“It is often said that Ben Hogan’s success was partly due to the fact that, having played his early golf at Colonial, every other course in the world was easy in comparison. There are not many pros who would disagree with that.” Extracted from the brilliant New World Atlas of Golf.
John Bredemus first designed Colonial Country Club, but Perry Maxwell refashioned the layout ahead of the 1941 U.S. Open. Nicknamed "Hogan's Alley" for the five titles Ben Hogan won here, Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, puts a premium on accuracy rather than pure length from the tee. Colonial is a hard-as-nails par 70 layout measuring 7,054 yards with tree-lined fairways, numerous doglegs, the Trinity River and small tricky-to-read greens.
The 5th is perhaps the most celebrated and the toughest hole at Colonial. This brutal doglegged par four measures 472 yards from the tips. Anything drifting too far to the right may find the Trinity River underneath the trees and even a long straight drive may run out of fairway and into the trees at the elbow of the dogleg.
According to Ben Hogan, "a straight ball will get you in more trouble at Colonial than any course I know." You need a well struck, but more importantly, well placed drive to have any chance of reaching the green which is well protected by bunkers and yet more trees.
Writing in the Confidential Guide to Golf
Courses, Tom Doak was rather more disparaging: “The stock of Colonial has
fallen over the past 20-30 years, as Ben Hogan’s glory days fade in our memory.
In truth, it has only ever been a standout on a regional basis. Still, it was a
shock to my system when a course once feted as a long and narrow championship
test was identified as the best possible venue for Annika Sörenstam to compete
in a PGA Tour event, in 2003. What keeps the course relevant are a bunch of
curving dogleg holes through the trees, most famously the banana-shaped 5th,
rewarding the golfer who knows how to shape the ball instead of just bombing
Colonial starts out simply enough on flat ground. The first hole is a straight forward dogleg right par five of 555 yards, one of only two on the course.
It becomes clear pretty quickly at Colonial that the greens are small. Along with Pebble Beach, Harbour Town and Inverness, they are among the smallest of all the courses I have played.
The three-hole stretch three through five is known as the "Horrible Horseshoe." Horseshoe, because the third tee is right next to and left of the fifth green, and the three holes swing around in a U shape. Horrible, because they are not easy. The third is a 468-yard par four dogleg left with a slightly elevated green. The fourth is a tricky 220-yard par three, also with an elevated green.
The fifth hole is one of the most renowned in the world. It gets endless accolades. Golf's 100 Toughest Holes includes it on its list. The 500 World's Greatest Golf Holes ranks the fifth among its top 100. Dan Jenkins, in his 1966 book The Best 18 Golf Holes in America, selected the fifth hole as well. It is a 459-yard par four (481 for the pros), dogleg right. As Jenkins describes it: "The drive must be almost perfect, a slight fade and 250 yards out, if you are going to reach it in two. But fade too much, and there is the Trinity waiting. You can bail out to the left but there is a line of trees and a ditch there." The Trinity he is referring to is the Trinity River, which snakes along the outside of the course.
It's a hard hole for sure, but not that hard. I'm not exactly a scratch golfer and I parred the fifth. In fairness, the prevailing left to right wind wasn't blowing when we played; I imagine it's a different hole if the wind is up.
The tenth was also one of my favorite holes. It is a nice 381-yard dogleg right par four. Your second shot is over a big swale to a well-protected green.
Colonial is a narrow, shot makers course. You don't need to bomb the ball to score well here. What you need to do is hit around trees and be smart with club selection.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Colonial is a great test of golf. It is dominated by rows of dense trees on almost every fairway, and the player who is able to control the shape and trajectory of his shots will do well here. I had barely gotten warmed up on the front nine when I came to “The Devil’s Horseshoe” (Colonial’s version of Amen Corner): Numbers 3, 4, and 5. In 1983, Tour Magazine called Number 5 the toughest par 4 on the PGA Tour. Cary Middlecoff had this to say about it: “First I pull out two brand-new Wilson balls and throw them in the Trinity River. Then I throw up. Then I go ahead and hit my tee shot into the river.” Number 5 is a 470-yard par 4, with the Trinity River running up the entire right side of the fairway. It was Brock’s only bogey on the front nine. I made seven.
The course was designed by John Bredemus in 1933; Colonial is the only course he designed, as far as I know. Its putting greens are seeded with a new strain of bent grass called A-4, bred to withstand Texas summer heat. I was doing very well in Colonial’s greenside bunkers – up and down three of five times. Larry Berle.