The greatest: Pine Valley
I've had the good fortune to play Pine Valley twice -- once is an experience of a lifetime. Twice is just good luck. There is hardly a point in making much of a comment on the course -- how do you comment on what is generally regarded as near golf perfection? -- so I've decided to post some photos of the course.
The strange thing about Pine Valley is the hardcore golf nut is very aware of it, while the casual golfer often has no idea what the course is about. The second group often think Augusta is the best course in the world -- because it is shown on TV and hosts the Masters each year.
I've walked Augusta and I can say, while it is a great course, it doesn't rival the best I've played -- like Royal Portrush, Muirfield, The Old Course or Pine Valley.
Here's a quick photo montage with some brief remarks on the course. The first hole (right) is wide and relatively long, though players tend to hit a fairway wood off the tee for position and a mid-iron to a long green that drops off on the sides.
The second hole is where the real fun begins (below) . The fairway is narrower than on the first, and the green is perched on a hillside. Notice the rough sandy areas that come to define Pine Valley. The waste areas play as hazards, so they don't allow you to ground your club anywhere in the sand at the club. The green is sloped quite severely from back to front translating a long approach into a very difficult par.
Here's a shot of the green of the par three third. Notice the contour in the green, which is one of the reasons Pine Valley is considered one of the hardest golf courses in the world.
This is another example of the difficulty of Pine Valley -- the second par three on the front, which rests right next to the clubhouse. It requires a long, well struck iron or fairway wood. Missing the green to the right or left will result in at least a dropped shot -- or worse. However, George Crump (and Harry Colt) do allow players to tackle if they are short, providing a generous opening to the green. Wouldn't hurt to remove some of the trees surrounding the green though.
Here is the eighth green. There is a secondary green to the right that was built by Tom Fazio to take some of the pressure off of this putting surface, given how small it is. This requires a deft tough -- a long iron and a delicate pitch to a small green. It is this mix of holes -- from long and bold, to short and charming -- that makes Pine Valley so highly regarded.
Most of the holes at Pine Valley are famous in their own right. There is, for example, the short 10th, with its fabled bunker, "The Devil's Asshole." I've known some, who on their first try, have hit it into the bunker just to get a chance to play out of it. I have no idea whether you can put it on the green from that bunker -- but it looks rather unlikely.
Another interesting note about Pine Valley -- there are no rakes on the course. So if you hit it into a footprint, oh well...
The course ends with a short hole (the 17th) and then a long four to close. The 18th is, in some ways, representative of all of Pine Valley. The fairway is wide, but there is trouble for those who stray too far. The green is large, as is the case with a majority of the putting services at the course. But if you don't position your approach carefully, a two putt might be optimistic.
Certainly Pine Valley is the greatest most golfers will never get a chance to even see, let alone play. There is an old Shell's Wonderful World of Golf that shows the course in the 1960s, but little has been seen of it in public since. The Crump Cup, an amateur tournament, does allow the public in the New Jersey area to get a glimpse of the course every year. I imagine that when the tournament ends there's a message relayed to the spectators: "We were delighted you could come and see our tournament. Thanks. Now please head to your cars -- the hounds will be released in five minutes."