Nearly 30 years ago in the pages of LINKS Magazine, author/broadcaster Ben Wright opined that the Golden Horseshoe’s Gold course in Colonial Williamsburg, Va., featured the best set of par threes on a single course of any he knew. Bentley was a shrewd, well-traveled judge—and a designer himself—so I’ll give him his due. I also thought that perhaps that wasn’t even Robert Trent Jones’s best collection, which in my view, belonged to Spyglass Hill.
Some three decades later, I’ve had time to research and reflect. Here are the 10 North American courses with the best collection of par threes that anyone can play.
Casa de Campo (Teeth of the Dog)—La Romana, Dominican Republic
Without hesitating, Pete Dye singled out Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog as his very favorite of all the courses he designed. After tackling the four par threes on the layout, it’s easy to see why. At the 168-yard 5th, you’re practically standing in the Caribbean Sea, with waves lapping at the tee box. The 227-yard 7th is the 5th’s macho sibling, as it calls for a carry across bays and coves and sand and bahia grass. The vast waste bunker in front of the green slithers to the left, to catch pulled tee shots. To the right of the green are smaller bunkers, mounds, and trees. While the 192-yard 13th is inland, which adds to the variety, it’s distinguished by a sand feature practically encircling the hard-to-hit green. The 183-yard 16th could be the most special of all, with the right side guarded by the Caribbean and seven bunkers lurking in the playable areas.
Whistling Straits (Straits)—Sheboygan, Wis.
Whistling Straits’s par threes are magnificent—scenic and dramatic. As a quartet, they were second to none in Ryder Cup annals—yet another tribute to architect Pete Dye, who passed away in 2020. The 181-yard 3rd and the 221-yard 7th are mirror images, if different distances and directions, the former with Lake Michigan on the left, the latter with it on the right. The tiny 143-yard 12th, also on the lake, can play as short as 124 yards and features the most inspired green configuration, with a tongue extending back and to the right, making for a thrilling hole location. Twelve is counterbalanced by the daunting 223-yard 17th, which brutalizes many players with its huge dune short-right of the green and a steep fall-off to the lake on the left. Different clubs, different trajectories, maximum variety and interest.
Cabot Cliffs—Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada
Does Cabot Cliffs have an unfair advantage on this list, given it possesses three par threes on each nine? Nonsense. It ranks as high as it does because the Coore & Crenshaw-designed collection brims with variety, views, and challenge. Most importantly, each par three is memorable. The 4th is a headscratcher to some, given its two vastly separate green sites, on two different levels. The upper green measures 154 yards from the back tee, the lower green 221 yards, yet the shorter hole is more demanding, thanks to contour and bunkering. The sweet 186-yard 6th runs parallel to the sea, its cunningly contoured green tucked into a bowl of dunes, a veritable Irish transplant. The petite 9th checks in at 126 yards, with a green site draped on the cliff top. A massive bunker fronts the green, and others guard it back and right, but with crosswinds a common occurrence off the sea to the left, the architects helpfully carved some sloping ground to allow for a friendly kick. Twelve is a handsome brute of 245 yards; it heads back to the sea and presents a big bunker front-right and ground that slopes away to the left (you’re better off bunkered). At the 188-yard 14th, a large rock hump that protrudes from the bunker front-right of the green makes for a unique impediment. Finally, and most spectacularly comes the 176-yard 16th, which early visitor Matt Kuchar likened to Cypress Point. The green’s right side looks as if it’s going to tumble 10 stories down into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, yet the toughest hole location is back left. As par-three sextets go, Cabot Cliffs has no peer.
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course—Jasper, Alberta, Canada
This forested 1925 Stanley Thompson design at 3,300 feet rolls out five one-shot holes with remarkable variety and glorious Canadian Rockies scenery. The 240-yard 4th calls for a smash across the valley floor. The 231-yard 9th plunges 80 feet to a plateau green with bunkers all about and Pyramid Mountain in the background. Called “Cleopatra,” for its original resemblance to a woman’s anatomy, its most prominent features were toned down by Thompson at the request of his client. The 178-yard 7th and the 181-yard 12th are fine, handsome holes, but the showstopper is the 15th, called “Bad Baby.” At 138 yards, it is exactly that, as it skirts the blue-green water of Lac Beauvert and plays to a tiny, propped up green that falls away steeply on all sides.
Did you know that the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club is named one of the Best Golf Resorts in Canada in the 2022 Golf Digest Editor’s Choice Awards?
— Jasper Park Lodge (@FairmontJPL) June 1, 2022
Harbour Town Golf Links—Hilton Head Island, S.C.
One of the greatest quartets of par threes anywhere was crafted by Pete Dye at Harbour Town, longtime home to the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage. Overhanging trees and unusual sand features characterize the first three of the four. The 200-yard 4th must carry a lagoon that wraps around to the left and behind the green and is shored up by railroad ties. The 195-yard 7th features a narrow green encircled by sand. Even more hazardous are trees on either side at the front of the green, which redirect aerial approaches like NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo. Best—and toughest—of the bunch is the 192-yard 14th that plays over a pond bulkheaded by railroad ties to an alarmingly small green. It invariably plays to over-par figures for the pros. Nevertheless, the 174-yard 17th, which emerges from the forest, may well boast the stronger shot value. Typically, it calls for a short-iron, or even a mid-iron with either cross- or headwinds sweeping in from Calibogue Sound. The tee shot plays over a lagoon and a 90-yard-long bunker, bulkheaded by more of those infamous railroad ties that curls to the left of the green. Complicating the task is a small, slender, banana-shaped putting surface and a marshy slope behind the green.
Pacific Dunes—Bandon, Ore.
Because architect Tom Doak chose to route his golf course in a way that maximized world-class holes, he eschewed conventional sequencing and wound up with five par threes, four of them on the back nine, including consecutively at holes 10 and 11. However unorthodox, he crafted five dandies that all manage to move in different directions. The 199-yard 5th generally plays downwind to a two-tiered green framed by four bunkers. The 206-yard 10th, although bunkerless, tests trajectory as it heads into the wind and out to the Pacific to a green carved into a shallow bowl. Occupying rarified air is the uphill 148-yard 11th; clinging to the cliff edge, it normally faces head-and crosswinds, making club selection and ball flight paramount. Carry a huge blowout fronting bunker and avoid the native beach grass and six other bunkers and you’ll be fine. Downwind and open in front, the task seems simple at the 145-yard 14th. Miss the green anywhere, however, and bunkers, dense shrubs, sloping short grass, and native fescue rough await. Doak’s version of a Redan arrives at the 208-yard 17th and it’s marvelously executed. The angled green is sloped back to front and is set into the base of a dune. Gauging your right-to-left, running shot into the green is pure Old-World fun.
Bandon Dunes—Bandon, Ore.
It’s practically a toss-up as to which par three set is best at Bandon, with Bandon Trails practically the equal of Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes. After Pacific Dunes, however, we give another nod here to Bandon Dunes, the resort’s original course to recognize the par threes that touch the ocean. Bandon’s three-pars are spaced more conventionally, at holes 2, 6, 12, and 15, but there is nothing conventional about them. The 189-yard 2nd hole travels uphill to a green benched into a ledge. The prevailing wind will move shots to the right, so flight your ball accordingly. The 6th, which measures 161 yards but can play as long as 220 in competitions, features the Pacific Ocean to the left and a stern shot ahead, into the breeze. A deep bunker guards the left-front, so as at the 2nd hole, the safe miss is to the right. As with the 6th, the 12th green is exposed to the elements, with an orientation to the southwest, diametrically opposed to the 2nd hole. At 199 yards (238 from the tournament tees), club selection is critical, as looming left is a pot bunker, to the right a fescue-topped dune. The green falls away at the back-right, with doom awaiting the overcooked shot. The 15th can play 206, though it’s listed at 163 on the scorecard. At either number, it’s superb. Fifteen plays to the northwest, back to the ocean and if you can flight your ball courageously, the banked left side will funnel shots close to the hole. Miss it “safely” to the right and a bunker the size of Rhode Island will swallow any timid shot.
Chambers Bay—University Place, Wash.
Hewn from a 100-year-old commercial sand and gravel pit, this Robert Trent Jones II links-like design features dramatic undulations and equally dramatic views of the Puget Sound. Home to the 2015 U.S. Open and the 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the layout bursts with fresh, original, flexible holes, including the four par threes. The 167-yard 3rd hole ranged from 148 yards to 207 at the U.S. Open. It demands a shot over an enormous sand feature front-left but sloping ground will help funnel shots that are played short-right of the green. The 227-yard 9th introduces a dizzying, 200-foot plunge over another massive sand sprawl to a wildly undulating green. A mound to the left can help direct a shot onto the green, but often will propel it right off the green. Most memorable is the 15th, which played as short as 123 yards in 2015 and can get as long as 246 yards. The hole is called “Lone Fir,” as the green is backdropped by not only the gorgeous Puget Sound, but by the only tree on the golf course. From an elevated tee, the shot must carry yet another vast sand expanse in its drop to one of the smallest greens on the course. That same sand feature extends to the right and behind the green. To the left is helpful sloping ground and one insidious pot bunker. The 17th, measuring 172 yards to 218 for the U.S. Open (with one day at 122), also dips downhill over another gigantic sand bunker, with an active railway line edging the right side.
Pebble Beach Golf Links—Pebble Beach, Calif.
Twenty-five years ago, it’s possible Pebble would have been left off this list, due to its two so-so inland par threes. Then, after a 70-year wait, the Pebble Beach owners acquired the oceanside property they long sought, allowing them to abandon the inland par-three 5th, a shortish uphill thrust through the trees, and create a new hole that edges the ocean. The Jack Nicklaus creation opened in 1998, with a back tee measuring 192 yards. Right-side hole locations are more dramatic and difficult. Most memorable is the tiny, downhill 7th, just 106 yards. The postage stamp-sized green perched adjacent to the wave-splashed rocks and isolated by bunkers is unforgettable. Punch your wedge down the hill, then grab your camera. The 201-yard 12th, that Tom Doak once called “a real mutt,” is indeed the runt of the litter, an inland hole that calls for a long iron or hybrid over a large fronting bunker to a green too shallow to accommodate most of the incoming shots it will see. Finally, it isn’t the one-of-a-kind stunner that its little brother the 7th hole is, but the 177-yard 17th at Pebble Beach delivers plenty of eye candy of its own, with its hourglass green, fierce bunkering—especially the vicious, amoeba-shaped, front-left trap—and the Pacific Ocean beyond.
Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course—Banff, Alberta, Canada
Beneath the castle-like Banff Springs hotel sits this 1928 Stanley Thompson course that’s frequented by elk, bears, and golfers seeking sensory overload. Mountain scenery simply overpowers the golfer, creating optical illusions throughout the round, notably at the 192-yard par-three 4th, called “Devil’s Cauldron,” where Gene Sarazen once quarreled with his caddie over club selection. When Sarazen’s choice of clubs resulted in a shot that made it halfway to the green, splashing in a lake, the mountain magic (and Sarazen’s caddie) had triumphed. The 171-yard, uphill 2nd—called “Rundle” after the mountain in view—is outstanding, as are the wee 138-yard 8th (“Papoose”) and the 218-yard 10th (“Little Bow”), both which tangle with the Bow River. Perhaps most challenging is the 225-yard 13th, “Sulphur,” named after another mountain, which is peppered with bunkers, yet open in front.
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What collection of par threes did we miss? Let us know in the comment section.