Maybe one of the toughest opening holes in tournament golf, this is as a par 5 for the club members but plays as a long par 4 during the Hong Kong Open.
The drive is crucial. With a narrow left-to-right sloping fairway, many players opt for a three-wood from the tee. It is imperative to avoid the bunker on the left side, which has claimed many victims over the years.
The second shot, too, has its difficulties. Unless you’re in perfect shape down the right side of the fairway, the approach to the green has to be hit over the trees which flank the entire left side. A water hazard short and right of the green shouldn’t really be in play, but the greenside bunker most certainly is. Any player at the Open is delighted to start with a par at the first.
This is a lovely short par 3 that plays a lot trickier than it looks. With a long but fairly narrow raised green, any wayward shot to the left or short will leave an extremely difficult chip or bunker shot.
Normally an 8- or 9-iron for the pros, a solid tee shot should lead to a good birdie opportunity but, because the organizers generally like to ‘tuck’ the pins here, players are advised to aim for the centre of the green every time. Players going flag hunting risk running into trouble.
The first of only two par 5s on the course, the 3rd is a good opportunity to get into red numbers. Many players opt to use an iron or three-wood off the elevated tee (from where you can see the tower blocks of Sheung Shui), which makes this a true three-shot hole. The aggressive player who hits driver will have the option of going for the green in two, but it’s not a particularly straightforward second shot. The green sits diagonally to the player and with the water on the left very much in play, it takes a brave man to try to thread his fairway wood or long iron on to the front right portion of the putting surface. Not a “gimme” birdie, but certainly a hole where players will look to pick up shots.
This is also one of the best viewing spots on the course. Spectators standing behind the green can also watch the action on the 18th green and see players tee off on the fourth.
A short, blind par 4, this hole is potentially drivable – although that option is only recommended if the conditions are soft; when the course is playing hard and fast, as it usually does during the Hong Kong Open, the very real danger of a driver or three-wood shot bounding into trouble means the majority of pros will lay up short of the fairway bunkers with a five- or six-iron and wedge it on from there.
The green is cleverly designed and is long but narrow, which can bring the three greenside bunkers into play. However, given the hole’s length and the players’ skills with the short irons, they’ll be disappointed if they don’t birdie this hole at least twice over the four days.
The fifth is perhaps the best short hole on the course – and certainly the most difficult. Played across a valley to a raised green, most of the pros will be hitting a five- or six-iron from the tee. It’s not so much the length of the hole but the size and the firmness of the green that causes most of the problems here. The small putting surface features two tiers and when the pin is cut on the lower front portion it makes getting within birdie range extremely taxing. Any tee shot that misses the green translates into a very tough up and down. This is especially the case from the front right bunkers, which are two of the deepest on the course. Any pro playing this hole in level par for the week will be ahead of the majority of the field.
This is a beautiful par 4 with a mountain backdrop. Bunkers in front and to the side of the landing area provide a visually defined tee shot, although the longer hitters should be able to fly them all if the wind is helping.
The approach is what really tests the players, as the green is narrow and slightly raised. Anything missing it will leave a very difficult chip shot. Another factor: the swirling wind here – and we’re on one of the highest points on the course – can lead to a lot of indecision when it comes to club selection. The sixth is a real classic.
The entire hole is flanked by lovely soft-bark gum trees, which provides a visually stunning tee shot and approach. Because of the width of the fairway, most players will hit a long iron or hybrid off the tee, although anything pulled off the tee brings the fairway bunkers – and ditch beyond – into play. Even from the fairway, players must ensure their second shots are short of the hole location, as this is one of the most pitched greens on the course. Despite its length, a par on the 7th is never bad.
Like the 5th, this is another very good par 3, which is suggested by the scoring average. Featuring a fairly long but narrow green, players are delighted to find the putting surface in one shot – because anything missing the green results in an extremely difficult up-and-down. The most common miss here is short, although underclubbing here will often result in the ball running back down the steeply banked slope at the front of the green, which leaves a tricky chip. A birdie here is a bonus.
Consistently the most difficult hole on the course, the ninth is a sweeping dogleg left that many players will attack with a three-wood off the tee because of the very well placed fairway bunkers. However, this tends to result in a very lengthy second shot, one which must be played to an unreceptive and narrow green. Players hitting driver here had better be accurate; anything apart from the perfect tee shot here will mean playing from the trees that line the fairway or the sand.
Normally a par 5 for the members, this is the type of hole that can ruin many a good round in very short order. Four 4s on the ninth during the week will put any player way ahead of the field average.
The start of the back nine offers a short par 4 with a generous fairway. Because of its length, the players will definitely be looking to start the homeward stretch with a birdie, but it is uncanny how many pros seem to find trouble here, many coming to grief in the ditch that guards the front of the green.
The 10th is a great example of how the Composite Course has withstood the test of time. At only 367 yards it might look like a pushover, but players letting down their guard here do so at their peril.
The 11th is a good, strong straightaway par 4, and one of the best driving holes on the course. It’s imperative to hit the fairway here as the green – which is the longest on the course at nearly 100 feet – repels shots coming out of the rough.
Out of Bounds down both sides of the hole seriously punishes wayward drivers, and while the landing area is generous, longer hitters have the advantage because the hole often plays into the wind.
A hole that has only been used in recent editions of the Hong Kong Open, the 12th features a small green protected by a pond at the front and a tiny – but potentially deadly – pot bunker on the right.
While players are only coming in with wedges and nine-irons from the slightly elevated tee, the size of the putting surface and the swirling Fanling wind can make this a tricky proposition.
Not that England’s Simon Griffiths found the hole too taxing at the 2008 event. The Asian Tour stalwart’s tee shot in the first round took two hops on the green before disappearing into the bottom of the cup. As a result of his efforts, Griffiths took home a 1kg bar of gold – worth US$24,000.
The second of only two par 5s on the Composite Course – and the one that all the pros are looking to birdie. Reachable by the vast majority of the field, the wide fairway and relatively short yardage here means that many eagles will be landed, but only if the fairway bunkers are avoided.
While all the players at the Hong Kong Open look to the 13th to pick up a shot, the massive double green – which is shared with the 17th – can lead to plenty of long putts. Regardless, anyone not penciling a four on the scorecard will be desperately disappointed. The easiest hole on the course, and with good reason.
The 14th is a lovely par 4 which forces players to hit their drives with a soft draw. Modern technology has made the fairway bunker – at around 240 yards from the tee – obsolete, but the second shot – which is played to a tiny raised green – demands precision and touch. A large, deep bunker protects the front half of the putting surface, while a grassy bank to the left makes getting up and down a tough proposition.
Despite this, however, most pros who get a good drive away will be looking to score under par here during the week.
This is undoubtedly one of the best holes on the course – and also one of the most beautiful. A ditch runs diagonally across the fairway from 260-280 yards from the tee, which makes a fairway wood or hybrid club the option for many pros. The best line is hard down the right side, which makes the approach shot a little shorter.
Always a difficult second shot to judge, the green, while flat and relatively large, is raised, making distance control all the more tricky.
Although the club’s members are generally delighted to card a par here, many of the pros will depart the green with red on their card.
The tee shot on this slightly downhill dogleg hole right is blind – and many first-time players at the Hong Kong Open often have difficulty picking the correct line. You really can’t see much from the tee at all – trees, shrubbery and a hill mask the fairway beyond.
Ideally, you need to hit a nice high fade, keeping as close to the right hand trees as possible. Good drives will catch the down slope of what is actually a pretty wide landing area, leaving only a wedge or nine-iron approach. Left off the tee here is definitely not the place to be. The rough down that side is some of the thickest on the course. Likewise, too far right and you’ll be blocked out by yet more large trees. Troublesome pin positions on the back-to-front sloping green include the back right and left locations. Many of the birdies made at this hole will come when the hole is cut on the front portion of the putting surface.
The fairway on the 17th is generous, but the pros can’t hit driver off the tee here because of the ditch that crosses the fairway at the 290 yard mark.
While it’s never really a long shot in, the approach is always tricky to judge because the green sits above the player, meaning the bottom of the flagstick is hidden. This can lead to a lot of head scratching when it comes to club selection.
The very large putting surface – the 17th and 13th share a double green, which is something of a rareity in Asian golf – features plenty of subtle breaks and allows a variety of pin positions.
Given the hole’s length and wide landing area, the pros will be looking to pick up a shot here before heading to the famous 18th.
Maybe the one of the best finishing holes in all of golf – and the drama that has unfolded over the years is testament to that.
The tee shot will have all the players in contention come Sunday quaking in their softspikes. Any shots missed left or right will mean a sideways chip back to the fairway – unless, of course, you’re Lin Wen-tang or Rory McIlroy, whose escapes during the playoff in 2008 still beggar belief.
If you do find the narrow fairway off the tee, the job is far from over, with a second shot over water to a green guarded by bunkers at the front, back and right.
The 18th always provides a grandstand finish, so be sure to get a good position in order to catch all the action.