Most golf courses are built, but some are chiseled. This was the certainly the case for Austin Country Club when Pete Dye constructed it in the early 1980s. Today the course is known for its tumbling terrain and lovely views of neighboring Lake Austin and the arched Pennybacker Bridge that frames it during the broadcast of the WGC-Match Play, but Dye and his crew had to go full Michelangelo to blast, cut and chip the holes out of the severely rocky site.
The difficult land is now an asset that provides dramatic movements, ravines and a number of downhill launching pads. The nines are reversed during the tournament, which puts the most exciting and scenic swing holes—namely the easily reachable downhill par-5 12th where tee shots sometimes travel over 400 yards; the drivable par-4 13th over water; and the tough 465-yard lake-lined 14th—in the heart of the matches. The short par-3 17th is another attractive, deceptive swing hole, but due to its placement in the round and the fact that only some matches make it that far, it’s also one of the most overlooked.
Here's why Austin Country Club's 17th hole (eighth for its members) is one of the most underrated holes on tour:
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE LAYOUT
The 17th (members play it as the eighth) plays along the edge of a ravine that falls away into trees and brush on the left and extends toward the front of the green. A stone wall lines the ravine short of the wide, shallow green and two pot bunkers also protect the front. The putting surface is angled away from the tee, so the farther the hole is cut on the left side the longer it plays and the smaller the target becomes. It’s also set at the base of the hillside behind it, which can block players’ perception of the wind intensity and direction.
WHY IT'S ESPECIALLY DEMANDING
Any match that gets to the 17th hole is by definition a close one, and depending on the circumstances one player will likely have the chance to close out his opponent if he can hit a brave and decisive shot. The wind, however, is an invisible hazard that can play games with short irons hoisted high above the sheltering hollow. Some hole locations, like those on the right, offer space for imprecision—think of the left side of Augusta National’s 12th green. But the deeper the flag is placed toward the left, and the deeper into the week the matches go, the more courageous the shot needs to be (like right-side pins at Augusta’s 12th).
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE GREEN
It’s challenging for architects to create intriguing short par 3s that don’t possess naturally bewitching defenses (like those swirling Amen Corner winds; the stiff sea breezes at Royal Troon’s Postage Stamp eighth) or that are built with gimmicky or extremely penal hazards (TPC Sawgrass’s 17th hole). This is especially true when confronting professionals, who are standing on the tee holding wedges and 9-irons (the tees here are frequently moved up to as little at 125 yards). The green at Austin’s 17th is actually receptive, with relatively flat hole locations on either side of the putting surface, but a surprising number of shots miss the green to the right, finishing either just off the edge or in a small chipping hollow.
The greatest compliment that can be paid to a short par 3 in a tournament situation is that it holds its own. In the four previous Match Play events held here, Austin’s 17th has played to a stroke average of 2.93, a number that’s likely low given that not every ball is holed out due to concessions. It’s also surrendered just 91 birdies in 470 attempts, a 19 percent conversion rate. Not bad for a pitching wedge hole.
(Opening photo: Carrell Grigsby/Courtesy of Austin Country Club • Green-reading map: Courtesy of StrackaLine)