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Thursday, May 2, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Golf

On the whole, the best holes

Seattle Times staff reporter

The golf world is full of folks who would walk past a Rembrandt in a gallery but drool over a par-3 with a lake in front and mountains in back of a three-tiered green.

When these golfers talk about holes, adjectives can fly like sand out of a bunker — "wonderful," "routine," "fun," "unfair," "gorgeous," and "challenging."

So, we decided to pick the best 18 public golf holes within a 90-minute drive of downtown Seattle. Our premise was that three hours of round-trip car travel is the maximum most golfers will endure for a one-day outing. Allowing for the region's awful traffic, we arbitrarily set the northern boundary at Mount Vernon and the southern boundary at Lacey.

Our criteria in picking the holes were challenge, memorability, scenic values and conditioning.

Our format was to take the holes in sequence — best opening hole, best second hole, best third hole and so forth. Our standards for difficulty were easiest on the opening hole — we see nothing wrong in allowing folks to get a good start — and toughest on the finishing hole.

Columnist Jim Murray once wrote: "The job of a finishing hole is as clearly defined as that of a dance hall bouncer: It has to maintain order, clear out the amateurs, preserve the dignity of the game."

We talked to more than 40 people whose opinions we value — golf pros, golf officials, avid golfers and sportswriters — to compile our list of top holes, runners-up and honorable-mentions. We also asked many of these folks — and a lot of club pros — about private courses for a separate list.

We also visited some courses either to confirm a pick, break a deadlock or follow up on a tip about a gem hole on an unacclaimed course.

We think we have a solid list, but we would be stunned if anyone agreed completely. Golf tastes differ. Where's the best fifth hole? Opinions vary.

Throughout the project, we remembered what George Peper of Golf magazine had written in the book "The 500 Greatest Golf Holes":

"Truth be told, there are no blueprints — literal or figurative — for great holes. They invariably are blends of art and science, nature and man, tradition and heterodoxy, stubbornness and compromise, dedicated genius and dumb luck."

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