the first tee serves as a shoulder for a 18-wheeler jammed major industrial highway.

Speaking of tees, the No. 1 tee is atop the clubhouse at a course in Florida.

The Bronx in New York City is site of the Pelham Park Golf Course, where 13 bodies have been picked off the grounds in the past 10 years. As remote a location as can be found in the five boroughs, it's not the occasional body that disrupts a player's concentration as much as it is the walk-by robberies.

One golfer told the New York Times that he was robbed of $68 and his credit cards while lining up an approach. He ended up flubbing the shot badly.

And, oh yes, the abandoned cars. An accompanying picture shows a man, serious as can be, belting an iron from within two feet of a burned-out vehicle located right in the middle of a fairway.

Out in California resides what is probably the only no-smoking golf course in existence. There's a very simple reason for this: The place is built over a 20-year-old garbage fill. "You flick your cigarette near one of the methane pipes and you'll have a real explosion shot," explains famed course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr., who designed the place.

It may surprise some to know that the "worst" designation isn't reserved for under-financed layouts stuck out in the middle of nowhere. A fairly well-known course is Furnace Creek, which, unfortunately, is located in Death Valley, Calif. Summer temperatures in the area are around 130 degrees during the day, with overnight lows of 100.

Even the sand traps can't survive, sand being so high in mineral content that it hardens like concrete when wet. Fortunately, average annual rainfall in the valley is less than two inches.

It was several years ago that noted links designer Pete Dye popularized island greens, and since then architects have acted as if they are a must. No. 7 at Stone Harbor in Cape May is a green sided by traps that give the appearance of the jaws of a shark. And the problem is, there are moats between the traps and the putting surface, players complaining that balls blasted out of the traps rarely hold the green.

Then there's the 14th hole at Lake Coeur D'Alene Golf Club in Idaho. The island green, which you get to by ferry, moves. Situated on a 7,500-ton barge, an underwater cable and a couple of winches allow for changes in distance.

In Honolulu, it's not so much the Ala Wai course itself that raises blood pressures so much as the play the layout gets every day: between 500 and 600 players trudging around in sixsomes. A course stateside that does 120,000 rounds a year is considered very busy. Ala Wai handles 200,000 at over $100 a pop.

One of the best-known courses in the country is the PGA West Stadium Course in La Quinta, Calif., right? Of Pete Dye's ultimate torture test, however, a golf writer wrote, "You play PGA West to atone for your sins. Nobody plays it for fun."

Carrying a world-leading course rating of 77.3, Dye explains "the client wanted something that would draw attention to the resort." And, boy, did he deliver. The pros "loved" it so much, it took them only about an hour to get it removed as one of the courses in the Bob Hope Classic.

Still, PGA West draws about 50,000 rounds per year at upward of $150 per round. Which may or may not tell you something about golfers.

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