The red-headed stepchild of golf layouts has to be the par-3 course. Some purists don’t even consider such tracks to be real golf, while others wrongly assume they’re just for kids. The fact is, the greatest par-3 courses are every bit as scenic and thought-provoking as their bigger brothers — they just typically lack the critical element of driver play.
On the plus side, whether you go 9 or 18, you’ve found some extra time in your day. Here’s my salute to the best pint-sized powerhouses in the game.
1. Treetops Resort (Threetops)
Rick Smith crafted this gorgeous 9-holer in 1992 amid the hardwoods of northern Michigan. Attractive bunker framing and dramatic elevation changes made this a popular host for the ESPN Par-3 Shootout.
2. Links at Terranea
Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
Sure, Todd Eckenrode’s 9-hole, 2009 design benefits from a spectacular location on the Pacific Ocean, 25 minutes south of LAX. But it’s also family-friendly, with wide open green entrances. Plus there are interesting greens, including a boomerang, “Portuguese Bend,” and a punchbowl.
3. The Challenge at Monarch Dunes
This 12-hole Damian Pascuzzo/Steve Pate collaboration on California’s Central Coast offers nearly as much variety as many 7,000-yard tracks. Comes with intriguingly contoured greens, and tall, fescue-topped mounds that lend a linksy ambience.
4. Magnolia Grove (Short course)
The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is full of entertaining par-3 courses, but this one is the best. Forced carries and heavily sloping greens make this more of a second round for buddies trips than a track for beginners.
5. Fairmont Southampton Golf Course
This 2,684-yard, par-54 layout plays much longer thanks to the Atlantic breezes. The 1964 design isn’t terribly sophisticated, but the fun factor, especially with constant ocean vistas, is enormous.
6. Angel Park (Cloud Nine)
Las Vegas, Nev.
Sin City’s most complete golf facility offers 12 holes lit for night play that resemble, but don’t replicate, some of the world’s most famous short holes, including an island green, a postage stamp and, in a perfect nod to Vegas, a valley of sin.
7. Blue Rock Golf Course
S. Yarmouth, Mass.
If you’ve got a golf itch to scratch on Cape Cod, tee it up at this woodsy, par-54, 1962 Geoffrey Cornish design. The 169-yard ninth remains the standout, with its healthy poke over water to a kidney-shaped green.
8. Palm Beach Par-3
Palm Beach, Fla.
No par-3 course in the U.S. enjoys a more spectacular location, right on the Atlantic Ocean. Since its 2009 redesign by Raymond Floyd, it’s an itty-bitty brute, but even if your scores soar, you’ll savor the experience.
No. 1, Private: Hamilton Farm (Hickory)
Apologies to Pine Valley, Augusta National and the Olympic Club, but their par-3 courses lose out to this Michael Hurdzan/Dana Fry design. Carved from pristine hardwood forests, the dazzling layout calls for one strong shot after another.
The most fun layout of the dozen here is the 18-hole Zhang course, designed by Brian Curley, with help from Zhang Lianwei, China’s top professional. They pay homage to the greatest greens and green complexes in the game.