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Challenge Yourself: GolfNow’s 10 Most Difficult Courses

With the holidays quickly approaching, it’s easy to put golf on the back burner, focusing instead on trimming the tree, baking holiday cookies, and watching the upcoming BCS bowl games.

But now is the perfect time to prepare for next year’s golf season and establish your goals. As you look ahead to 2014, why not test your game and consider playing one of these 10 courses, which have been rated the absolute most difficult to play – by golfers like you. Are you up for the challenge? If so, visit GolfNow and start planning your next golf outing!


1. Hammock Beach – Conservatory Course (Palm Coast, FL)

7,776 Yards; Par 72; Slope: 150; Rating: 78.2

Designed by one of golf’s greatest links players, Tom Watson, Hammock Beach’s Conservatory Course pays homage to British links-style golf. Generally one of Florida’s highest-ranked courses, in terms of difficulty, the Conservatory features more than 70 acres of lakes, nearly 150 sand, sod-faced and coquina bunkers and substantial elevation changes.

In particular, GolfNow reviewers have been challenged by the course’s fairway bunkers, which are “everywhere” and described as “killers.” Another reviewer agrees, mentioning the course is “not for the faint of heart,” but, if you avoid the hazards, you will be rewarded “on nearly every shot.”



2. Princeville at Hanalei – Prince Course (Princeville, HI)

7,378 Yards; Par 72; Slope: 140; Rating: 76.2

For nearly a quarter of a century, Robert Trent Jones, Jr.’s Prince Course has placed a premium on accurate shot making, distance control and course management. Strategy is a must, as many holes feature forced carries over water, trees and other hazards.

The course’s undulating terrain forces golfers to focus on shot placement in order to score well. High winds also affect golfers’ scores, since the course is nestled near the Pacific Ocean. With “lots of trouble on pretty much every hole,” GolfNow users recommend bringing “a dozen balls.” Another user mentions golfers must “evaluate all options before each shot,” as “you [will] rarely find a straight hole.”


Crystal Springs Golf Course

3. Crystal Springs Golf Club (Hamburg, NJ)

6,808 Yards; Par 72; Slope: 137; Rating: 74.1

Compared to most of the other courses on this list, Crystal Springs is not especially long, but its fairways are tight and surrounded by sculpted mounds, a trademark of course designer Robert von Hagge. The mounds can be found throughout the course, even near the greens. As a result, golfers must remain sharp throughout their rounds, aiming for the best lies possible.

Golfers must also avoid the course’s water hazards, located on five holes, as well as roughly 60 bunkers. According to reviewers, “approach shots are often very challenging” as “greens [are] tiered” and “true and fast.”


Eagles Nest

4. Eagles Nest Golf Club (Maple, Ontario, Canada)

7,476 Yards; Par 72, Slope: 140; Rating: 76.2

Regularly ranked as one of Canada’s best public courses, Eagles Nest’s pot bunkers, sand dunes and undulated fairways offer a taxing layout to even the most accurate shotmakers. Holes three through seven are especially challenging, as they feature valley slopes surrounded by soaring white pine trees.

The links-style course’s elevation changes are striking, and golfers must react accordingly. Aside from the course’s elevation changes and fairway and greenside bunkers, golfers will also encounter greens that are, according to one GolfNow reviewer, “lightning fast,” resulting in a “true test” of their games.


Echelon RJ

5. Echelon Golf Club (Alpharetta, GA)

7,558 Yards; Par 72; Slope: 154; Rating: 77.8

A semi-private course, Echelon is currently welcoming public play, inviting golfers to witness the course’s exquisite beauty and demanding layout for themselves. Aside from the course’s daunting length, Echelon is also renowned for its numerous water hazards, undulated fairways and elevation changes.

Golfers will frequently encounter uneven fairway lies and fast greens, so distance control, precision and patience are essential, especially as they hit their approach shots. As one GolfNow golfer noted, “you better bring your ‘A’ game, or you’ll be scared to add up your scorecard.”


The Ranch Golf Club 2

6. The Ranch Golf Club (San Jose, CA)

6,656 Yards; Par 72; Slope: 152; Rating 72.9

With one of California’s highest slope ratings, The Ranch Golf Club’s elevation changes and undulations will test even the most skilled golfers. From its hilly terrain and canyons to its lakes and creeks, The Ranch offers all sorts of challenges that force golfers to use their imaginations and course management skills to hit greens in regulation.

The course’s signature hole, No. 15, especially stands out. Not only is the hole’s green multi-tiered, but it also features a bunker – smack-dab in the middle. “Laser accuracy” is a “must” on most holes, as “some fairways shrink down to 15 yards wide.”


The Shattuck Golf Club 3

7. The Shattuck Golf Club (Jaffrey, NH)

6,764 Yards; Par 71; Slope: 153; Rating: 73.5

Surrounded by natural wetlands, ponds and marshes, The Shattuck requires pinpoint driving accuracy, as fairways are typically narrow. Accurate approach shots are also crucial, since fairways are often entirely enclosed by birch, oak and pine trees.

Rather than bombing drives off the tees, most golfers prefer to hit irons or fairway woods to avoid the risks of hazards. Yardage may be lost, but strokes will likely be saved if golfers focus on course management, rather than “grippin’ and rippin’ it.” One GolfNow reviewer agrees, stating that, if golfers can “position [their balls], this is a fun course.”


Old Corkscrew Golf Club 2

8. Old Corkscrew Golf Club (Estero, FL)

7,393 Yards; Par 72; Slope: 153; Rating: 77.6

A Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, Old Corkscrew is not only long, but quite narrow, rewarding golfers who hit accurate drives and iron shots. The course’s fairways are surrounded by cypress, oak and pine trees, whereas the greens are firm and fast. Consequently, golfers often have to hit approach shots out of the woods, to greens that, for the most part, are not receptive.

Aside from trees, golfers also frequently encounter bunkers and water hazards alongside the fairways. Is there any wonder why one golfer advised others to “hit ‘em straight,” as there are “plenty of problems if you are off course”?



9. PGA WEST – TPC Stadium Course (La Quinta, CA)

7,300 Yards; Par 72; Slope: 150; Rating: 76.1

Familiar to many of Pete Dye’s other designs, the TPC Stadium Course at PGA WEST features numerous bunkers, both greenside and in fairways, water hazards and sidehill lies. Much like TPC Sawgrass, the course is renowned for its finishing holes – hole 17, a par-three island green known as “Alcatraz,” as well as hole 18, a 439-yard, par-four surrounded by water on the left.

A former host of the PGA TOUR’s Q-School Finals, the course’s “strategically-placed lakes, massive sand traps in key landing areas and sloping fairways” are its primary challenges.


The Legends_Lionhead Golf & Country Club 3

10. Lionhead Golf & Country Club – The Legends Course (Brampton, Ontario, Canada)

7,422 Yards; Par 72; Slope: 155; Rating: 77.5

Previously ranked as North America’s third most difficult golf course by Golf Digest, The Legends features a wide variety of hazards, from bunkers and lakes to gullies and rivers, which will even test the skills of low-handicappers. Many fairways are undulated, resulting in challenging lies for approach shots.

To make matters worse, greens are often surrounded by bunkers. GolfNow reviewers suggest that golfers “need to be realistic about [their] club selections,” as the course will challenge “all skill levels,” leaving their “egos at bay.”

 See more lists of GolfNow’s top-rated courses

All yardages, slopes and course ratings have been measured according to each course’s back tees.

Featured image of Hammock Beach’s Conservatory Course compliments of

One response to “Challenge Yourself: GolfNow’s 10 Most Difficult Courses”

  1. Longtime_Geek says:

    I haven’t played any of the listed courses, but I’ve played Oakland Hills South Course twice…and it ate me alive.

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