Diverging from the template holes of C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor, we take a look at one of the common designs used by another great golden age architect, A.W. Tillinghast. While Tillinghast didn’t use as many template holes or use them as often as Macdonald and Raynor, the few he did have were strategic designs used to examine particular aspects of a player’s game. Let’s take a look at my favorite of his templates, the Great Hazard, a par 5 design that Tillinghast used regularly and some of today’s great architects have added to their repertoire.
Unlike the majority of Macdonald’s template holes, the Great Hazard is a template that was created by Tillinghast and not a rendition of a famed hole in the British Isles. The first use of the great hazard was at Pine Valley, where Tillinghast convinced George Crump to use the design to create the 7th hole which is now dubbed “Hell’s Half Acre” and one the most famed holes at the masterpiece.
Today, the Great Hazard is still used masterfully at some sites, while others have been altered to keep the strategy relevant with today’s longer flying ball. Unfortunately, many Great Hazards were eliminated to cut maintenance budgets by uninformed greens committees.
Used on par 5’s, the Great Hazard typically comes into play on a player’s second shot. Tillinghast strategically places a series of bunkers or mounds that cut into the fairway and a player’s landing area. The Great Hazard puts a lot of pressure on a player’s tee shot, as a poor tee shot will lead to the difficult decision of whether to try to carry the bunkering/mounding or to lay back of it and leave a long 3rd shot into the green. Meanwhile, a good tee shot that finds the fairway will typically have a relatively easy time carrying the bunker.
On some of Tillinghast’s Great Hazard designs, the bunkers and/or mounding are placed on a diagonal. The shorter carry yields a tougher approach shot to the green while players who successfully carry the longer side of the diagonal are rewarded with a great angle to approach the green.
Pine Valley - 7th - 638 yards - par 5
The first and most famous rendition of Tillinghast’s Great Hazard is at Pine Valley and dubbed Hell’s Half Acre. This true 3-shot par 5 runs uphill and was conceived at the height of the Philly School of Architecture at which time George Crump would regularly brainstorm ideas and concepts with other legendary architects, Tillinghast, George Thomas, William Flynn, William Fownes and Hugh Wilson. To maintain the great strategic design of the hole, Pine Valley has lengthened the hole significantly over the years.
The first challenge of the 7th at PV is to hit the narrow fairway, and if you fail your chances of carrying the Great Hazard are minimal. As put by a member, “missing the fairway will lead to a pitch out 9 times out of 10.” Meanwhile, a good drive that finds the fairway will allow for an attempt over the giant bunker, typically with a long-iron or hybrid for longer hitters and a rare birdie chance at the tough Pine Valley.
From the back tees, the fairway runs about 340 yards before the treacherous bunker and about 300 yards from the members tee. The bunker itself is about 160 yards long.
The green is fronted by a deep bunker which makes approach shots tough from anywhere, but especially difficult for those who have to lay up short of the Great Hazard. From in front of the Great Hazard, a player will be left with roughly a 215 yard approach that is uphill and blind, a difficult par. For those who succeed in carrying the bunker, they’ll be left with a shot from under 150 yards to the tricky green.
Bethpage Black - 4th - 517 yards - par 5
Another famous example of the design is at Bethpage Black where Tillinghast mixes a double dogleg par 5 design with a diagonal Great Hazard. Once again, the drive is critical. A good one will set up a much easier shot over the diagonal bunker, while the rough will lead to a tough decision on how much of the bunker to bite off. As you can see from this view, the best angle of approach is from the right side of the fairway which also has a significantly longer bunker carry.
Philadelphia Cricket Club - Wissahickon - 7th Hole - 553 yards - par 5
Tillinghast called the Philadelphia Cricket Club home and the Wissahickon course is one of his finest designs. The Great Hazard rests about 340 yards from the back tee and to make things a little tougher, Tilly places bunkers in the landing area on both the right and left sides of the fairway. Find one of those bunkers and a layup to the Great Hazard is likely. As we see at Philadelphia Cricket Club, the green is protected by an extremely deep bunker which makes coming into the green from a distance (in front of the Great Hazard) extremely difficult.
Somerset Hills C.C. - 9th - 521 yards - par 5
Sitting only 265 yards from the tee box to the left bunkering, the 9th at Somerset Hills is a unique and very reachable use of the Great Hazard. This makes it easy for a good tee shot to reach from the tee and spoil a chance to get home in two. To carry the hazard, it’s a robust 315 yards making it unattainable for only the longest of players. A good tee shot down the left side will leave a chance to get home in two from roughly 240-260 yards. For those who have to layup, the fairway kicks hard to the left and and while there is ample room on the right, the toughest part of the 9th is the green which falls off severely on the left side into the bunkering.
Baltimore C.C. - Five Farms East Course 14th - 603 yards - par 5
At Baltimore C.C.’s Five Farms East course, Tilly employed the Great Hazard in a similar way to Philadelphia Cricket Club’s, however, on a much more dramatic piece of the property. The stout 603 yard par 5 rewards a player who carries the hazard on his second shot with a downslope that will lead to a mere flip wedge in. This green sits up on a plateau and instead of a bunker, Tilly uses the natural slope as a defense to a low running shot.
Baltusrol Golf Club - Lower Course - 17th - 647 yards - par 5
One of the more famous examples of the Great Hazard lies at the major championship rich Baltusrol Lower Course. The 17th is littered with greenside bunkers and also employs a series of Great Hazard bunkers in the fairway that disrupt the second shot. With a good drive, the bunkers are no problem. With a poor drive, a player faces a big decision. The Great Hazard’s bunkering runs diagonally with the longer carry on the right side.
Fenway Golf Club - 3rd - 520 yards - par 5
At this Tillinghast gem in NY, the 3rd is considered a Great Hazard, but it is unique to all others mentioned in this article as it doesn’t stretch across the fairway. Fenway’s obstructs only the right side of the fairway, leaving the left side open for those who want to play it safe.
Ridgewood C.C. - - Championship Routing - 3rd (Gorilla) - 588 yards - par 5
The recently restored Tillinghast treasure, Ridgewood, has a gem of a Great Hazard with the par 5 3rd dubbed “Gorilla.” Here, Tilly didn’t even use bunkering, perhaps giving players an even tougher test of mounds and deep rough. The 3rd is as much par 5 as anyone can handle when you couple the Great Hazard with OB left and a hole stretching to nearly 600 yards.
Ridgewood C.C. - Championship Routing - 13th (Muckle) - 586 yards - par 5
Ridgewood has not one but two Great Hazard holes on its property. The second Great Hazard par 5 is dubbed “Muckle” and is the 13th hole on Ridgewood’s championship routing. This hole runs slightly downhill and the series of mounds and long rough which bisects the fairway runs about 80 yards. To get over the Great Hazard in two shots it takes 410 yards of distance, a tough task if the fairway is missed.
National Golf Links of America - 9th - 540 yards - par 5
A non-Tillinghast golden age example of a Great Hazard is at C.B. Macdonald’s National Golf Links of America and on the 9th hole. This was Macdonald’s Long template which typically features cross bunkers that cut into the fairway, but at NGLA, he went all the way across creating a Great Hazard.
Dormie Club - 17th - 497 yards - par 5
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw used the Great Hazard concept a little differently on their par 5 17th hole at the North Carolina gem. Instead of having the hazard come into play early on the second shot, this Great Hazard can wreck havoc for a player's second or third shot as it sits close to the green. The 17th at Dormie Club is made extra difficult by the elevated green which makes a shot short of the Great Hazard somewhat blind.
Streamsong Blue Course - 17th - 590 yards - par 5
Doak used Tilly’s Great Hazard as his inspiration at Streamsong Blue’s 17th hole. Off the tee, players are challenged by a bunker on the right and left sides. From the back tee, the bunker on the right is a 282 yard carry, and the bunker on the left can be reached by a drive that travels 290 yards. A prudent play is a layup, but then the challenge comes on the second shot over the Great Hazard that is about 20 yards wide from 150-130 yards from the green. This is an excellent strategic design as clearing the Great Hazard will make for a superb birdie opportunity, while laying back behind it will leave a 160+ yard shot and a tough par.
Old Macdonald - 6th - 555 yards - par 5
At Bandon Dunes’ Old Macdonald course, Tom Doak paid homage to C.B. Macdonald by using his templates all over the course. The 6th is another example of the Long template, utilizing a Great Hazard bunker concept. Here’s how Tom Doak describes the hole on Bandon Dunes website:
“Aptly named, the longest hole on the golf course plays directly into the summer wind. Avoid the large cross bunker in the middle of the fairway that sits 100 yards from the green by laying up for position. The best angle into this green is from the left side. It will take three well-played shots to get home on this hole.”
Old Sandwich - 10th - 516 yards - par 5
At the heralded Boston club, Coore and Crenshaw again utilized the Great Hazard on a short par 5. Here, long-hitters need to be wary of the Great Hazard off the tee and especially under firm and fast conditions. The bunkering is set at a diagonal, and the cross bunkers near the green reward a player who goes over the longer left side of the hazard, which sets up an ideal approach angle to the green.
Quaker Ridge G.C. - 14th - 576 yards - par 5
At “Tilly’s Treasure” Quaker Ridge, the 14th is an excellent example of the Great Hazard. The bunkers angle so that the left side is the preferred route to the green and also the shorter side of the hazard, however, the entire left side of the fairway is guarded by bunkers. This forces a player to make a decision, usually opting to aim towards the right center of the fairway and create a slightly more difficult angle and longer shot into the green. In total, it’s 480 yards uphill to clear the cross bunkers, and quite the stout challenge.
Swope Memorial - 9th - 477 yard - par 5
Along with Bethpage Black, Swope Park in Kansas City is a rare A.W. Tillinghast municipal course. Swope is in desperate need of a restoration, but the bones of a great golf course still remain. Here’s their Great Hazard, which is extremely short given today’s technology. Long players can carry the Great Hazard, but it could lead to an odd downhill lie. Shorter players need to layup with an iron or hybrid and then play a mid-iron to wedge distance for an uphill shot. At only 477 yards, don’t judge this hole by the scorecard, big numbers lurk.