Golfing professionals will tell all who will listen that the real game begins on the putting green. If it doesn’t, something is wrong with the greens. Putting has been called the great equalizer, yet is a fickle mistress. Ben Hogan lost it for good, Tom Watson bid farewell for a time and Bernhard Langer fought a lifelong duel with rolling the ball. In 2010, eventual champion David Chung two-putted the final two holes for birdie and made a huge par-saver on 16 to claim the Porter Cup title. No doubt the first-time patrons will gawk at the devlish 12th, the risky 15th, the massive 17th and the treacherous 18th and all that their full shots demand. Those in the know will find the best angle near the greens, where the green jacket will be claimed.
Green speeds will be stimping around 12 at Niagara Falls Country Club this week. That’s icy fast! Slopes will be accentuated, troughs will bring grey hairs and curvatures will ignite the ire of the competitors. With this to look forward to, consider hanging out at our ten most severe greens, to find out who the best putters are in amateur golf.
TEN: Hole # 11~ Par Five.
What makes this putting surface so difficult is the vertical trough that runs from front to back. The trough serves as a valley between two ridges, with drop offs on either side. In essence, it’s a softened “M.”
NINE: Hole # 9~Par Four.
You’d think that a massive par four would go easy on the putting…maybe on 5 and 8, but not on 9! Despite occupying flat terrain near the clubhouse, the ninth green is anything but flat. Get above the hole and test your nerves, lads. Swinging from side to side is no picnic, either.
EIGHT: Hole # 4~Par Three
The fourth hole is a long par three to a tiny, skull-shaped green. The front tongue drops quickly off to the fronting fairway, while the two back corners slide subtly off toward fringe and rough. There is enough movement on this little green to force each competitor to gauge speed and direction precisely to depart with a needed par or birdie, this early in the round.
SEVEN: Hole # 7~Par Three
The first of the hourglass greens, the seventh is set sideways to the tee deck and is made up of two halves, bisected by a ridge. The right side sits much higher than the left and the expected play is to the half where the hole is cut. When this doesn’t happen, buckle up.
SIX: Hole # 17~Par Four
I expected to list this green in the middle of the pack, barely cracking the top ten. After all, the course’s penultimate hole presents a supremely difficult driving target and volcanic bunkering around the putting surface. I hit over twenty putts on the green, watching balls break counter to what I expected, running out some 3-4 feet past the hole, each time. No loose shots on #17, especially on Saturday, with the tournament on the line.
FIVE: Hole # 12~Par Three
The second hourglass hole, this one is set neither sideways nor vertical, but at an angle to the tee deck. Add some bunkers and a serpentine creek and the twelfth is a tough green to hit…until you discover how much tougher it is to putt. The right side sits higher than the left, so everything falls toward the creek. You know that putts will go that way, but can you take a high enough line and the proper speed to snuggle them up to the hole? Not always.
FOUR: Hole # 15~Par Four
If you’re lucky, you’ll see a contestant or two take his tee shot over the trees to the left, in an attempt to drive the green. The smarter play is to lay out in the fairway and wedge beneath the hole. Three of the last four greens are easily the most tilted from back to front, so any ball above the hole needs the kiss of a zephyr and nothing more. A run at birdie can easily turn to a three- or four-putt green when care is not taken.
THREE: Hole # 18~Par Three
The home hole presents an enormous target; the only problem is that half of it is sand. Ringed by bunkers, this one-shotter has a deceptively tiny putting surface. The swing of green is due to its massive tilt, similar to the 15th hole. With the tournament on the line and the grass cut short, many a player has taken a few more counting strokes than desired on this green.
TWO: Hole # 16~Par Three
I think that you’re getting the idea…the short holes have the toughest greens. It makes sense, when you think about it. You get to tee the ball up just right, so you best hit it close. Sixteen is where Chung won the tournament (or Russell Henley lost it with a four-putt) in 2010. The tilt on 16 is similar to 15 and 18; the difference is found in the raised center of the antipenultimate putting surface. This lump in the center forces balls to run out even more when heading for the fringes, so a three-feet leave on any other green turns into a seven-feet second putt on #16.
And thus we arrive at our most severe green at Niagara Falls Country Club…
ONE: Hole # 13~Par Five
Nothing beats a little controversy. Number thirteen gets the nod because it is the last place to make up strokes in the traditional sense. Thing is, you can’t miss this green close. Better to lay back and hit a shot in with spin. Thirteen is a crescent moon of sorts, wrapping around a front right bunker with a severely-raised back curvature. You’ll hear about people making putts of some distance on other greens; the final 6-8 inches of break for most putts on this green is so severe that any putt made is often a mistake. In fact, only Gavin Hall, of all the players I saw last year, made a long putt of any consequence during the final round at thirteen in 2o10.
And there you have it. Feel free to agree or disagree, to comment via F-Book or Twitter. Just don’t tell us that the first green deserves to be on this list!!