Triskaidekaphobia

by

Noel Freeman

Triskaidekaphobia does not exactly roll off of the tongue yet we are all aware of it. It entails the fear and primordial suspicions of the number thirteen. What is so bad about the number thirteen? After all, it is simply a prime number or a harmless anagram. For example, eleven plus two is an anagram of twelve plus one. Popular culture subscribes to a more sinister interpretation as who among us has not seen an elevator skip from the twelfth to the fourteenth floor? What child does not scare on Friday the thirteenth? It all sounds like some nightmare conjured up by Edgar Allen Poe but its roots are biblical. The Bible refers to Judas being the thirteenth member of the Last Supper. Furthermore, for those into the occult, the thirteenth card of a tarot deck symbolizes death. So what does this all have to do with golf anyway?

The 13th hole arrives almost as an afterthought in the mind of a golfer. It is reminiscent of five o’clock shadow, the round is getting into dusk and time is running out to do something brilliant whether ensconced in medal or match play. When your average golfer names their favorite hole, has anyone ever heard them say it was the 13th? Is it triskaidekaphobia in living color? Not exactly and I learned this firsthand on one of golf’s shrines.

While standing over my third shot at Pine Valley’s famous thirteenth I felt hexed. My hooked tee shot forced a lay-up and I still had 200 yards to go. Was I cursed? Of course not and I somewhat confidently stroked a long iron close to the flag nd walked off with bogey. It was during that walk an echo of a quote by Sir Peter Allen whispered with the wind through the pines to me. Referring to the 13th hole at West Sussex, Allen rhetorically asked the question of, ‘Why are thirteen holes so great?’ In a split second my mind rattled off a series of great 13th holes I had played. I tried to repeat the exercise for other holes other than openers and closers and failed miserably. A smile dawned upon my face for thirteen is indeed a lucky number in golf. What follows is a further play on that number. A bakers dozen of my all world list of great thirteenth holes. Enjoy them at your own risk.

Pine Valley– Widelyconsidered to be one of the finest par 4s on earth. Similar to the 8th at Pebble Beach, the golfer drives blindly uphill to be afforded one of the greatest second shots in the game. Will the golfer be heroic and go for it and take the scrub and sand on using a direct approach? Or will the player utilize the redan green complex to work a ball in from the right and take the slope to cozy up near the pin? A classic hole with risk and reward waiting.

The approach to the 13th at Pine Valley.


Pacific Dunes-This hole oozes drama from the get go and does it in the most natural of settings. How can you go wrong with the Pacific Ocean’s waves crashing 100 feet below you on the left and a massive 60-foot sand exposed sand dune on the right? Venture too far left with your tee shot and someone in Hawaii will be the next to find your ball, bail out to the right and face the challenge of the sand.

West Sussex- The 13th at Pulborough is the genesis for Sir Peter Allen’s quote and inspiration behind this piece. In short, a supreme heathland hole lies here. While only of moderate length at 380 yards, an uphill approach beckons and it is here where the fun begins. The green is flanked on the right by a serpentine mound, which leads into a bunker adorned with heather. Two other bunkers are situated towards the back of the green also on the right side. The bunkers are key because the back right pin placement is located on a shelf which requires a superiorly struck shot in order to reach.

The Addington-The 13th at Abercromby’s creation is a 225-yard par-3 bruiser. The tee shot is over a vale of tears to a green surrounded by ash and birch trees as well as the odd cluster of blooming rhododendrons. Perhaps no better quote on the hole has been described than by Henry Longhurst who waxed poetic by stating, ‘With the exception of the fifth at Pine Valley, near Philadelphia, the greatest one-shot hole in inland golf. To see a full shot with a brassie, perfectly hit and preferably with a new ball, sail white against the blue sky, pitch on the green and roll up towards the flag, is to know the sweetest satisfaction that golf has to offer.’

New South Wales– A hole I experienced into the wind during a 40-knot fury which made it a card and match wrecker. It seems innocent enough as a simple dogleg left where you can daintily cut the corner. However, the approach is fabulous to an elevated green with the blue waters of Botany Bay behind and pot bunkers flanking. Despite being only 375 yards, I hit driver and 3-wood and still missed the green. My competitor’s bogey, which was preceded by three birdies, all but ended my chances to win our match. As I walked to the next tee humbled by this hole, I thought of the end of T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men as representative of my play (with a little artistic license).

This is the way the match ends

This is the way the match ends

This is the way the match ends

Not with a bang

But with a whimper

Royal St. Georges– A hole that suited my eye the first time I played it as the chimney of the former Prince’s clubhouse is the aiming guide. The hole is long at 443 yards and tumbles to the left over hummocky linksland and a series of cross bunkers glitter like pearls the closer you get to the hole. The 13th comes as a critical state in the routing as the Suez hole which follows marks a move out of the bigger dunescape at Sandwich into flatter land. If one can score on this hole (good luck) then they might have a chance on the remaining holes to regain some semblance of pride.

Cypress Point– One of the world’s incendiary golf holes. It lights the fire that climaxes with the great 14-17th holes to come. Upon its birth, the hole was an incredible marriage of stunning beauty and natural theater. The green complex was ringed by windswept sand dunes and a sand bar acted as a diagonal hazard for the tee shot. Given time, maintenance and erosion the setting has changed but the thrill of the drive with the azure Pacific Ocean backdrop gets the blood going. If it doesn’t, it surely is time to let go of the game.

Royal County Down– An almost afterthought to me as I must admit I played it in sleet and wind on a hideous morning one November. Despite the nebulous conditions I do recall a bear of a hole that bends right through a gorse infested landscape. The curve is of the magnitude that it lends an air of eccentricity to the hole. The approach which is semi blind encourages a bail out to the left despite the right side being a viable option.

Kingsley Club-A great example of the virtues of a short par 4. Despite being only 285 yards and uphill over a grassy hollow, the hole seduces one to try and drive the green. Driving the green happens to be the wrong option. Surrounded by bunkers, the green is a wonder to behold. It is 60 yards deep, falling away at the back left and containing an natural undulating bowl in the right back and central regions. A three putt is possible from any position. The wise choice in strategy calls for a lay-up to a spot in the fairway where one can have enough green to work with for an approach. Guess what? I’ve only successfully two putted there once in four attempts. The 13th‘s charm is just a taste of the fun to come at Mike DeVries’ creation at the 15th where a tiny tabletop green (3500 square feet) defends a 450-yard par 4. The exact opposite style of hole as seen at the 13th!

Should one attempt driving the 13th green at The Kingsley Club?


Rye– Known as the ‘Sea Hole’, the 13th at Rye is a classic Alps experience. A bounding draw is needed to clear a large sand hill on this 435-yard hole in order to reach the green in regulation. For most players a bailout right and pitch will be necessary to reach the putting surface. While it looks quirky from the tee, the winds off the English Channel test the mettle of any golfer on this sporty hole. A three will be a rare treasure indeed!

Piping Rock-A great short par 4 known as the Knoll Hole. Another classic design imported by C.B. Macdonald from Scotland. The hole plays downhill and would appear drivable to someone looking solely at the card but one glance changes that. The green is a huge conical creation rising out of a natural hill and standing 20 feet above the fairway. It rises so high as to make approach shots semi-blind as they will be full of depth perception woes.

The impressive defenses of the 13th at Piping Rock.


North Berwick-One of the world’s great quirky holes. While the drive is anything but glorious, the approach calls for the most delightful pitch over a stone wall. The stone wall is evident of what Geoff Shackelford refers to as the ‘comedy’ of golf. The stone wall was an entirely indigenous feature to the land and left there to serve as a guard for the green. For those who believe in triskadeskaphobia, the wall seems like a black cat walking in front of your path as a beacon of impending disaster to one’s score. In actuality it gives pause to laugh and enjoy. The 13th also begins a series of holes that climax with two blind shots (Perfection), a supreme par 3 (the original Redan) and the 16th which has a three tier Biarritz type design. If you can’t have fun here, you mind as well not play golf.

Augusta-Much has been written of this hole over time. I happen to like Bobby Jones’ quote for a description. Jones opined, ‘In my opinion, this 13th hole is one of the finest holes for competition play I have ever seen. The player is tempted to dare the creek on his tee shot by playing close to the corner, because if he attains this position he has not only shortened the hole but obtained a more level lie for his second shot.’

I think this tour of a baker’s dozen highlights the splendid nature of Sir Peter Allen’s quote. The 13th hole on any course should give pause to imbibe the air around the golfer and ponder the finer points of the design they are playing. The symphony of the round is well underway and the crescendo of the finale is approaching. Perhaps the golfing gods will conspire to eliminate triskadeskaphobia and enable you to put up a good score then and enjoy the architecture. If not, take a look at the unmanicured terrain off the fairway and do your best to see if a black cat just crossed your path.

The End