Conjuring up the definitive guide to the best par-fours in Scotland is about as easy as naming five famous Belgians or reading War and Peace in one sitting.
Trying to perform the task in the confined space of a few column inches makes it all the more testing, given that a list of memorable holes in this country could easily commandeer a space the size of Estonia.
Asking somebody what makes a good par-four can induce the kind of bewildered expressions people usually adopt when reading the Rules of Golf. Even Robin Hisemann, the only EIGCA (European Institute of Golf Course Architects) qualified architect in Scotland had initial troubles.
'What makes a good par-four?' he muttered. 'It's a difficult question because you have so many ingredients. Where do you start?'
Much chin scratching later, the response was delivered.
'Personally, I've always found the best holes are the ones that are visually stimulating regardless of length, because golf really is a visual game. Holes that stand out are those with a well-defined strategy, that look interesting and give the golfers options from the tee.
'They need to make you think. If you get to a tee, have a quick look down the fairway and then just hit it you're not really being asked any questions. What we as architects do is to try and outwit the golfer. The more they have to think about their approach, the better the hole is.'
In that respect, there can be no better place to tee-up than at the 17th on the Old course at St Andrews, (pictured on Home page) providing you have the nerve to blindly blast your drive away that is.
The Road Hole is quite simply the most famous 461-yards of grass in major championship golf. One can either adopt a cautious or cavalier approach depending on the circumstances, but it's always worth remembering that the road to the 17th's narrow green is littered with tales of broken dreams as players, with adrenaline pumping and the prospect of glory clouding their judgement, have gone for the aggressive option and ended up weeping.
At the 1885 Open for instance, David Ayrton stood on the tee with a commanding five stroke lead, contrived to take an astonishing 11 and surrendered the championship to Bob Martin by a single shot, while a century later, Tom Watson took the tourist trail to the hole and handed the title over to Signor Ballesteros.
Then of course, there are stories of woe that emanate from the notorious and cavernous bunker to the front of the green, known in golfing circles as the Sands of Nakajima after the Japanese player Tommy, who spent the best part of Open week trying to extricate himself.
Former US Ryder Cup captain and two-time US Masters champion Ben Crenshaw once commented: 'The reason the Road Hole is the toughest par four in the world is because it's a par five.'
As if to emphasise the sheer difficulty of the beast, at last year's millennium Open the Road Hole gobbled up and spat out 255 above par scores, making it, without doubt, the hardest hole of the tournament.
Yet par-fours do not need to be over 450-yards to be tough. 'A short par-four, in many respects, can offer a tougher challenge,' Robin Hisemann admitted. 'If it's about 350 yards people automatically think there's a great chance for a birdie but they can quite easily end up with a double bogey by taking the wrong approach. A good example is the 14th at Loch Lomond.'
Colin Montgomerie would certainly vouch for the truth in that statement after the former European number one took a damaging six at the 345-yarder during last year's Standard Life championship.
Tom Weiskopf's highly acclaimed layout gives the golfer two options from the tee. Either attempt a drive over the marsh or opt for the considered approach and aim left, where, if all goes according to plan, you will be rewarded with a nice chip over the Arn Burn to a three-level green. It all sounds easy, but when you have the words double-bogey filtering in to your thoughts at the top of the back swing, it becomes an entirely different prospect.
But if you are looking for more than merely hitting over marshes and burns then Bruce's Castle on the Turnberry Ailsa course comes highly recommended.
On a ferocious day on the Firth of Clyde, the 455 yard ninth still has the ability to turn even the most hardened professionals into gibbering wrecks. Standing on the tee with the wind raging and the ocean waves crashing down on the rocks some 50 feet below, you half expect to glance up and see the four horsemen of the apocalypse charging down the fairway wielding 3-irons.
From the championship tees, it's a 200 yard whack to the relative safety of the fairway where you are rewarded with an approach shot to a large green, untroubled by bunkers. As spectacular tee-shots go however, it has to rate as one of the finest. Let the nerves get the better of you and the consequences can be damning.
Across on the east coast, such punishments for bouts of inaccuracy really come to the fore at Muirfield. The home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers is a course which demands accuracy all the way round.
Jack Nicklaus admitted that Muirfield's 444-yard first is: 'As tough an opening hole as there is anywhere in championship golf.' It's fairway is about as tight as the back end of a mallard. Stray off line into the notorious rough and the consequences can be dire. The green, guarded on both sides by trench like bunkers, slopes from front to back and just in case you come up short another bunker lies in wait at the front.
Muirfield starts with a bang, but for a course that finishes equally as challenging it's time to head north up the east coast, to Carnoustie country, that area of fertile golfing land that stretches from St Andrews to Montrose and inland towards Perth and Blairgowrie.
In days long ago the Angus and Dundee region was the seat of the kingdom of the Picts. Now it's more the kingdom of the pitch-marks, a place where the game was born and has subsequently flourished.
The area is a veritable Aladdin's cave of excellent golf courses and memorable holes, but for its sheer fund of stories of both triumph and despair, we have to take a walk down the 18th at Carnoustie (the course is pictured, above).
At just under 450 yards, 'Home' provides one of the most difficult finishes in Open golf. The menacing Barry Burn running down the right threatens the tee-shot, before it sweeps over the fairway and crosses just before the green. Three bunkers on the right tighten the driving line with two more keeping a watching brief at either side of the green. Just in case you get complacent however, out of bounds lurks uncomfortably on the left hand side.
Like the Road Hole, Carnoustie's last is peppered with memorable golfing tales.
Who can, or ever will forget Frenchman Jean Van de Velde's extraordinary portrayal of a Greek tragedy at the 1999 championship.
With a three-shot lead going down the last, Van de Velde proceeded to hit everything from the stand, the rough and the Barry Burn.
Unfortunately, it took him five shots to finally make contact with the green as his dreams of Open glory disintegrated. While the Frenchman's efforts were memorable for all the wrong reasons, Paul Lawrie's approach to within a few feet, which secured victory in the resulting play-off, will live long in the memories of all who witnessed it.
But just what can you do to avoid a Van de Velde-like experience on a testing par-four? Well, for a start, make sure you're not taking a three shot advantage down the last hole of a major championship.
Apart from that, caution must surely be the watchword. Just because you've got 450 odd yards to the green, it doesn't mean you can blindly blast away with the driver. Consider the options, ponder the best and safest route to the hole - and then smack it into the rough.
We have endeavoured to bring you the ultimate tips on just how to approach a challenging par-four. By drawing on everything from quantum physics to the amount of time spent looking for a ball in the Muirfield rough and the wise words of Scottish golf's head coach Ian Rae we have came up with the most sensible piece of golfing advice since Ian Baker-Finch's caddy told him to give the game up for a while.
'Keep out of trouble!'
It's as simple as that.
Do you agree with Nick's offerings or is there a classic or memorable par four we have forgotten to mention? Let us know what you think
A selection of gems
10th The Roxburghe
If it's good enough for the European seniors then it's good enough for us crude amateurs here at Scottish Golf. An attractive yet demanding opening to the back-nine on Dave Thomas' highly acclaimed Borders lay out.
The fairway doglegs to the right, but overshoot on the left hand side and you're in trouble as the terrain slopes off sharply downhill. The River Teviot provides a perfect backdrop for your approach to the green, but be wary of the bunkers that lie in wait at the front.
18th Royal Aberdeen
Reckoned by many to be one of best finishing holes in Scottish golf on a course that exemplifies the testing nature of links golf.
The slightly elevated tee displays the hole's abundant perils in all their sandy, grassy, prickly glory. Bunkers, long grass, treacherous gorse. You name it, it's all there to be explored.
Keep it central and you'll still need a good long iron to a plateau green.
A course renowned for its long par fours - there are eight well over 400 yards. Accuracy from the tee is crucial as the strategically placed bunkers shape it into a dogleg right. The approach to an almost blind green calls for a considerable amount of concentration and self-belief.
Over hit and you could wind up making sandcastles on the beach
14th Royal Dornoch
Harry Vardon, one third of the great triumvirate, said this was the most natural hole in golf and how right he was. You won't find a single man-made obstacle to hinder your progress up the fairway unless someone's run riot with a golf buggy.
Instead you'll come across a succession of hillocks on the right with moss and thick grass to the left all leading to a raised green of subtle contours. Speak to any Dornoch member and they'll tell you it's the finest on the course.
|| 16 - NOVEMBER 2001