18 of America’s Best Short Par Threes

The 9-hole course I played as a kid, Canton Public Golf Course in Connecticut, culminated with a short, downhill par three that would make or break every round I played there, sending me home on my bike either smiling or steaming. Sadly, that terrific family-owned course no longer exists, but my memories of that 9th hole remain—and it’s one reason I’m such a big fan of short par threes everywhere.

Short par threes—the so-called “2 or 20s”—are golf’s great equalizers. Theoretically, a novice golfer has as much chance of scoring well on them as a seasoned pro. But their diminutive length can often belie their true degree of difficulty. Course designers know that if they’re going to put a wedge or short iron in a player’s hands, the targets will need to be well protected. And in the case of the 18 short par threes on this list, they definitely are.

I especially admire short par threes that appear early or late in a round when you’re either not loose yet or you’re trying to finish strong. The mental pressure these holes exert can become palpable then, since there’s no excuse for missing the green on a 120-yard hole. Right?

I’m confining the holes on this list to those that measure 150 yards or less from their back tees. That eliminates a lot of great short holes—like the 12th at Augusta National (155 yards), the 11th at Shinnecock Hills (159 yards), the 10th at Pine Valley (161 yards), and many others. But there are plenty of wee wonders left to recognize and salute.

TPC Sawgrass (The Players Stadium Course), Ponte Vedra, Fla.—Hole 17, 137 yards

Let’s get the most famous of these knee-knocking shorties out of the way first. The 17th at the Stadium Course, with its perilous island green, needs no introduction. You either hit a solid shot that stays straight and has the right distance and trajectory or you’re in the drink and hitting three. It’s a hole that looks easy on paper. But it’s a pressure-filled tee shot that only gets more dangerous when the Jacksonville breezes kick up.

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TPC Sawgrass, 17th hole (photo courtesy TPC Network)

Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif.—Hole 7, 109 yards

Of all the dropshot par threes on the planet, this is arguably the most famous. You stand on the tee, looking down at the green and Stillwater Cove beyond, and you’d never want to be anywhere else. It should be an easy sand wedge (or even less) followed by a no-stress, two-putt par—or maybe even a birdie. But the wind blows here, too. And this green is surrounded by bunkers and gnarly rough. Players have had to hit mid-irons and more on this hole when gusty winds blow in off the water. At that point, Pebble’s 7th becomes a tiny terror where par can be the most you’d hope for.

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Pebble Beach, 7th hole (photo by Evan Schiller)

Cypress Point Club, Pebble Beach, Calif.—Hole 15, 135 yards

Just up the coast from Pebble Beach, it’s the long, par-three-over-water 16th hole that gets most of the attention at Cypress Point. But the hole just before that celebrated sea monster boasts a sublime design itself, with a saddle green ringed by sand that seems to have blown into place from the rocks below. It’s hit the green or else on this first of two back-to-back Alister MacKenzie shoreline masterpieces.

 

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Merion Golf Club (East Course), Ardmore, Pa.—Hole 13, 115 yards

The idea of a 115-yard hole on a U.S. Open course may seem like heresy to some, but the 13th at Merion East is proof that short holes can wreck scorecards just as easily as long ones can. From the tee, the putting surface is hidden behind the back edge of a yawning bunker—one of five that encircle the green. And that little bit of doubt may be all that’s needed to cause you to mis-club or mishit your tee shot to the small, oval-shaped green.

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Merion, 13th hole (photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

Bandon Trails, Bandon, Ore.—Hole 5, 133 yards

Course architects Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw are obvious fans of the short par three; many of their course designs feature them. This one at Bandon Trails plays across a ravine to a compact, multi-tiered green protected by a series of bunkers in front and another lurking behind. Three-putting is eminently doable here unless you can place your tee shot on the proper tier.

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Bandon Trails, 5th hole (photo by Evan Schiller)

Pasatiempo Golf Club, Santa Cruz, Calif.—Hole 15, 141 yards

MacKenzie was at it again here in Santa Cruz (with input from Marion Hollins), and as at Cypress Point, you’ll pay the price if you miss the green on this short, hilltop par three, whose shallow, angled green is flanked fore and aft by sand. Distance control is everything here.

Cabot Cliffs, Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada—Hole 9, 126 yards

The green of the 9th hole at Cabot Cliffs is perched right at the edge of said cliffs in one of the golf world’s most scenic and unspoiled locations. Another Coore & Crenshaw design, it calls for just a short iron shot, but you’ll need to carry an expansive bunker short of the green and avoid the other bunkers to the right of and behind the oblong putting surface. There’s also an ocean should your tee ball go wildly astray. And as with all good short par threes, the green has lots of character—so even if you hit this green, par is not assured.

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Cabot Cliffs, 9th hole (photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort (Mountain Course), Tucson, Ariz.—Hole 3, 107 yards

Ventana Canyon’s location in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson offers dramatic panoramas of the Sonoran Desert and the craggy rock formations that give the area its unique character. The 3rd hole on the Mountain Course here is do-or-die, as your tee shot will either find the green, the single green-front bunker, or be lost forever amongst the rocks and cacti.

TPC Colorado, Berthoud, Colo.—Hole 16, 140 yards

There are some uber-long holes at TPC Colorado, including a 770-yard par five. But they don’t come any harder than the much-shorter 16th, a downhill par three with a wide green protected by two deep pot bunkers and a false front short, two more pits on the right, and another yawning bunker behind the green, which features a sharp spine in its midsection that makes two-putting a heady chore if your tee shot finds the wrong side of it.

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TPC Colorado, 16th hole (photo courtesy TPC Colorado)

Sand Hills Golf Club, Mullen, Neb.—Hole 17, 150 yards

This hole, from another Coore & Crenshaw-designed course, travels uphill, so it generally plays longer than the length noted on the scorecard. You shoot to a green slung between two sand hills, each faced with rough-edged bunkers. Another bunker awaits errant shots long and left of the green. When the wind is howling out here on the Nebraska prairie, club selection on this otherwise welcoming one-shotter can become cynically tricky.

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Sand Hills, 17th hole (photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

Mammoth Dunes, Nekoosa, Wis.—Hole 13, 130 yards

David McLay Kidd did the honors here in Wisconsin, routing a raucously fun course over a vast piece of real estate featuring wide fairways, lots of sand, and large, imaginative putting surfaces. Your tee shot at the uphill 13th hole is all carry; anything short will find sand and leave you a long and steeply uphill bunker shot. The deep, three-tiered green is divided by a pronounced swale that can make putting an adventure.

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Mammoth Dunes, 13th hole (photo by Evan Schiller)

Crystal Downs Golf Club, Frankfort, Mich.—Hole 14, 147 yards

Michigan’s Crystal Downs dates to the late 1920s. It’s another course whose timeless, hilly design we owe to Alister MacKenzie, who was assisted here by Perry Maxwell. The 14th hole runs slightly uphill to an infinity green that you’d do well not to overshoot. Nor, however, should you land short—or go left, or right—as the tilting green is protected by bunkers and drop-offs on all sides, so there’s danger everywhere.

Wannamoisett Country Club, Rumford, R.I.—Hole 3, 137 yards

Rhode Island’s Wannamoisett has been the site of the Northeast Amateur Invitational for decades. Justin Thomas played in that event during his college years and later called the Donald Ross-designed 3rd hole his favorite hole he’d ever played. The two-tiered green slopes sharply from left to right, with bunkers short and left and steep drop-offs long and right. If you’ve ever wondered which hole is featured in the logo of the Donald Ross Society, you now have your answer.

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Wannamoisett, 3rd hole (photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

Streamsong (Black Course), Bowling Green, Fla.—Hole 15, 133 yards

From the tee of the 15th hole at Streamsong Black, the challenge seems doable. Yes, the miles-wide green is almost entirely surrounded by a death squad of bunkers. And yes, that putting surface does look to be shallow in spots. And okay, the green does seem to have six or seven distinct sections separated by ridges and humps both gentle and more severe. And it’s true, there’s nowhere to bail out at all. On second thought… this Gil Hanse-designed “breather hole” may be a bit more challenging than it first appears.

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Streamsong Black, 15th hole (photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

Hidden Creek Golf Club, Egg Harbor Township, N.J.—Hole 11, 145 yards

Like many short par threes, the 11th at Hidden Creek will yield its share of pars—and even birdies. But like all good short par threes, it can also draw blood in the form of bogeys, doubles, and worse. The postage stamp-sized green is perched on a hilltop, with bunkers short and right and fall-offs left and long. But hey—if you can hit a 145-yard shot dead square and dead straight on demand, it shouldn’t cause you any trouble.

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Hidden Creek, 11th hole (photo by Evan Schiller)

Old Sandwich Golf Club, Plymouth, Mass.—Hole 9, 131 yards

You’ve probably seen videos of F-15s landing on aircraft carriers. Imagine those same jets trying to land on a carrier runway sideways from its port side instead and you’ll have a good idea of what the tee shot at the 9th at Old Sandwich calls for. The elevated green has bunkers propping it up almost everywhere except where its false front sits, and the putting surface itself resembles a rough sea in spots, so even hitting the green in regulation is no promise of par. It’s another classic shortie courtesy of Coore & Crenshaw.

The Resort at Pelican Hill (South Course), Newport Coast, Calif.—Hole 13, 131/108 yards

We have Tom Fazio to thank for the two courses at Pelican Hill—and for the two greens at the South Course’s 13th hole, which are used in rotation and present two different challenges. When the green to the left is used, it’s generally a longer tee shot to a smaller green. Playing to the green on the right is usually easier. But miss either of them from the tee and you’re likely to find sand. Fear not, though. At least you’ll have a nice view of the Pacific to enjoy as you contemplate your inability to hit a wedge.

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Pelican Hill (South), 13th hole (photo courtesy Pelican Hill)

Los Angeles Country Club (North Course), Los Angeles, Calif.—“Little 17,” 105 yards

George Thomas Jr. and Herbert Fowler’s vision for the original 17th hole at LACC North called for a devilishly short hole that would test the nerves of players toward the end of their rounds. It was judged by some to be a bit too devilish, though, and when Thomas and William Bell redesigned the course in the late 1920s, the hole was replaced by a par four. Fortunately for club members, the old 17th was brought back into being during the course’s 2010 restoration, and today it’s used as a bye hole. It calls for a short iron shot to a sharply sloping green benched into a hill just below the 18th tee. It’s a great place to double-press.

How many of these have you played? Do you have a favorite short par three? Let us know in the comments.

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