Seeking out the most challenging golf courses in the world is a quest that both excites and tests avid golfers. While many renowned golf courses are exclusive to private clubs or reserved for touring professionals, there are exceptional courses that welcome the general public.
In this article, we explore some of the toughest golf courses accessible to golf enthusiasts like you and me.
I have combed through massive golf course databases, covering thousands upon thousands of golf courses across the globe. All to simply figure out what the hardest golf courses in the world are. More specifically, those that carry the highest possible slope rating.
Toughest golf courses in the world – By Rating
Men – The International Golf Club – Pines course in Bolton, MA is the most challenging golf course in the world for men. From the gold tees, it is a par 72 course, and a scratch golfer would be expected to come in with an 81.7 on average. A bogey golfer would be expected to score 112.2 on average.
Women – The Maridoe Golf Club in Carrolton, TX is the most challenging golf course for women. From the Plates tees, it is a par 72, and a scratch golfer would be expected to shoot a whopping 87.8. A bogey golfer would be expected to score 128.4 on average.
Unfortunately, both of these are private clubs only open to members and/or touring professionals.
Toughest Golf Courses – That You Can Actually Play!
Kiawah Island Golf Resort – Ocean Course
A stunning course, designed by Pete Dye, located on Kiawah Island, SC. Just outside of Charleston. This course has been home to the 2005, 2012, and, 2021 PGA Championships. It has also hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup, 2003 World Cup, and the 2007 Senior PGA Championship.
Their championship tees carry a slope rating of 155 and a course rating of 79.1. But the championship tees are typically reserved for tournaments and you’ll have to settle for the Black tees, carrying a 153 slope rating and a 76.8 course rating.
If you play the ocean course from the tips, it is 7,360 yards. Greens and fairways are surrounded by sand and dunes, and you’ll enjoy plenty of ocean views. “The Ocean Course boasts the most seaside holes in the Northern Hemisphere” – Kiawah island golf resort.
Cost – $600. A caddie is required and will be provided for free, but you’ll need to plan on paying a decent gratuity.
Gdansk Golf and Country Club – Poland
A 7,101-yard par 72 course set in the quiet village of Postolowo, a short drive from Gdansk. Germany, Denmark, the U.K, and Scandinavia are only one to two hours away by plane. The course has spectacular lush green grass and surrounds a beautiful lake. It is only the 2nd longest par 72 golf course in Europe.
Designed by Jeremy Turner, the course was described by the German Golf Journal as “one of the most challenging golf courses in the world”
If you play from the championship tees, they carry a slope rating of 155 and a course rating of 78.8 for the men and a 79.6 for the ladies. You better be accurate to play this course! With its narrow fairways and perfectly placed hazards, you’ll be dealing with obstacles all over the place.
Cost – $140 USD, or 590 PLN, 131 EUR. They offer stay and play packages starting at 349 euro, which includes a 2 day stay with unlimited golf, and other perks!
Bethpage State Park – Black Course
Home of the 2019 PGA Championship and future home of the 2025 Ryder Cup.
Referred to as the “mecca of public golf”, and ranked in the top 100 golf courses in America by Golf Digest for nearly 20 years straight. Bethpage State Park is located in Farmingdale, NY, on Long Island. The course has also hosted the U.S. Open in 2002 and 2009.
If you play from the blue tees, it is a 7,468 yard par 71 course with a 155 slope rating and course rating of 77.5. Thats a really long par 71!
Cost – $160 for non-residents on the weekend, $140 during the week. Residents get 50% off.
TPC Sawgrass – Stadium Course
TPC Sawgrass is a stunning course with narrow fairways and tons of bunkers and water hazards. It was built in 1980 and designed to be the permanent home of The Players Championship. Located in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, just minutes from Jacksonville, this course is home to the iconic “island green” par-3.
It is another Pete Dye designed course with a balanced layout, so as not to favor any one particular type of golfer.
If you are able to get on “The Players” tees, it is a 7,245 yard par 72 with a slope rating of 155 and course rating of 76.8.
Cost – $450+ Summer months, $650+ when it isn’t 100% humidity and blistering hot. They also offer a TOUR Player experience, where you get VIP access to the Pro’s locker rooms, a professional caddie, and a personally customized experience throughout.
How do we know what the hardest golf courses in the world are?
Following the USGA rating system, golf courses are assigned a “Slope Rating” that can range from 55 to 155. 155 is the most difficult golf course rating that can be assigned.
Great, so there are 69 golf courses in the world that have a tee with a rating of 155, how do we know which is actually most difficult?
That is where “course rating” comes in. This is the expected number of strokes a scratch golfer should score.
Related – Course and Slope Rating explained.
Looking at an example, Oak Tree National in Edmond, OK carries a course rating of 79.7. Meaning, on a par 72 course, a scratch golfer would be expected to barely break 80 on average.
Compare Oak Tree National to the Boston Golf Club in Hingham, MA, the club in Boston is a bit more difficult. It carries a course rating of 82.3, and it is a par 71 course. This means a scratch golfer could come in at 11 over par in Boston, but only 7 over par at Oak Tree National.
Courses Believed to be the Most Difficult
We always hear of famous golf courses and how difficult they are. And there is no question some of these courses are really difficult. Here are some popular courses that fall just below the maximum slope rating of 155.
Carnoustie Golf Links – The Championship course only carries a slope rating of 139. Still difficult, but a scratch golfer would be expected to come in about 3 over par on average. Thats quite a difference considering the others are around 6 – 7 over.
Whistling Straits – With its most challenging tees rated at 152, and the white tees (which most golfers will play) rated at 137, this one is certainly going to be challenging.
Ko’olau Golf Club – With a slope rating of 153 and total distance of 7,310 yards from the tips. Even if you move up to the white tees, it still carries a rating of 151. Better bring some extra balls for this one!
Pebble Beach – With a slope rating of 144, Pebble Beach is certainly not topping the list of difficult golf courses, but it is definitely a bucket list course for me!
Private Golf Courses with a 155 Slope Rating
Maridoe Golf Club
|Valhalla Golf Club
|The International Golf Club – Pines
|Blessings Golf Club
|Pine Valley Golf Club
|Pine Valley, NJ
|Rich Harvest Farms
|Sugar Grove, IL
|Oak Tree National
|The Golf Club of New England
|The Honors Course
|Muirfeld Village Golf Club
|Butler National Golf Club
|Oak Brook, IL
|Musgrove Mill Golf Club
|Trump International Golf Club
|West Palm Beach, FL
|Ballyhack Golf Club
|Carolina Country Club
If you are looking to play the most difficult golf courses – I wish you luck! There are plenty of really difficult courses out there, but only 69 of them carry a slope rating of 155, which is the highest possible rating and considered to be the most difficult.
Unfortunately, only 4 of those are actually available to the general public. The course at Bethpage is the most cost-friendly, followed by Postolowo in Poland.
South Carolina and Florida can get a bit pricey, but if you are looking for a great golf destination, they are both very highly rated.
Good luck on the course!