CALGARY, Alberta -- So you like 'em long and mean, huh? You like a challenge. You like to take out the "big dog" and lash at it off every tee. You like hitting 2-irons into par-4s and 3-woods into par-3s, huh? Well then, my friend, you need to get the lowdown on the longest golf courses in the world.
Before we go any further, though, you need to be warned. The courses that will be mentioned here are not for the faint of heart. Those who consistently hit puffballs to the right need not apply. Those weaklings who need three, four, or five thunderous hits to reach a medium-length par-4 should seek pleasure elsewhere -- 'cause you won't get any at these mammoth courses.
Lately, of course, the topic of equipment and the length that we can achieve - even mere mortals - with new technology is "hot." And will be for months and years to come. In fact, the superior equipment of the present age is steadily rendering the classic courses that were built before WW2 obsolete - or, at least, way too short to challenge the top players of the world. With additional improvements to the ball, even "long" courses are being mauled by the better players. Architects are being forced, really, to stretch courses to distances that the game has never before seen, distances that are downright scary.
So where is the longest course in the world, then? We'll get to that, my friend. Be patient. After all, you'll need plenty of patience if you expect to get through any of these courses alive.
Interestingly, there has recently been some jockeying for positioning on the "longest course leaderboard." The popular champion of recent years has been The International Golf Club in Bolton, Massachusetts. The Pines Course there is a, ahem, 8,325-yard beast that plays to a par of 77 (from the seldom-used "Tiger" tees). From the regular member's tees the course plays to a traditional par of 72 and covers a measly 6,547 yards. Child's play.
Just recently, however, their title has been stripped. The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club in a mountainous region of Yannun Province in China has overthrown The International and now appears to make a legitimate claim as the longest. And, incredibly, it's doing it by keeping par at a traditional number.
The course, which is situated at over 10,000 feet at the edge of the Himalayas, boasts some mind-boggling, bogey-beckoning statistics. For example, it plays to 8,548 yards from the back tees (and somehow manages to maintain a par of 72.) There is a par-5 that plays to 711 yards and two others longer than 680 yards. Thankfully, though, there is the obligatory "bunters delight" - a pint-sized three-shotter that measures a mere 575 yards. Eagle, anyone?
A number of the par-4s are of Herculean proportions. The longest? That would be the 530-yard 11th. Not to worry though, the architects - Robin Nelson/Neil Hayworth - thoughtfully positioned this beast well into the round (when you're good and warm, and thoroughly used to pencilling down numbers that look more like football scores.) But, alas, there are actually five par-4s that break the 500-yard mark. The shortest par-4 on the course? That would be the feeble 436-yard, midget-sized 4th.
The par-3s you ask? You shouldn't have. Three of the four one-shotters (bad choice of words) measure more than 260 yards.
If there is any redemption here, it's the fact that the ball flies 20 percent farther because of elevation. That would make your 200-yard poofer travel an earth-shattering, birdie-bingeing 240-hold-the-applause-yards. And, thankfully, if you visit (apparently, the course is really quite spectacular), the Chinese Mafia won't hold a gun to your head and force you to play from the back tees.
But wait just a minute. There are other 8,000-yard courses out there, and more on the horizon, and one, when it's completed in 2004, that just might be longer than Jade Mountain.
Interestingly, the creation of the 8,000-yard course began in the pre-titanium era of 1964. Dub's Dread Golf Club in Kansas City, which debuted when companies like Louisville and Spalding were busy felling trees to whittle their clubheads, measured 8,204 astonishing - and lethal - yards (which thereby prompted The International to extend a couple of tees to reclaim the title). Since then, however - perhaps because too many golfers teeing off never lived to see the 18th hole - Dub's Dread has been drastically shortened. It now covers just over 7,000 yards from the back. "But," offers Steve Price, the club's Director of Operations, "many of the super-long tees still exist and we play from them on a couple of special occasions every year." Wonder what those "occasions" might be? Perhaps when the membership needs a little "thinning out?"
And, pay attention golf masochists, next on the horizon is an 8,000-plus beast scheduled to open later this year at The Meridian Ranch development near Denver. The course, which will be called Antler Creek, is being designed by Rick Phelps and will play to approximately 8,100 yards from the back tees. But, says Rick "The site is at an elevation of just over 7,000 feet. It will be a wide open, prairie-style design with wide fairways, large waste bunkers, multiple strategic options on most of the holes, and relatively large, gently undulating greens. With the altitude, I am designing the course as though it would play about 10-12 percent shorter for the best players. As such, from the back tees the course will play approximately 900 yards shorter than its actual yardage." OK Rick, I won't bother bringing my driver then.
But, hang onto your hats, folks. There is another behemoth in the works. Slated to open in the fall of 2003, the El Grande Hombre in Las Vegas is looking to squash any competitor's claim of being the longest. With routing assistance by John Daly, who apparently hits it fairly long, this Lee Schmidt/Brian Curley design looks to top out at around 8,600 yards.
As golf courses inch, or shall we say "yard," closer and closer to becoming viable locales for the next Survivor series, one can only wonder when "yardage" will reach its absolute pinnacle. It sounds preposterous, but the 9,000-yard barrier is only a Tiger Woods tee shot away. And the 10,000-yard mark? Well, give us a little more trampoline effect and a ProVxxx and, who knows?
February 3, 2003
Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. His work has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout North America and Europe. You can see more of his work at www.andrewpenner.com.
The Golf Advisor Top 50 courses in the U.S., compiled by ratings and reviews from golfers, were announced on Golf Channel's Morning Drive.
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