Tee is for terrifying

Some green monsters are designed to intimidate, but the diehard player will always come back for more

Golf can be a tough game, especially for those of us who - in Lee Trevino's words - have a swing resembling a caveman killing his lunch. But every now and then, there comes a golf hole that leaves you thinking it might be a good time to switch to table tennis.

From the moment you step on the tee, your emotions flit between jaw-clenching determination and sheer terror. These are special holes that stay long in the memory: either as Everest-conquering triumphs or humbling tales of despair. Tournaments are often decided on these holes, and reputations won or lost.

Look no further than Jean Van de Velde, who went from national hero to national lampoon at the famous Carnoustie course in Scotland. Almost certain of becoming the first Frenchman to capture the British Open in 92 years, Van de Velde stood on the final tee, needing only a double bogey 6 or better to win. In what can only be described as the greatest one-hole meltdown in the history of golf, he found rough winds, water and sand in tragic succession to post a triple bogey 7.

So what makes these holes - often described as 'signature holes' by club promoters - so special?

Many would argue that great golf holes are like great works of art: no formula is involved. It is more a chance collision of nature, topography, design and creative inspiration.

Nonetheless, there are some common elements, and water is probably the most common among them. Typically, these holes feature yawning ocean chasms - requiring nerves of steel and a lengthy drive to clear. Strong winds usually add to the challenge. Many of Hong Kong's courses - such as Kau Sai Chau and Clearwater Bay - boast such monsters.

There are the island greens, which demand a deft touch and pinpoint accuracy, and even narrow little streams - or burns as they are called on the likes of Carnoustie - which can sink your spirits as quickly as your ball.

Sand is another element used by sadistic designers to bury your game. A minefield of pot bunkers lies in wait for unwary golfers on the classic finishing hole at Moonah Links on Melbourne's Mornington Peninsula. At Mission Hills in Shenzhen, sand-averse players have

been known to fake strange illnesses on the tee of the 16th at Jose Maria Olazabal's course. The signature hole is lined with no less than 26 bunkers between tee and green.

Some designers will give you an option: to go for glory, take the most difficult line over water, trees and sand - or to play it safe. At first this might seem humane, but don't be fooled. It's just a ruse. When facing such a choice, most golfers abandon all notions of common sense, and in the style of Long John Daly, grip it and rip it. Sadly, the quality of execution rarely matches the level of optimism, and another golf ball disappears into the foaming swell.

But no matter how brutal or humbling the hole, die-hard golfers will always come back for more, in the belief that one day they will emerge victorious. As enthusiast Mac O'Grady once wrote of golf: 'One minute you're bleeding. The next minute you're haemorrhaging. And the next, you're painting the Mona Lisa.'