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Valhalla's thrilling finish: How the PGA venue's 18th hole was built to always produce drama

May 19, 2024

The PGA Championship returned to Valhalla Golf Club this week for the fourth time. The Louisville course might not have the history or gravitas of other PGA Championship venues like Oak Hill, Southern Hills, Baltusrol or Medinah No. 3, but what it lacks in prestige it more than makes up for with its knack for producing dramatic finishes.

Two of the previous PGAs ended in playoffs and the third, in 2014, ended in equally theatrical fashion when Rory McIlroy, leading by one, was forced to essentially hit into his closest pursuers in the group ahead of him—Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler—due to fading daylight. The tournament ended with a foursome on the 18th green as McIlroy scrambled for a winning par.

It was more of the same in 2024, Bryson DeChambeau birdieing the 18th hole to grab a share of the lead lat on Sunday only to have Xander Schauffele roll in a six-foot birdie of his own to claim his elusive first major title.

Valhalla Golf Club
Valhalla Golf Club
Louisville, KY
102 Panelists
Given a difficult piece of land on which to create Valhalla (half the site was floodplain, with high-tension power poles), Jack Nicklaus drew on his training under Pete Dye and Desmond Muirhead to produce a unique design, with an alternate fairway par 5, a par 4 with an island green and an 18th green shaped like a horseshoe. Over the decades, Nicklaus returned periodically to update its challenges, and the club rebuilt bunkers and replaced its soft bent grass fairways with firmer, faster zoysia in 2022. Valhalla has proven to be a great championship site. It has hosted three thrilling PGA Championships, the latest Rory McIlroy’s win in 2014, and will host a fourth in 2024.
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The cause for this tension occurring regularly down the stretch (the 2004 and 2011 Senior PGA Championships also ended in a playoff and a last-hole birdie) is a Jack Nicklaus-designed layout that includes a variety of diverse scoring opportunities, especially opportunities for birdies coming down the stretch. Specifically, it is the unique par-5 18th that serves as a stage for late-game heroics. The 18th at this venue that routines sits inside Golf Digest’s America’s 100 Greatest Courses, and is currently ranked 87th, played to a stroke average of just 4.49 in 2014, surrendering 228 birdies and 20 eagles.

This kind of volatility is exactly what Nicklaus and Valhalla developer Dwight Gahm had in mind when the course was being built in the mid-1980s—envisioning future major tournaments, they wanted a hole that would allow someone to win with a birdie or eagle. They got it.

Learn more about the character and unique history of Valhalla’s 18th hole by watching the video below.

An inside look at one of golf's most dramatic finishes holes