The Alps hole originated in Scotland at the birthplace of the Open Championship, Prestwick Golf Club. Designed by C.B. Macdonald’s mentor, Old Tom Morris, Prestwick’s current day 17th hole is the first version of the Alps hole but was originally the 2nd hole.
The Alps hole is one of the most polarizing of C.B. Macdonald’s templates because it puts a feeling of uncertainty in players minds with its blind or semi-blind approach shot. Players that like to have the challenge all in front of them hate the alps hole while players who can put aside the blind shot and trust their yardage and swing love the hole. The Alps par 4 design typically ranges from 400-430 yards in length and is defined its blind second shot, usually over a hill. Guarding the green will be cross-bunkering over-the-hill and short of the green which the player is unable to see from the fairway. Players are given some relief with the use of the punchbowl green complex which allows shots slightly offline to funnel back to the green. Over the years, many of the frontal bunkers were filled in by uneducated greens committees who felt the bunkers were too unfair and penal.
One of the most fun holes to play, the first critical mission for a player on an Alps hole is to find the fairway. The approach shot is a difficult one because of its blind nature, so having full control of your shot is very important. A good tee shot will leave a mid-iron approach where long is better than short. The punchbowl green will funnel a slightly too long shot back to the green, while one that comes up short will find the treacherous front sahara bunkering.
Prestwick Golf Club - 17th - 394 yards - par 4
The original Alps, the 17th at Prestwick, is the only hole remaining from the first Open Championship layout, thus making it the oldest championship golf hole in the world. Macdonald got his inspiration for the Alps template hole from this beauty which plays all of its 394 yards. A good drive leaves the blind approach to a heavily protected green. The front sahara bunker that can’t be seen by players on their 2nd shot will penalize any shot that comes up short. While a good shot will most likely be helped by the punchbowl green complex which funnels balls to the center of the green and near pin positions. With today’s technology, some of the 17th’s teeth have dulled but it still requires a good deal of strategy from a player especially when the wind kicks up.
National Golf Links of America - 3rd - 426 yards - par 4
The most famed version of the Alps template in America is National Golf Links’ 3rd hole. From the start, a player is thrown off with the diagonal fairway that is heavily bunkered short and long making a precise tee shot a must. A tee shot to the left will shorten the hole but make the 2nd shot approach more severely uphill, while a tee shot down the right side will leave a less severe approach over the Alps hill and a peak at the green. From there, a player is faced with a blind approach to the subtle punchbowl green that is guarded by deep sahara bunkering.
Fishers Island Club- 4th - 397 yards - par 4
The 4th hole at Fishers Island is arguably the greatest hole on Seth Raynor’s masterpiece. Favoring the right side of the fairway yields the best approach but also brings the risk of the shore into play. On the blind approach, players will have judge the pin position off of the flagpole in the distance. The punchbowl green is one of the largest in the Raynor/Macdonald directory. It features a subtle spine on the back half, which makes almost every pin a bit more challenging.
The Course at Yale - 12th - 400 yards - par 4
Yale’s Alps hole is part of a fantastic stretch of golf. The hole tees off over a ridge that cascades down to a low part of the fairway. From there the tough second calls for a mid-iron shot up and over a massive hill that fronts the green. The sahara bunker is completely blind and the green is divided by a center spine. It creates two distinct tiers and makes for difficult two putts across the ridgeline.
Greenbrier Resort - Old White - 13th - 492 yards - par 4
One of the tougher holes at the Greenbrier Classic is the long par four 13th. This is where Macdonald employed the Alps template. The long par four moves gently to the right. Tee shots that favor the left side gain the advantage of seeing the green complex. Tee shots down the right will shorten the approach shot, but will lead to blind shot in. Macdonald used the deep bunker to obstruct the view of players, to this tough test.
St. Louis Country Club - 18th - 412 yards - par 4
The 412 yard finisher at Macdonald’s St. Louis Country Club makes closing out a good round very difficult. The fairway slopes hard from right to left on the uphill tee shot. Finding the fairway is paramount in order to control the spin and distance on the approach shot to the blind greensite. Fronting the green is an extremely deep sahara bunker that will swallow any shots not hit far enough. Once on the green, players are faced with a difficult green that slopes from right to left.
Camargo Club - 7th - 427 yards - par 4
The Raynor design in Cincinnati has a great Alps hole with its 427 yard 7th which plays up a large hill. The blind second shot at Camargo plays to a punchbowl green which still has the hidden sahara bunkers to snag any poorly struck mid-iron approach shots.
Lookout Mountain Golf Club - 11th - 418 yards - par 4
Some remark that the Alps at Seth Raynor’s Lookout Mountain could rival NGLA as the best American rendition. While I wouldn’t go that far, the 11th is a beauty. The 418 yard par 4 requires a strong tee shot to set up a good approach to the blind green that is flanked on the right side by a deep sahara bunker.
Morris County Golf Club - 7th - 455 yards - par 4
Dubbed “Big Ben,” the 7th is the signature hole at Seth Raynor’s great New Jersey layout, Morris County. Last year, Morris County restored the 7th to its original glory by bringing back its great punchbowl green complex. The bunkering behind the 7th makes players wary to go long.
Blue Mound Golf and Country Club - 4th - 388 yards - par 4
A subtle version of the Alps is at Seth Raynor’s Blue Mound outside of Milwaukee. Raynor wasn’t blessed with the best piece of land at Blue Mound but he made some terrific template holes including the Alps. With today’s technology, a good tee shot will leave a wedge approach to the 4th, but just enough uncertainty is created by the semi-blind shot in. Unlike most Alps holes which use a hill or sand dune to obstruct a player’s view of the green, here, Raynor used two large sahara bunkers.
Forsgate C.C. - 5th - 417 yards - par 4
At Charles Banks’ great New Jersey track, Forsgate, the 5th hole is an excellent example of a natural Alps hole. Here, Banks forces players to play to the left side of the fairway because of the fairway bunker, leaving a blind second shot to the punchbowl green. Unfortunately, Forsgate lacks the sahara bunkering that most Alps holes have.
North Shore Country Club (NY) - 2nd - 311 yards - par 4
At Seth Raynor's North Shore C.C. long hitters will salivate at the drivable 2nd. This rendition of the Alps has a semi-blind pin and forces a decision from the tee, go for it or play it safe. The bunkering and mounding that obstructs players is 220 yards from the tee. To carry the mounding requires a 245 yard shot which will run down hill towards the green.
Old Macdonald - 16th - 455 yards - par 4
At Tom Doak and Jim Urbina's Bandon Dunes tribute to C.B. Macdonald, Old Macdonald, the 16th mirrors National Golf Links of America’s Alps hole much more than Prestwick’s. One difference you’ll notice with Doak and Urbina's rendition of the Alps is that they left space down the left hand side for a player to run the ball up to the green. This adds some playability to the design for the less skilled golfer allowing them an opportunity to avoid the deep sahara bunker.
Flossmoor C.C. - 12th - 417 yards - par 4
The classic Herbert Tweedie design south of Chicago is a classic Alps hole. A good tee shot is necessary to setup the blind approach to the punchbowl green that slopes front to back. When firm and fast, the green that slopes away from you makes the approach extremely difficult to hit the correct distance.
Applebrook G.C. - 3rd - 310 yards - par 4
A modern twist on the Alps template lies at Applebrook Golf Club, a Gil Hanse design in Malvern, PA. The 3rd hole at Applebrook is a drivable par 4 that features a blind shot from the tee, but if a player lays up, they will be faced with another blind approach to the green. From the tee, the goal is to carry the sahara bunker which lies about 265 yards out. If executed, a good shot will then funnel into the giant punchbowl complex. Chips from around the green are very challenging due to the severity of the depressed punchbowl.