Only the very best are immortalised by a plaque at a golf course. BRENDAN BARRATT looks at some of those who have achieved this accolade.
The idea of a commemorative plaque is to honour the achievement of the player or a particular shot. Clubs understandably want to showcase the names of the greats who have walked their fairways, particularly those who have lifted a trophy there. Others recognise a shot so significant that it changes the course of a championship. Here are some of the most iconic plaques in the game.
Remarkably, Ben Hogan played in only one Open Championship – in 1953 at Carnoustie. This came just 16 months after he was involved in a car accident, after which doctors proclaimed he would never play competitive golf again.
On the par-five 6th hole, with out of bounds to the left, the player is faced with two choices. The wide fairway is split by a set of fairway bunkers and the easier shot is to the right. Hogan, however, took the tighter line in each of the four rounds and pulled it off each time en route to a four-shot victory and a place in history as a winner of golf’s Grand Slam.
To honour his bold play and the astonishing comeback from injury, there is a plaque to the left of the 6th tee, and the left fairway between the bunker and the out-of-bounds fence is known as Hogan’s Alley.
Bobby Jones at Royal Lytham & St Annes
Jones was level with Al Watrous with two holes of the 1926 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes. While Watrous split the fairway with his tee shot on the tough par-four 17th, Jones pulled his into a rough, sandy area to the left of the fairway. Faced with a semi-blind shot off loose sand, Jones played what one reporter described as the “greatest shot in the history of British golf”.
Jones found the green and two-putted for par, while Watrous three-putted for bogey. If you happen to pull your tee shot into the third bunker on the left side of the 17th fairway at Royal Lytham & St Annes, be sure to look out for Jones’ plaque – and be inspired to pull off the shot.
Who can forget the image of a small army of men pushing a giant boulder out of Tiger’s path in the 1999 Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale? After being ruled a loose impediment, it took a large portion of the gallery to push the one-ton rock out of the way so that Tiger could have a go at reaching the green. The rock is still there today – with a plaque commemorating this unique moment.
Nicklaus at Baltusrol
At Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey there is a plaque on the 18th hole that marks the spot where, in 1967, Jack Nicklaus hit a stunning approach from 237 yards to set up a birdie and a US Open tournament record score of 274.
The most remarkable thing about that shot – it was with a 1-iron, a club that few professionals will even carry in their bags in this day and age.
Arnie’s Two Aces
Arnold Palmer has too many plaques to count, but one at TPC Potomac hints at a rare feat. In 1986, ‘The King’ aced the same hole two days in a row during the Chrysler Cup team competition. In both cases, he used a 5-iron on the 187-yard 3rd hole to find the cup.
The plaque’s closing line is that this is ‘feat that has never been duplicated in professional golf’ – although Keith Horne might want to have a word with the American club. In 2012, the South African aced the par-three 12th at Leopard Creek on consecutive days during the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
The BMW hole-in-one prize was offered only on the final day, but the sponsor made an exception and presented Horne with a new luxury car for his unbelievable achievement.
Tom Watson’s ‘Shot Heard Around the World’
Watson has many plaques around the world, including one on Turnberry’s 18th fairway that commemorates his victory over Jack Nicklaus in the famed 1977 ‘Duel in the Sun’ Open Championship.
Yet it is the plaque at the back of the 17th green of Pebble Beach that marks arguably one of the most remarkable shots in golfing history. During a titanic battle with Nicklaus for the 1982 US Open, Watson overshot the par-three 17th green and was faced with an impossible chip back down to the green. Watson’s caddie Bruce Edwards encouraged him to get the ball close, to which Watson responded, ‘I’m going to hole it.’
Sure enough, he did – a one-in-a-hundred shot that broke Jack’s heart.
– This article first appeared in the January 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.