Leven Hole :
The 'Leven' hole is what most of us know as the 17th at National - one of the great holes in this country. Only 360 yards and downhill to a wide fairway, the hazards seem strewn in a haphazard manner. However, nothing is haphazard about National's strategy. There are lots of ways to play the Leven, but the main crux of the problem is to place the tee ball precisely. Carry the hazard, placed on one side of a fairway, from the tee and a clear view of the putting surface with a short-iron approach awaits. Fail, and the player is left with a blind approach over bunkered sand hills or a high shoulder of a greenside bunker to the short side of the green. A great strategy to test players who are uncomfortable when they cannot see the target.
The 17th hole at NGLA. Courtesy of GCA.Com
The basic strategy is very simple but the holes built with this strategy are among the best of the short par-4s you'll find. To one side of the landing area there will be a hazard that, in its purest form, should be on an echelon so the player can either challenge it for the best approach to the green or if he cannot, or will not, his approach from the other side of the fairway must carry a dangerous hazard that has a berm on the green side that obscures a good portion of the green. Players are uncomfortable not seeing their ball land on the putting surface in the first place but from this angle of play the green usually rejects the ball slightly to the rear, tilts to the side or the green is so complex from this line it creates a real problem.
At National, the view of the green is obstructed by a large sand hill - 15' high or so - and the green, approached from the safe drive side, doesn't hold well, by design. The 17th tee is just under the windmill and the hole is played from a high promontory with the fairway sprawled out below - the best sight on the course. The driving hazard is a huge waste area along the left fairway that you must carry no matter where you play to. If you want the unobstructed approach to the green there is a very narrow area to play to with this side hazard continuing all the way to about 260 yards off the tee and then there is a pond beyond. You have to kind of thread a needle to get there - very tough shot - not usually worth the risk. All this leaves you a very short club to the green. The fairway is over 75-yards wide with all sorts of bunkering scattered throughout the “safe” driving area, in essence segmenting the fairway into three distinct narrow landing areas - 3 “fairways”, if you will. You will have to negotiate the sand hill on nearly all second shots. He even put in a group of mounds and small surface bunkers just beyond the sand hill and before the green - a deception area, to complicate things even more. The green itself is surrounded by sand on three sides.
The 17th green was moved, lengthening the hole, when the new approach road was built to the clubhouse and the new gates were put in. Macdonald thought the hole was becoming too short and losing a lot of its intended strategy. The original yardage was 311 - went to 360 when he built the new green and with a new tee added years later, it is its present 375 yards.
When C.B. Macdonald was building his list of famous holes he would fashion into his "Ideal Golf Course" he listed one hole planned as being 300-yards: "Suggested by the 7th hole Leven, which is only 240 yards, with a burn running at a bias, and green guarded by sharp hillocks.” Bear in mind this article was published in 1907 - the year he began construction of National. The hole was lost when the Leven course was split and made two courses and two clubs - the Leven Links (Golfing Soc). and the Leven Golfing - can't remember the year but it was early. I have never been able to trace any suggestion of this hole.
There are many variations of this concept by Raynor and Banks, usually the sand hill is substituted with a high bermed bunker - anything to hide about 1/3 to ½ the green. This hole is on every Macdonald, Raynor, Banks course in many variations.