Is Pine Valley Golf Club the best golf course in the world? In 2009 it was ranked #1 by Golf Magazine. In 2010, a small private course named Augusta National in Georgia edged out Pine Valley to be named the #1 course in the world, perhaps you have heard of it.
What Makes Pine Valley So Great?
After playing here last month, I was asked this question more than any. My response was "Every hole is a signature hole". I was asked my favorite hole, I started out by saying the 18th is one of the most incredible holes you will ever see. Then I back tracked so it sounded something like this:
"But the 2nd hole is amazing too. The 5th hole is ridiculous, I'll have nightmares about it. The 13th is something special and the 14th requires the perfect shot...."
You get the point. I can't pick one hole I love at this amazing golf course. Every hole was beautiful in it's own way but they all shared a common theme, hit your intended target or be sorry.
Is it Unfairly Difficult?
Pine Valley was hands down the most difficult golf course I have ever played but it was not unfair by any means. Playing from the Regular Tees, the 72.8/153 rating and slope is a pretty good indication of how tough it is but do not confuse difficult with unfair.
Pine Valley makes it simple. Hit your intended target with your golf shot and you're rewarded, miss and you will be happy with a bogey. You would expect a difficult course to have small fairways and greens, but that is not the case. With the exception of the 8th green (one of the smallest and well guarded I have ever seen), the fairways are wide and the greens are large. If only making it to the green was the end, in some cases, the hole has just begun.
The 5th hole may be the most challenging hole in the world. We played the par 3 at 220 yards (It's 238 from the tips), all carry and uphill. I was fortunate to pull my tee shot into a tree to keep my ball in play. I punched out,chipped up, made my two putts for a remarkable 5. Yes, a remarkable 5. One of my playing partners (a 10 Handicap) had a fate much worse than mine. His ball came to rest on the back of the green leaving him about 25 feet downhill. When he asked for advice, the member helped him with the line and speed, informing him this was "impossible" to keep on the green.
I watched as he tapped the ball every so slightly. It looked like a perfect putt, it was going in or going to nestle up next to the cup. Before I could say the words "nice putt", I watched as it rolled past the cup and picked up speed. It rolled and rolled, eventually coming to rest about 10 yards off the green. It then took a couple putts up the false front before he escaped with an 8. The moral, don't be long on the 5th hole.
When I finished a hole, I took a deep breath and felt a sense of accomplishment. It was short lived. As I approached the tee box for my next shot, I immediately had to regain composure and focus on what was next. Pine Valley requires your best on every shot or it will be a very long day.
Pine Valley Bunkers
If you know anything about Pine Valley, it's probably about the Devil's.... Aperture (I'll keep this clean). It's a crater like bunker on the 10th hole, a 142 yard par 3. It's about 8 feet deep and has three wooden steps to help you in and out. I asked the member who invited me (I can't say thank you enough) how you get out of it once you are in. He said the best play is to take an unplayable, go back to the tee box and retee your shot. The only advice I offer in regards to Pine Valley (and probably only advice I'm qualified to offer) is avoid this bunker.
The bunkers at Pine Valley are plentiful. I can't think of a hole where they don't come into play and on most holes, you will walk through them. You need to carry them off the tee and you need to avoid them as you approach the green. Some are too narrow to fit in (the right side bunker guarding the 8th green) and others you can barely swing. You will play out of bunkers at Pine Valley, choose which ones wisely.
It's easy to see why this has been rated the #1 Golf Course in the Top 100 for the majority of the past 25 years. From the moment you cross the railroad tracks, you can tell this is something special. Each aspect of Pine Valley makes it unique. If you get the chance, stop in an have a Guinness, it's rumored to be the best in North America.
From the first tee shot (I was trembling) to the last putt (my face hurt from smiling), it's an amazing experience. Enjoy the golf and stay focused but be sure to enjoy this wonderful golf experience.
Location: Pine Valley, NJ
Rating/Slope: 72.8/153 (If you play the tips the slope is 155, the highest allowed by USGA)
Cost: Ask your host
Proshop: Yes, be sure to buy something to remember this experience by.
My Pictures: I forgot my memory card but the camera holds 25 pictures. You can see them on Flickr.
*Thanks to the member who invited me. This was a remarkable experience and something I will share for the rest of my life.