If the 18th Hole Isn’t Made for TV, Make It the 9th


Tournament organizers, on the other hand, are putting on a show.

At Hazeltine, the Ryder Cup will be contested by match play instead of the typical stroke play. Since many matches do not make it to the final hole (a match ends when one player is winning by more holes than there are holes remaining), organizers shifted the layout, in part, so that the old 16th and 17th holes — which had limited spectator capacity — were replaced by holes that had more room for large grandstands and corporate viewing areas.

Sensible as that sounds, it nonetheless makes for some oddities. The bridge on the signature 16th hole dedicated to Payne Stewart’s comeback victory at the 1991 Open will now be encountered on the seventh.

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Jordan Spieth teeing off on the customary 18th hole at East Lake during the final round of the 2015 Tour Championship. A par 3, it limits scoring opportunities and has less gallery space, so it has been turned into the ninth hole for this year’s event.

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Scott Halleran/Getty Images

And it is still not the way the course was intended to be played. Even Tom Lehman, an assistant captain for the United States team at the Ryder Cup who grew up in Minnesota, admitted that he was not necessarily a fan, telling a local newspaper, The Pioneer Press, that the changes were “a little disappointing from a pure golf standpoint.”

The changes here at the East Lake course, which was redesigned by the renowned Donald Ross in 1913 and restored by Rees Jones in 1994, came with similar back-and-forth, and were considered by organizers for years before being instituted for this week’s event. The finishing hole was the main impetus, as the original 18th, a lengthy par-3, does not offer nearly the potential excitement as the former ninth hole — a par 5 that could realistically allow players to make up two (or more) shots at the close. Most courses conclude with either a par 4 or a par 5.

“It’s a little tough to force anything on a 240-yard par 3,” top-ranked Jason Day said of the old No. 18. “Finishing on a par 5, I’m hoping what will happen is it will give us a little bit more fireworks at the end.”

Several other players voiced similar sentiments, but the old finish had its share of dramatic moments. Jim Furyk got up and down from the bunker next to the 18th green to win the title in 2010. During a playoff a year later, Bill Haas got up and down from out of a water hazard on No. 17 before scrambling on the 18th to win.

Brandt Snedeker, who won the Tour Championship here in 2012, said he understood why the changes were made but will miss the old routing.

“I thought it was unique, an iconic hole, in the fact that it’s a par 3,” he said. “I kind of like historically unique stuff like that in the game of golf.”

As long as golf remains a spectator sport, however, such changes will persist. CordeValle Resort, outside San Jose, Calif., typically has its nines flipped when it hosts a PGA Tour event. This past summer, though, the United States Women’s Open was held there, and organizers opted to keep the nines in their normal place but then turned the fourth hole into the first hole for that week only.

For those who find the whole thing a bit confusing, there is at least one course in the United States that tries to make the issue moot. Taking a cue from old British designs like the Old Course at St. Andrew’s, which can be played in both directions, Tom Doak designed the Loop, which opened in northern Michigan in June and is said to be North America’s only 18-hole, fully reversible golf course.

The course has 18 greens, 36 tees and is played either clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on the day.

“It’s been really popular with everyone,” said Chad Maveus, the head professional of the course.

“And, as a purist,” he added, “I like it because there’s no wrong way to go around.”

Correction: September 23, 2016

An earlier version of this article misidentified the golfer who got up and down from a water hazard to win the Tour Championship in 2011. He is Billy Haas, not Billy Horschel. An earlier version also misstated the hole at which he did it. It was the 17th hole, not the 18th.

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