Jeff Sluman has swung golf clubs for most of his 66 years.
The Rochester, New York, native has won 18 tournaments since he turned professional in 1980. None was bigger than his victory in the 1988 PGA Championship.
Sluman also recorded a hole in one during the 1992 Masters.
To date, he’s received more than $18 million in prize money for competing in a sport he unconditionally loves.
Or … maybe not.
“I hate this game,” Sluman once said in a press conference, “and I can’t wait till tomorrow to play it again.”
All golfers, regardless of skill level, can relate to Sluman’s conflicted sentiment. Sometimes, the course has nothing to do with a lousy round.
Sometimes, the course — or a particular hole — does.
The Erie Times-News sports department sought to determine what local golfers regard as Erie County’s toughest or most challenging holes, regardless of the courses’ public or private status.
A survey was conducted throughout July and August. Ballots were emailed to members of the Erie District Golf Association; Erie District Women’s Golf Association; club professionals and even high school and college golf coaches.
Those who participated also had the option of submitting their opinions on why they chose the holes they did.
A points system was used to determine the results. A first-place vote for a hole received five points, second place received four points, and so on.
The five holes with the most points were:
Kahkwa Club: No. 7, par 4, 376 yards (41 points)
Elite clubs tend to formally name each of their holes.
Kahkwa’s seventh, as evidenced by a plaque aside one of its tee boxes, was dubbed “Monster” sometime after famed golf architect Donald Ross completed his 1917 design of the Fairview Township course.
That hole has been called other things since then.
Some of them are printable.
“Challenging” and “intimidating” were tamer words that voters used to describe it.
One voter, Lou Natalie, went as far as to call it an “unfair hole.”
Sean Moffat, Kahkwa’s head golf professional since 2020, didn’t have an issue with any of those responses.
“This hole gives everyone fits,” he said. “I think if you gave everyone on the tee box the option of (taking) a bogey and then going right to the eighth (hole), they’d take it.”
It’s not so much the hole’s first or second shots that frustrate golfers to no end, although they can be blind ones because the fairway is steep uphill.
New bunker renovations will add to its misery index.
It’s the hole’s green that has Kahkwa’s golfers seeing red.
Make that the half of the green that’s never had a ball sit idle.
“The green slopes severely back to front,” Moffatt said. “You’ve got to get (the ball) up well onto that green. You can’t be short. If you hit a good tee shot, the second shot should be something low that will run up and not spin.”
“Otherwise, there’s a collection area well below the green.”
Moffatt said pins on the seventh never have — and never will be — cut anywhere except on the green’s front half.
That didn’t deter some of its victims from verbally teeing off about it.
“You also (have to) hit the green in a place that doesn’t leave you above the hole,” Gannon University men’s golf coach Dustin Coleman said. “Above the hole is as good as dead. It’s three-putt city.”
“A massive false front will repel any shot back off it,” EDGA member Mike Newcomer said. “Play it safe and hit past the hole? You now have arguably the fastest putt in Erie County.”
Or, as EDGA president Dave Hewett succinctly said, “Everything but a straight, uphill putt is a challenge.”
A group of female golfers just completed Kahkwa’s seventh when they heard Moffatt discussing its perils.
One of them, only half joking, informed him the hole should be reclassified as a par 5.
Moffatt appreciated her sentiment, while at the same time acknowledging how awesome it was the seventh was voted the county’s toughest hole.
“It’s super challenging,” he said, “but it’s also great when you make a birdie on it.”
Had aesthetics instead of difficulty been the idea behind this poll, Lake Shore’s signature hole also would have been a contender for first place.
Its cozy third has a fountain in the middle of a pond between and below its tee boxes and green.
That pond is partially framed by trees that block out West Lake Road and its passing traffic, which from the tees make it more intimate.
Such beauty, though, masks a “beast of a hole,” according to Hewett.
“From the back tee, it’s a long iron or a hybrid to an extremely shallow target,” he said. “Because the green is at an angle, (tee shots) missing left to a right pin or right to a left pin can miss the green.”
“And missing the green is not good.”
Its front is protected by a nearly sheer drop of roughly 20 feet. A sand trap also discourages golfers from hitting to its left and then chipping on from its side.
Golfers who fly the green with a tee shot either run the risk of a downhill chip with no backstop because of the cliff, or hitting a penalty shot from the tee because their ball went out of bounds onto Hardscrabble Boulevard.
The third can actually be worse, according to Lake Shore pro Richard Greene.
“You can’t always feel the breeze (from the tee box),” he said, “but that wind can knock down (shots) and you come up short. And even when you’re on the green, it’s still hard to make that one-putt or even two-putt for par.”
“This hole can give you so many different looks and challenges.”
Greene never mentioned the potential for property damage while he assessed Lake Shore’s third.
Erik Barzeski did. The Penn State Behrend men’s golf coach mentioned how he frets that any shot which clears the green could crack the windshield of a passing car on Hardscrabble.
“This hole can ruin a round even before it gets started,” Barzeski said.
Although this hole was third in the overall voting, its five first-place votes were the most submitted.
It more than doubled the comments by voters.
Comments like Hewett’s.
“You have to clear a ravine, which shouldn’t be that difficult, but it is your opening shot,” he said. “The fairway is ample, but don’t miss it. If you do, you’re out of bounds to the left or into the woods on the right. If you find the fairway, you still likely won’t be able to see the green.”
Comments like Mark Majewski II’s.
“I’ve seen college golfers take 10s and higher on this hole because they were hitting two or three tee shots,” the former Gannon University player said.
Or like Coleman, Majewski’s coach with the Golden Knights.
“A par,” he said, “feels like a birdie when starting on one at Whispering Woods!”
Rich Rocky has worked at Whispering Woods since it opened in 2007. He’s also owned the Grubb Road club since 2015.
Rocky mentioned many of the same talking points as the voters when he discussed the course’s initial hole. Tee shots into a head wind and a heavily bunkered green are other factors why it’s so challenging for the start of a round.
However, Rocky mentioned another reason why it can be so tough.
“Eighty percent of golfers, including myself, don’t get warmed up or don’t hit many shots on the range to get loose,” he said. “Then, you get to this tee box and you see you have a lot of stuff in front of you.”
Rocky said Whispering Woods personnel flipped its nines for the month of May.
It wasn’t a coincidence to him that scores on the course’s traditional first hole dropped because golfers were loose by the turn.
It’s possible the course’s first hole could lose its poll status come 2024.
There are two ash trees that hinder approach shots onto its green. Rocky said one will be cut down this winter because it’s already dead.
Felling the other, though, is up for debate.
“We want to keep as many trees as we can in certain situations,” Rocky said, “but this one is getting big. That tree has grown a lot since the course opened. It definitely gobbles up a lot of good second shots. It’s to the point where you can hit a drive 260 to 270 yards to the (fairway’s) left side, but then have to turn over the second shot with an iron.”
“It plays into the debate if you should you be punished if you’re on the fairway.”
Erie Golf Club: No. 17, par 3, 240 yards (24 points)
Newcomer’s LinkedIn page lists him as a golf professional and Golf Etc. salesman.
He’s a veteran member of the EDGA and the Erie Golf Club’s current pro.
Which means Newcomer’s advice on how to best play that course’s next-to-last hole is both deep and insightful.
“It’s a lot of hit and hope,” Newcomer said. “I’ve had a lot of good rounds ruined on this hole. Most times if I could take a bogey four and skip it, I probably would. You can get fives or sixes on this hole really quick.”
There’s nothing remarkable about Erie’s 17th upon initial glance from the tee. That is until the realization kicks in that the green slopes away on a hole that’s already downhill.
Golfers who hit left-to-right draws also will flirt with an unending tree line. The odds are short their tee shots will carom back onto the fairway should there be foliage contact.
And, given the steep cliff behind that tree line, there’s even less chance of punching a second shot back into play.
“Another thing is, you can’t see the (fairway’s) landing zone for the tee shot,” Newcomer said. “When you try to get an idea of where to land it short, you really can’t see it.”
Newcomer never mentioned there’s almost no backstop to prevent a ball from picking up speed and flying into more woods that tightly grow behind the green.
Even shots that do stop where a putter can be used, the green’s pin placements are all but irrelevant according to Coleman.
“That green is about the size of a large dinner plate,” he said.
When it comes to tee shots on Erie’s 17th, Newcomer advised hitting short as the lesser of two evils.
“If it’s soft and you can get something that will land on the green, it usually will stop,” he said. “But that depends on the conditions. This course gets dried out pretty fast.”
“When it’s firm, it makes this hole that much harder.”
Had the poll’s topic been what local golfers considered the county’s most unique hole, Lawrence Park’s 13th would have been the landslide victor.
“This is the hole you tend to hear all the stories about during our tournaments and club championships,” club pro Scott Jenkins said. “You’ll hear about some great shots … and some not-so-great shots.”
Lawrence Park’s 13th, which encompasses most of the club’s western border, requires golfers to hit shots across a creek that meanders the length of the hole.
Not once, but twice.
Dying ash trees were recently removed along the hole’s left side. Initially, that sounded like a plus for some of the course’s veterans.
Until they realized those same trees occasionally knocked down stray tee shots and denied balls a watery fate.
“The creek is in your mind the whole time,” Jenkins said. “Some might think that (the trees’ removals) make the hole play easier, but we’re seeing no balls stay out of the creek. None.”
A steep hill also borders the much of the hole’s right side. Some golfers purposefully aim their tee shots directly at it in anticipation gravity will bring their shots back onto the fairway.
However, the risk/reward factor for that tactic has gone in favor of the former option according to Jenkins.
“With the wet summer we’ve had, even those balls aren’t always bouncing off the hillside,” he said. “That (strategy) isn’t working quite as much. Unless you’re a guy who can hit 260 to 280 (yards) and clear the creek the first time, you’re better off just hitting it 200 off the tee and making sure you’re in play.”
Even the green, which looks benign compared to the rest of the hole, can be an issue according to club member Steph Urban.
“If your (approach shot) lands on the green anywhere in its middle to middle-front, it will roll off,” the EDWGA champion said. “Then, it’s a tough chip straight uphill and you definitely do not want to be above (the pin).”
How tough is Lawrence Park’s 13th?
“My backyard (borders its) back tee box,” Abby Sorensen said. “This hole is so tough I almost didn’t buy the house because I didn’t want to look at that hole every day. I’ve found hundreds, literally hundreds, of golf balls in the late evenings (along) this hole.”
Downing Golf Course, Harborcreek Township: No. 18, par 4, 503 yards
Lake View Country Club, North East: No. 3, 4, 420
Lake Shore Country Club: No. 2, 5, 584
Lake View Country Club, North East: No. 15, 4, 396
Whispering Woods Golf Club: No. 18, 4, 435
Lake Shore Country Club: No. 18, 3, 372
Mound Grove Golf Course, Waterford: No. 6, 4, 414
Lake View Country Club, North East: No. 4, 3, 192
Whispering Woods Golf Club: No. 8, 4, 436
Others receiving votes
Beechwood Golf Course, Fairview Township: No. 5, par 4, 373 yards; and No. 10, par 3, 142 yards
Culbertson Hills Golf Resort, Edinboro: No. 8, 3, 187
Downing Golf Course, Harborcreek Township: No. 11, 3, 219; and No. 17, 4, 456
Erie Golf Club: No. 3, 4, 328; No. 10, 4, 370; and No. 11, 4, 375
Green Meadows Golf Course, North East: No. 16, 3, 206
J.C. Martin Golf Course: No. 5, 3, 200
Kahkwa Club: No. 12, 5, 519; No. 15, 3, 212; and No. 17, 4, 379
Lake View Country Club, North East: No. 11, 4, 404; No. 13, 5, 50; No. 14, 3, 171; and No. 16, 4, 327
Lawrence Park Golf Club: No. 11, 4, 384; No. 9, 3, 186; No. 14, 3, 170; and No. 16, 4, 425
Mound Grove Golf Course, Waterford: No. 5, 5, 468
Over Lake Golf Course, Girard: No. 8, 3, 202
Union City Golf Club: No. 10, 5, 540
Whispering Woods Golf Club: No. 15, 5, 561
Contact Mike Copper at email@example.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @ETNcopper.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Erie Times-News golf survey: Toughest holes revealed on area courses