The feeling of driving through the gates at Pine Valley is a mix of nervousness, excitement, and a frantic need to soak in every single moment and view. All of those emotions are heightened even more when you pull up to the clubhouse where everyone seems to share an unspoken, “can you believe we’re at Pine Valley?!” look every now and then.
My recent visit to Pine Valley took place on a rainy day, but we couldn’t have had a better time. Our group warmed up on the expansive range, had lunch (with snapper soup, of course) in the clubhouse, and played the course in under four hours… does it get better? It wasn’t my first visit to the course, but it was my favorite because of sharing it with good friends.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise, but as with so many great courses, Pine Valley reveals itself over time. There’s an amount of “star-struck shock” when you first play any great golf course and it’s nearly impossible to take in all a design has to offer in a single visit. I learned more than ever on my latest round just from observing, listening, and focusing more on the course than before.
Our group spoke during this latest round about the wide array of shots that Pine Valley requires of golfers. You hear that “PV requires every shot in the bag,” but I didn’t fully understand that until playing the course specifically looking for it. You have to think your way around the course and find positions and angles that set you up for the shots ahead. A thoughtful and strategic golfer will dismantle a bomber any day at a course like Pine Valley.
On the holes where I (often accidentally) disregarded my caddie and host’s advice in favor of the bolder or easier route, I was punished. The beauty is, once you understand how to play the course, you’ve solved one piece of the puzzle. I’m obviously nowhere near understanding Pine Valley, but it’s no surprise that well-versed members often fare well during the prestigious Crump Cup—an amateur event hosted at the club.
A section out of the Pine Valley history book describes the course saying, “The inspiring principle of Pine Valley’s design is simplicity in itself: the island. The tee is an island. The fairway, almost 50-55 yards wide in the tee-shot landing area, is also an island (or two). So is the green. Each of these isolated plots is virtually surrounded by sand, scrub, dense woods, sometimes water, sometimes severe slopes, a vast no-man’s land, as it were of potentially unplayable lies. And woes betide the man who… fails to put in consistently at a safe harbor. The penalty ranges from double bogey to incalculable.”
That statement is true and you will notice the islands in the photos below. But, don’t think of an islands as limiting options. Instead, look for them to force a certain type of shot while also providing a range of options through width and angles.
Those who read my past review of Pine Valley will have seen some of the photos below. It was a hot summer day and I was able to take pictures during the round. During my latest visit to the club, it was a cold and rainy day, but I had my camera and when the wet weather permitted, I shot a few photos as well, particularly of areas of the course that have received renovation work. I didn’t take pictures of everything, but where you see the juxtaposition of sunny blue skies and dark grey clouds below, know that the sunny photos are from 2013 and the grey shots are from 2018.
Hole #1 – 399 yards – Although I don’t have a photo of the first, it’s an important hole to discuss. The par 4 is a dogleg right bordered by woods and waste area on the right. The green has a wide front that tapers to a narrower back section, providing easier and progressively tougher pins. Steep banks fall off either side of the green. On my first visit, I hit a hybrid, played an iron onto the green, two-putted, and with my heart beating out of my chest, floated to the second tee. The hole is packed with strategic interest, particularly depending on the pin position.
Hole #2 – 355 yards – The second hole at Pine Valley features an island fairway surrounded by thick woods and large waste bunkers. The approach is a blind uphill shot into the green. The club recently removed the trees behind this green, opening a great view down to the third green. The uphill slope in front of the green was reworked as well to stop erosion and add more shallower bunkers.
Hole #3 – 181 yards – The third is a downhill par 3 and is one of my favorite holes on the course. The green is massive and sloping and each of the four quadrants makes a great pin position. You’ll see that the club has removed a large amount of trees to the left of this green in the two photos below.
Hole #4 – 438 yards – The tee shot on #4 is intimidating and long hitters need to challenge the right side. The fairway runs out around 290 yards into a sandy waste area.
The photo below, taken from 60 yards out from the 4th green shows the large putting surface that runs away from golfers and the edge of the clubhouse on the right.
Hole #5 – 219 yards – Hole #5 is one of the most difficult par 3s I have ever played, but recent tree removal made the hole slightly less intimidating. It plays 230 yards uphill, with tough bunkers left and steep slopes leading to deep bunkers on the right. The best miss is short in the collection area. Compare the first and second photos to understand how many trees were removed.
Hole #6 – 383 yards – The drive on 6 plays across a large waste area. The fairway moves right and away from the players. Golfers can cut off as much as they dare, leaving a shorter approach to the deep green.
Hole #7 – 573 yards – Drives land short of “Hell’s Half Acre” on the par 5 7th. It’s a blind layup to a wide fairway followed by short approach to the large green. It’s easy enough if you execute each shot as the hole was designed, but misses are severely punished.
Hole #8 – 314 yards – The 8th is a short hole that requires a lofted approach into either of the two small raised greens. Setting up the correct angle into either of these greens is crucial. The left green is the original design and the green used for tournaments while the right green was added later to alleviate wear on its borther. Both are the size of postage stamps!
The unique halfway house at Pine Valley is built in the base of an old water tower. Golfers pass it on the 8th fairway and at the 12th tee.
Hole #9 – 422 yards – The 9th also has two green options and the upper left hand green again is the tournament choice. In the view below looking back toward the tee you can see the fairway “island” and the sloping green. The 9th initially appears similar to the 8th, but it requires a totally different set of shots. A solid drive leaves a mid-iron into these greens that has to be accurate, but doesn’t need to be as lofted as the 8th. The club also removed trees from behind this green to restore the “infinity green” aesthetic.
Hole #10 – 142 yards – The famous “Devil’s Asshole” bunker is front right on this par 3. I used to think that this hole was one of the easiest on the course, but I now realize that the biggest challenge lies on the green. When they’re running fast you have to carefully choose your approach shot to avoid a deadly downhill runner.
Make sure to notice the tree removal behind this green that opened up a view of the 17th green to the left.
Hole #11 – 385 yards – The picturesque 11th hole requires a fade for perfect placement off the tee and a draw for an approach to the green. The hole demands two very exacting shots from golfers and is one of the most beautiful on the course.
Hole #12 – 342 yards – This hole is a short dogleg left and the photo below is taken from behind the green looking back to the tee. Prior to 2018, the large waste bunker area inside of the dogleg was trees that obscured the view of the green. The hole is now totally open and your options are much more obvious. Angles are key again here and the green is designed to accept a running shot from the right side of the fairway.
Hole #13 – 442 yards – The 13th is my favorite hole on the course and one of the best par fours that I have ever played. The best tee shots play down the right half of the fairway, leaving a long approach into the green.
A well struck tee shot on 13 ends up where the photo below was taken. An approach shot measuring around 175 yards is needed to reach the green. Do not go left.
Hole #14 – 187 yards – The par 3 14th green feels is another island and the hole plays severely downhill, placing a premium on distance control.
Hole #15 – 574 yards – The view from the tee box on 15 is stunning. It is a serene and peaceful area of the course. If given the opportunity, I would walk out to that tee with a book and my camera to wait for the sunset every evening. The 15th fairway is the one on the left and the 16th green is seen on the right.
The approach to the 15th green is seen below and the hillside bunkers on the right were added in the winter of 2013. Previously, trees guarded the right side of this hole, exactly where the sloping fairway funnels layups.
Hole #16 – 434 yards – The approach to the 16th green is another breathtaking view. The green is concave and depending on the pin, this can be a birdie opportunity or a knee-knocking approach shot.
Hole #17 – 342 yards – I wish that I had a photo from the 17th tee, but the one below from behind the green will suffice! The dogleg right par 4 has a receptive fairway, but positioning is key for the best approach to this green. The putting surface slopes back to front and is almost always lightning fast. New back tees were added in 2018, stretching this hole to 400 yards.
Hole #18 – 423 yards – The 18th requires an accurate tee shot down the left side to have the best angle into the green, which is a massive concave bowl. While that may make the hole sound easy, it means there isn’t a straight putt on this green (at least that I’ve noticed!). Recently my 15-foot birdie putt broke 2 feet here… I made par.
The Pine Valley Short Course
I’ve only played the Pine Valley Short Course once, but it was a fun experience. The Short Course was built in 1992 and it consists of 10 holes, eight of which are based off holes on the big course (2, 3, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17 are copied). These holes replicate approach shots golfers find on the big course. The other two holes are original designs: one done by Tom Fazio and the other done by former Pine Valley president named Ernie Ransome, who developed the idea for the Short Course.
Only a few of the copied holes are identical. One of those is the first hole in the short course, which is modeled off the tenth hole on the big course. The elevation change from the tee to green is within a foot of the full tenth hole. Ransome was quoted saying, “I always said I would never build a second course at Pine Valley to compete with the original, but I did get the idea of doing this, and thought it would be nice to duplicate some of the original holes. Tom took it from there and did a wonderful job.” Ransome’s idea was to offer the members a way to practice approach shots that could be found on the course in fun way.
Pine Valley’s history book is called Pine Valley – A Unique Haven of the Game and that phrase sums the place very well. It’s as pure a golf course and golf experience as you can find. The clubhouse is packed full of character, but doesn’t have any frills and the same goes for the entire property. It’s all about the golf and although many have tried to match it, few even get close.
Thanks Graylyn for giving us a complete look at the perennial #1 rated course in America, if not the world. You are a lucky man to have played it twice.
Great review Graylyn – special thanks for the before and after photos of tree removal which one doesn’t often see analyzed side by side and so closely. Amazing how carefully the club has approached the changes over the years – opening up the sight lines (sometimes into other holes) can been controversial, but all for the better. PV continues to stand the test of time.
Great read. I only wish to ever even see it much less play there. It sounds amazing. The closest I have been to this experience is playing Dormie. That place, like I imagine Pine Valley would be, touches my golfing soul.
Hi Scott, Pine Valley invites the public out for the championship matches of the Crump Cup every year. I walked the course away from the matches (was the only person walking on hole 13 other than some deer grazing on rough!) and it was a surreal experience. There’s no ropes so you can walk nearly anywhere on the course.
I knew the course is widely regarded as the greatest on Earth and it still surpassed my expectations. I’ve dreamed several times of playing Pine Valley since.
It’s certainly worth the effort to travel to Pine Valley and explore this magical place.
Is there a “trick” to getting a tee time at Pine Valley? I would love to play there but I do not have any connections. Any help would be appreciated!
Hi Jim, As far as I’m aware there really isn’t a trick to getting onto Pine Valley or many of the other top courses. It’s just a case of knowing a member who invites you to play as a guest. Hang in there and you’ll hopefully get to play it one day!
Thanks for your reply! I am heading over to Scotland for a week in St. Andrews next month. This will be my 4th time and this time we are taking our wives. Instead of 12 men we decided to try just 3 couples to see how it works with wives. Wish us luck and I ‘ll let you know how it works out. Tanks again for all your reports. Have a good Summer!
Enjoy Scotland! You guys will have a blast with the couples – it’s a totally different kind of trip than just the golf buddies. Let me know how it goes – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pine Valley-No ocean, no tour stop, no spa. It offers the golfer a chance to experience a masterpiece of golf course design. Simple.
Graylyn – Thanks for your wonderful article on PVGC. I’ve played it twice and each time feel like I’ve learned something new about the course. I am headed there for a third time next week and hope to do better than my first two rounds – 101 and 95. And very much looking forward to the new holes where trees were cleared – especially #5, where it felt too claustrophobic. I was about a 13 handicap when I played it the first two times. I’m down to an 8 now. So hopefully I’ll be able to shoot under 95! Will let you know…
Who would have known that this great course is behind an amusement park. The narrow road that leads you to PV dead-ends at the entrance gate which is across railroad tracks. You are stopped by the PV Police–PV is now its own town–who check to see if you are allowed in. When you drive a short ways up to the old house which houses the clubhouse, dining room, and pro shop, you wonder if you’re in the right place. The pro shop is so small for what is considered the premier course in the world. The 4th green, as well as the 5th tee, is right next to the pro shop. I’ve been fortunate to have played the course about 10 times and I’m stunned by something different every time. My advice if anyone goes for the first time—don’t worry about your score, just enjoy the natural and humble surroundings that PV offers. There is NOTHING fancy about the best course in the world !!!!!