Golf

The Beautiful and Dangerous 18th Hole at Harding Park Could Decide the PGA Championship

The signature hole on any golf course is supposed to be memorable. What makes it memorable can wildly vary. It might be the layout, particularly the length, which challenges the golfer from tee to green. It could be a natural feature like a strategically positioned lake or a creek. In some cases, it might be both. 

At this week’s PGA Championship, when the world’s top golfers step on to the tee box of the 18th hole at Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco, there’s no question as to why it’s considered the course’s signature hole. A beautiful lake runs the entire length of the hole down its left side. But make no mistake about it, that beauty can quickly turn disastrous and prove costly with one errant shot. 

Water and trees loom at the 18th Hole at Harding Park

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The 18th hole at Harding Park is the definition of a signature hole. This 480-yard par-4 is a hard dogleg-left. In reality, it’s more like a double-dogleg left. Standing on the tee box, the beautiful Lake Merced is located to the left. 

The lake is a striking natural feature and provides for a great photo finish. But don’t let its picturesque beauty fool you. There’s danger lurking from start to finish, and the tee shot can make or break the hole. And when it’s the final hole of the PGA Championship, with the consequences of every shot magnified, it could be the difference between taking home the Wanamaker Trophy or finishing a disappointing second.

While the lake runs the entire length of the hole on the left, it also extends in front of the tee box, forcing a solid drive to clear it. Awaiting on the other side of the water are a line of cypress trees, and a narrow fairway with bunkers on the far side of the fairway. 

Once safely in the fairway, those same trees line the length of the hole up to the green, which is long and narrow, and protected by two green-side bunkers on the left side. 

How the pros will play the 18th Hole at Harding Park

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The world’s best golfers will have plenty of options off the tee at the 18th hole at Harding Park. It will all come down to how daring the player wants to be and how much of the hole he is willing to try and cut off with the tee shot.

For golfers similar to Bryson DeChambeau and his length off the tee, they will likely attack the 18th with their driver. That means a more direct approach over the wall of trees lining the left side of the fairway. If successful in hitting the extremely narrow strip of fairway, the big hitters will have a 9-iron or pitching wedge remaining for their approach shot.

Those with less length off the tee or who prefer to take a more conservative approach will have to land their ball over the single tree that sits directly on the opposite side of the water and in between the bunkers positioned on the right side of the fairway. Once safely in the fairway, the approach left requires a 7- or 8-iron into the green. 

Tiger Woods and John Daly take on 18th hole

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In 2005, Tiger Woods and John Daly put on a clinic on the 18th hole at Harding Park in the final round of the WGC-American Express Championship. After successfully playing the hole once in regulation, the pair were tied at 10-under and forced into a sudden-death playoff. 

In the playoff, Woods and Daly both played perfect shots off the tee, each landing in the fairway, Daly 15 yards ahead of Woods. Each golfer finished the hole with par, which forced a second playoff hole. Woods parred the 16th hole, while Daly bogeyed, and Woods earned the victory.

While it was 15 years ago, Woods and Daly provided a template of how golfers will attempt to play the 18th hole at this weekend’s PGA Championship. It could come down to that hole on Sunday and one bad decision, or worse, errant shot, could result in disaster.