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Sweet little 16? Not!

The 16th hole might not be the most famous at Valhalla, but none of the players will forget it after this week. After a makeover by course designer Jack Nicklaus, the not-so-sweet 16th is easily the toughest test on the course.

16th_tee

With trees and thick rough down the left side, water that runs the entire length of the hole on the right and two deep bunkers guarding the front of its undulating green, there is no room for error on the 16th hole. (Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

By John Kim, PGA.com Coordinating Producer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It’s a beast of a hole, even for the normal Saturday morning fourballs that members here at Valhalla Golf Club play each week. But make conditions soft, the rough a little higher, the green a little faster and the pressure that of a major championship, and then….

The 13th hole with its iconic island green and the scenic 18th hole with its sparking waterfall are the most photographed holes at Valhalla. For good reason. And the 16th hole? Though both beautiful and scenic itself, its claim to fame is that it’s the most cussed, most antagonistic, most brutal hole in Louisville. For equally good reason.

Through two days of play at the Senior PGA Championship presented by Kitchaid, this 478 yard, dogleg-left par 4 has taken on a field of the world’s best senior golfers and collectively pummeled them. It has played to a stroke average of 4.524, making it easily the most difficult hole on the course – by contrast, the par-5 seventh hole has played to a stroke average of 4.752.  With trees and thick rough down the left side, water that runs the entire length of the hole on the right and two deep bunkers guarding the front of its undulating green, there is no room for error. Oh, and then there’s its sheer distance.

“Yesterday, I hit a driver and 3-wood on that hole,” said Lee Rinker, the PGA Director of Golf at Emerald Dunes Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla.  “It’s long. With the conditions soft and the wind in your face, it’s just a tough hole. And though the fairway is pretty wide and it’s a pretty big green. There’s no easy putts on that green, either.

“Yesterday, I hit a great 3-wood and had about a 20-foot putt and had a wicked putt! After I hit driver, 3-wood to 20 feet, now you have a 20-foot putt that breaks eight feet over a knob! There’s no let-up on that hole. It’s a beautiful hole, it’s fair. It’s just tough.”

The hole is actually known for more than being tough. In fact, it is the site of one of the most memorable and iconic images in golf. Here was born the famed “Tiger Walk” from the 2000 PGA Championship as Tiger Woods followed in a birdie putt on the first playoff hole against Bob May with a stalking stride and pointed finger. The 25-footer traveled up a large swale that had bisected the green almost perfectly. That putt now exists only in memories and video as the green has been redesigned by course designer Jack Nicklaus.  The swale is gone, but the challenge became even tougher.

“In 2006, as we prepared to host the 2008 Ryder Cup, Jack Nicklaus moved the green back a little, changed the contour completely and added some back tees,” explained Valhalla General Manager Mike Montague. “It’s always been a classic North American golf hole, it’s all the challenge you might want out of a golf hole, especially under conditions like today. You need four really good shots to make a par here.”

2009 PGA Senior Champion Michael Allen offered his thoughts on the hole. “I need the ball to run to get it out there, so the soft conditions don’t help me at all out there. And the hard part is really the second shot. You have to hit to the right areas of the green and you always have a long iron or hybrid or something in here. Hale (Irwin) has been hitting 3-woods in, and of course, hitting them great. But I don’t know if anyone has really felt comfortable on that hole.”

Actually, one player in the field, who is in prime position to make a charge this weekend, has found the 16th hole very much to his liking. Olin Browne has birdied the hole twice in two days.

“…like double bonus points, right?” Browne laughed when recalling his success on the hole. “That hole’s playing really long. The ball is not rolling anywhere.”

Yet Brown, after two rounds, is 2 under on the hole. Not only can no other player this week say that, few players that play Valhalla regularly could ever say that.

Montague agreed when asked if he heard much feedback from Valhalla’s membership regarding the hole. He said with a grin: “They find it to be longer and tougher, too.”