Field of bad dreams (Nos. 1 to 25)

Updated: June 8, 2010, 6:20 PM ET
Golf Digest

Tobacco RoadDom FuroreTobacco Road is "Pine Valley seen through a funhouse mirror." Here is the 10-foot flagstick at No. 13.

• Photo gallery: America's 50 toughest golf courses

We've identified the most diabolical venues in America; these are the ones that torture and taunt us but keep us asking for more. How would you fare against these monsters? Below are the toughest from 1 to 25. (For the most challenging courses Nos. 26 to 50, click here.)

1. THE OCEAN COURSE
Kiawah Island, S.C. | 7,356 YARDS / PAR 72
Pete Dye, 84, has been torturing golfers for half his life, and the Ocean Course, strung along the Atlantic coastline with fairways and greens perched above sand, sea oats and sweetgrass, is perhaps his most Dye-abolical design. (Eight of our top 50 were created by the man they call the "Marquis de Sod.") The Ocean has the highest combination of Slope Rating (155) and Course Rating (79.6) in America, according to the U.S. Golf Association. With forced carries over marshes, endless waste bunkers and roll-resistant Bermuda grasses, the Ocean is a rare course that can bring tears and fears even to tour pros. It was dubbed Looney Dunes after multiple mishaps in the 1991 Ryder Cup. For the rest of us, it kicks sand in our face -- literally, when howling winds turn club covers into windsocks. Play it in the mornings when it's walking only. You can't cross the Rubicon in a golf cart.
>>Best Places to Play Directory: More course data | Course Web site

See what you're hitting

It's one thing to read about all these difficult links, but quite another to see them. Click here for images of the top-10 toughest courses.

And for the most challenging courses Nos. 26 to 50, click here.

2. THE INTERNATIONAL (THE PINES)
Bolton, Mass. |
8,325 YARDS / PAR 73
It has pounded its chest as the longest golf course in the land since 1957, only once adding new back tees when someone dared to challenge its supremacy. The numbers are laughable: 8,325 yards, par 73, with a Course Rating of 80. The closing hole is 656 yards -- and it's not even the longest par 5 on the course. There's also a par 6, the 715-yard fifth hole, and the par-3 seventh is 277 yards. Length isn't its only overindulgence: The fifth green is 91 yards long and takes more than an hour to mow, and the 11th, a modest 590-yard par 5, has 24 bunkers. If you plan to play it from the tips, be sure you have a three-day weekend.
• Course Web site

3. KOOLAU GOLF CLUB
Kaneohe, Hawaii (Oahu) |
7,310 YARDS / PAR 72
With parts of the course receiving 130 inches of rain a year, this is target golf at its soggiest. You won't need a caddie so much as a backcountry guide. The roughs are tropical rain forests, the hazards mostly uncharted ravines filled with jungle and undiscovered reptilian life forms. Typical of the course's unsubtle presentation, the 474-yard, par-4 18th features two long forced carries over canyons, plus a 330-yard bunker off the tee and a 220-yard bunker to the green. Legend has it that the course record was once 63 … lost balls. Koolau used to have a Slope Rating of 162, even though the maximum possible is 155.
>>Best Places to Play Directory: More course data | Course Web site

4. PGA WEST (STADIUM COURSE)
La Quinta, Calif. |
7,300 YARDS / PAR 72
Using moguls, pot bunkers and lumpy lies -- a style he called his "grenade-attack look" -- Pete Dye designed the Stadium Course to play mind games with the world's best players, and he won. In the late 1980s, PGA Tour players successfully petitioned for its removal from the Bob Hope Desert Chrysler Classic because it was too hard for them, the sissies. Relegated for years mostly as a video-game monster, PGA West has re-emerged as a Q school final exam for aspiring tour pros. With holes like the island-green 17th called Alcatraz, it's no wonder the late sports columnist Jim Murray summed up PGA West with these words: "You need a camel, a canoe, a priest and a tourniquet to get through it."
>>Best Places to Play Directory: More course data | Course Web site

5. OAKMONT COUNTRY CLUB
Oakmont, Pa. |
7,255 YARDS / PAR 71
No kidding, this is the only place where the USGA asked the club to slow down its greens for a U.S. Open. At the 1935 Open, Gene Sarazen putted off a green into a bunker, prompting Ed Stimpson to invent a tool to measure green speeds, the infamous Stimpmeter. Problem is, no green at Oakmont has enough flat spots to use it. The club used to post estimates of the green speeds each day. They've now stopped that, but the old chalkboard sign still exists, etched with a ghostly image of the number 13.

6. BETHPAGE STATE PARK GOLF COURSES (BLACK)
Farmingdale, N.Y. |
7,366 YARDS / PAR 71
At one time, the Black was what public golf courses were like when we were kids, with hardpan fairways, crabgrass greens and pockmarked tees. After being revamped by Rees Jones for the 2002 U.S. Open, it's in much better shape, but still big and brawny -- a 6-mile hike over hill and dale where no carts are allowed -- with massive bunkers and tiny greens, several of them hidden from view, even from the center of some fairways. The Black's magic is that it makes us all feel like kids again, inadequate to the task. It's New York tough.
>>Best Places to Play Directory: More course data | Course Web site

7. TOT HILL FARM GOLF CLUB
Asheboro, N.C. |
6,543 YARDS / PAR 72
This is where the late Mike Strantz perfected Extreme Golf and proved that golf courses don't need to be long to be murderous. Smashed from solid rock, holes plunge down mountainsides, jump creeks and climb canyon walls. Rock outcroppings congregate along the top edges of many bunkers. Boulders squeeze approach shots and frame greens, as well as tees. Stones line Betty McGee's Creek, which intrudes on 13 holes. Hand-stacked rock walls even wind along several fairways. At Tot Hill Farm, a round without a ricochet is a major accomplishment.
>>Best Places to Play Directory: More course data | Course Web site

8. WHISTLING STRAITS GOLF CLUB (STRAITS)
Haven, Wis. |
7,362 YARDS / PAR 72
Dire Straits would be a better name. Given the opportunity to transform an abandoned Army bombing range along Lake Michigan, Pete Dye produced a blend of Ballybunion and Beirut, with ragged 70-foot-high faux dunes peppered with a million bunkers, some the size of your golf bag, others the size of the clubhouse. When Pete's wife, Alice, urged him to create harder holes that even the pros would double-bogey, he added more bunkers and some railroad ties. So much for Alice being the gentler half of the team.
>>Best Places to Play Directory: More course data | Course Web site

9. PINE VALLEY GOLF CLUB
Pine Valley, N.J. |
6,999 YARDS / PAR 70
Long regarded as the best golf course in America, Pine Valley leads the league in intimidation. It might have a lot more green grass these days, but still, the turfed areas are just slivers compared to the acres of sand, with gnarly, twisted pine trees thrown in for good measure and hazards like "Hell's Half Acre" and the infamous "D.A." funnel-shape-bunker on the par-3 10th (the "D" stands for Devil's; you can figure out the "A"). The great writer Henry Longhurst put it best: "Your ball is either on the fairway, in which case it sits invitingly on a flawless carpet of turf, or it is not. If it is not, you play out sideways till it is." Brutally tough, but we'd never turn down an invitation to play it.

10. TOBACCO ROAD GOLF CLUB
Sanford, N.C. |
6,554 YARDS / PAR 71
This is Mike Strantz's version of Pine Valley, as seen through a fun-house mirror. Bunkers become craters, greens become sinkholes. The sand hills are taller and more eroded, the pits are steeper and deeper. Some greens are three times as wide as they are deep, and others are twice as long as they are wide. What's not distorted is that there are five blind shots at Tobacco Road. That makes it cotton-pickin' hard.
>>Best Places to Play Directory: More course data | Course Web site

11. WINGED FOOT GOLF CLUB (WEST)
Mamaroneck, N.Y. |
7,258 YARDS / PAR 72
Tree-lined fairways, elevated greens, killer rough. Its U.S. Open victims are legend (winning score in 2006: five over; in 1974: seven over). The latest: Phil Mickelson, ahead by one in 2006, hit a lefty slice into the woods on the 72nd hole and was never heard from again.

12. MEDALIST GOLF CLUB
Hobe Sound, Fla. |
7,157 YARDS / PAR 72
Another Dye routing, but overlaid by Greg Norman's architecture. No rough, just scrub pines and swamp. Lots of forced carries. Wayward drivers are gator bait.

13. DESERT MOUNTAIN GOLF CLUB (RENEGADE)
Scottsdale, Ariz. |
7,443 YARDS / PAR 72
There are four sets of tees and two flags on 16 of the holes, but playing from the gold tees to the gold flags is almost inhumane. The greens are a nightmare, especially when you're hitting hybrids to them all day.

14. TPC SAWGRASS (THE PLAYERS STADIUM COURSE)
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. |
7,215 YARDS / PAR 72
It's only navigable if you keep the driver in the bag to avoid cross hazards that abruptly end most fairways. Monstrous rough. The island green 17th is on your mind all day; it's a depth charge waiting to sink any round.
>>Best Places to Play Directory: More course data | Course Web site

15. HALLBROOK COUNTRY CLUB
Leawood, Kan. |
6,938 YARDS / PAR 72
The toughest Tom Fazio design ever. There are 15 lateral water hazards adjacent to its 18 rocking, rolling greens.

16. THE TRADITION AT ROYAL NEW KENT
Providence Forge, Va. |
7,480 YARDS / PAR 72
Mike Strantz's rugged homage to Ireland's Ballybunion baits unsuspecting golfers with fishhook-shape holes, lots of sharp corners, crazy mounds and deep pot bunkers. You'll be in need of a Guinness after this one.
>>Best Places to Play Directory: More course data | Course Web site

17. BLACKWOLF RUN (RIVER)
Kohler, Wis. |
7,011 YARDS / PAR 72
The winding Sheboygan River, in play on 10 holes, can tie you in knots. Plus, the club can flood the waste bunker on the 18th to create yet another water hazard -- convenient for throwing your clubs into after a tough day. Or throwing yourself into instead.
• Course Web site

18. GRAND TRAVERSE RESORT (THE BEAR)
Acme, Mich. |
7,078 YARDS / PAR 72
The owner told Jack Nicklaus to give him the toughest golf course in the country. He got a bear -- along with some six-hour rounds.
>>Best Places to Play Directory: More course data | Course Web site

19. OAK TREE NATIONAL
Edmond, Okla. |
7,412 YARDS / PAR 71
There used to be a hangman's noose on a tree behind the 16th green; many competitors in the 1988 PGA, in 100-plus-degree heat, must have been tempted to use it. It's gone now, and the greens have been softened, but the ponds, pot bunkers and punishing rough remain.

20. THE CONCORD RESORT & GOLF CLUB (THE MONSTER)
Kiamesha Lake, N.Y. |
7,650 YARDS / PAR 72
The Monster is long in the tooth but still has plenty of bite before a renovation of its miles of pine-lined, water-skirting fairways.
>>Best Places to Play Directory: More course data | Course Web site

21. WOLF RUN GOLF CLUB
Zionsville, Ind. |
7,220 YARDS / PAR 71
All you need to know about this early-Steve Smyers torture track is that its founder, the late Jack Leer, was a dentist. To relax after your round, go have a root canal.

22. SILVER LAKES (BACKBREAKER/HEARTBREAKER)
Glencoe, Ala. |
7,674 YARDS / PAR 72
The first of three courses on our list from Alabama's mighty, merciless Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. The names of the nines say it all. There's also a third nine, called the Mindbreaker. When we played here, we thought of some other names for these courses, too.
>>Best Places to Play Directory: More course data | Course Web site

23. BUTLER NATIONAL GOLF CLUB
Oak Brook, Ill. |
7,523 YARDS / PAR 71
A manly, men-only course with all the subtlety of a two-by-four to the head. Back when it hosted the Western Open, the PGA Tour often refused to use the back tees.

24. SPYGLASS HILL GOLF COURSE
Pebble Beach, Calif. |
6,953 YARDS / PAR 72
Play The Glass from the tips on a typical foggy day and it's a monster. Dreaded ice plant and barking seals accompany you on the first five holes beside the sea, then it's mostly an uphill climb through a soggy, foggy forest, punctuated by the clank of balls caroming off the pines.
>>Best Places to Play Directory: More course data | Course Web site

25. PURGATORY GOLF CLUB
Noblesville, Ind. |
7,754 YARDS / PAR 72
Who knew? Turns out hell's waiting room has 133 bunkers, knee-high rough and only three par 4s less than 450 yards. The unlucky 13th is a 741-yard par 5. Devilish.
>>Best Places to Play Directory: More course data | Course Web site

• Return to map and locater index. For the most challenging courses Nos. 26 to 50, click here.

Text provided by Golf Digest. This article originally appeared here in 2007.

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