Par threes offer a nice break from golf’s two-shotters and three-shotters, a respite from the lengthier holes that predominate most courses—including those lucky enough to be situated in the Home of Golf. But because so much depends on your tee shot on these holes, your one full swing, they can often be scorecard-wreckers. If your iron game is on, they might also be good birdie opportunities. But if not, and if the hole you’re playing is one of those do-or-die par threes that offer little in the way of bail-out, a poor tee shot might leave you lucky to save bogey.
Here’s a list of 10 of Scotland’s best do-or-die par threes. Some are so renowned that copies of them exist all around the world. Each is the kind of hole that will stick in your memory for a lifetime, no matter how well you score on them. [Note: All yardages mentioned are from the tips—but tees from lesser distances are also available and may be better suited to your game.]
11th Hole, Old Course at St. Andrews, 174 yards—St. Andrews
The green at “High (In),” also known as the Eden hole due to its location beside the Eden River estuary, is a double-green shared with the Old Course’s 7th hole. One hundred yards wide, you might think it easy to hit. But it’s one of the more nerve-wracking tee shots in St. Andrews, thanks to its elevated and well protected green. It’s guarded in front by the deep Strath pot bunker, on the side by the equally treacherous Hill bunker, and the green slopes from front to back, making putts from above (or either side of) the hole knee-knockers. Bobby Jones tore up his scorecard and walked off the course at the Open Championship in 1921 after failing in four attempts to escape Hill bunker. Pro tip: Hit the green—or else.
8th Hole, Royal Troon Golf Club, 123 yards—Troon
Its name is “Postage Stamp,” owning to the diminutive size of its green, but it’s been called less polite things over the years by legions of players who failed to get on in regulation. Few greens in the world are better protected, but appropriately so for such a short, slightly downhill hole. There’s a sandhill with two deep bunkers left of the green, two more steep-faced bunkers to the right, and another vertical-walled bunker guarding the front-right. The green itself is barely 30 feet wide, so it’s not uncommon for a shot played from one bunker to wind up in another. There’s just no bail-out here at all. Miss the green, and you’re all but assured of a bogey (or worse).
9th Hole, Trump Turnberry (Ailsa Course), 248 yards—Turnberry
Turnberry’s 9th used to be a pedestrian par four. But Martin Hawtree changed all that in 2016 when he moved the green to the edge of the sea and turned it into an all-or-nothing par three. Set in the shadow of Turnberry’s iconic lighthouse, the hole calls for a tee shot over the rocky shoreline of the Atlantic to a large green divided into several sections. Anything short will be swimming. But even if you hit the green, don’t expect an easy two-putt. Club selection (factoring in the omnipresent wind) is key to escaping this achingly scenic hole with a par.
6th Hole, Eyemouth Golf Club, 167 yards—Eyemouth
The 6th at Eyemouth is another par three that requires a do-or-die carry over water, but this time it’s a slightly uphill clifftop-to-clifftop stunner over a frothing corner of the North Sea. The hole is called “A-Still-No-Ken,” which roughly translates to “I still don’t understand.” All you need to understand here is that anything hit short is likely to ricochet off the face of the cliff and wind up swimming with the local kelpies. Long isn’t much better, as there’s a fall-off behind and to the left of the smallish green, which is bordered by a stone wall along its entire right side.
15th Hole, Kingsbarns Golf Links, 212 yards—St. Andrews
The green of the 15th hole at Kingsbarns sit on its own windswept peninsula that juts out from the Fife shoreline into the sea. It angles away from the tee, from front-left to back-right, and is much larger than it appears from the teeing ground. A lone pot bunker sits behind and to the left of the putting surface. You can avoid the water by going long or left, but it’s not a hole that players who tend to slice the ball will feel all that comfortable with. At low tide, it’s entirely possible to find your ball on stony beach and possibly even play it.
5th Hole, Gleneagles (King’s Course), 178 yards—Auchterarder
It’s called “Het Girdle” (which translates as Hot Griddle) because the green of this fabulous par three repels tee shots the way a hot griddle repels drops of oil. James Braid designed this course, and this hilltop, volcano-hole green site is one of the course’s most memorable. There is literally nowhere to miss it; you either hit the green or you’ll be playing a steeply uphill recovery shot from the bunkers short, right, and left of the green, or the thick rough surrounding the foot of the hill farther back. The putting surface slopes sharply from front to back, so even if you hit the green, par is never assured. It’s a hole that has burned a lot of players.
The par 3, 5th hole on the King’s Course at Gleneagles has ruined many scorecards over the past 100 years. It takes a well struck, straight tee shot to hold the long narrow raised green and avoid trouble.
— Golf Perthshire (@GolfPerthshire) July 10, 2020
6th Hole, Royal Dornoch Golf Club (Championship Course), 161 yards—Dornoch
Royal Dornoch throws two do-or-die par threes at you in the first six holes, the tabletop 2nd hole (no easy test itself, especially so early in your round), and the 6th, which is equally challenging and a smidge more charming in my opinion. From the elevated tee, your short iron simply must find the green, which is shelved into the side of a gorse-covered hillside. A deep pot bunker will catch shots hit short, while three more pot bunkers await anything pulled left of the green. Should you miss to the right, your ball will roll down a steep hill from which you’ll be lucky to see the top of the flagstick.
17th Hole, The Castle Course at St. Andrews, 184 yards—St. Andrews
The 17th at this David McLay Kidd-designed course is one of the more dramatic holes in all of Scotland, with a green perched on a cliffside peninsula high above the North Sea. Anything hit short or right will never be found. You can bail out to the left, but a bunker awaits there, as do two smaller bunkers behind the green. With the Castle Course’s mod clubhouse in the background, and the buildings of the Old Grey Toon beyond that, it’s one of the most scenic spots in Fife. But you’d be advised to keep your mind on your business when you step onto this tee.
15th Hole, North Berwick Golf Club (West Links), 189 yards—North Berwick
It’s one of the most famous holes in the world—and one of the most copied. But don’t let the fame of the Redan hole distract you from the job at hand. Its notable green design slopes from front-right to back-left, which might seem to favor a draw. But you’ll need to stop the ball quickly to prevent it from scooting straight to the back of the putting surface (or over it), so a well-controlled fade to the elevated green may be the preferred shot shape on some days. You can’t come up short or left; a long, deep, nasty bunker sits there just below the green. Three more bunkers threaten shots hit right of the target. The green itself is large and deep, and anything landing on the green will funnel toward the left and roll toward a back pin placement, so par (or even better) is possible for a well-struck tee shot. But you can’t see much of that green from the tee. And doubt is no friend to the average golfer.
13th Hole, The Glen Golf Club, 148 yards—North Berwick
Just up the road from North Berwick G.C., the mostly links course at The Glen offers unforgettable views of the Firth of Forth and guano-covered Bass Rock. The par-three 13th, known as the Sea Hole, is not only just steps from the stony beach, but also a semi-blind par three calling for a precise shot over the corner of a hill covered with deep marram grass. The hole is reminiscent of the 7th at Pebble Beach in that it plays downhill to a tiny green. But here, if you miss the oblong green long or right your ball will find the beach—and possibly a watery grave. As with the other do-or-die holes, precision is everything here.
What is your favorite par three in Scotland?