Think about the most memorable finishing holes in golf. What springs to mind? For many, it might be par fives in spectacular settings like Pebble Beach and Kapalua. For others, it’s historic or rugged par fours, from the closer at the Old Course at St. Andrews to those at Whistling Straits, TPC Sawgrass, Harbour Town, and Bay Hill.
Chances are you’re not immediately thinking about a par three; well, unless the headline prompted it. The reality is having a par three as the 18th hole is a rarity. Less than 1 percent of golf courses in the U.S. end with a “one-shotter.”
Typically, the game’s great finishing holes demand players hit both a great drive and an accurate approach shot. Whether it’s the conclusion of a tournament, a match, or a friendly Nassau, there’s a buildup on a par four or par five that just isn’t the same with a par three, where the drama can end after a single shot. Consider that East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, the site of the PGA Tour’s Tour Championship, in 2016 permanently reversed its front and back nine to finish with a 600-yard par five instead of a 200-yard par three.
Still, somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 U.S. courses finish with a par three, from Christmas Lake Golf Course in Santa Claus, Ind., to Inn of the Mountain Gods in Mescalero, N.M. There are great ones around the world, too—the closer at Brora Golf Club in Scotland is a notable one, for example—but here’s a rundown of some of the top par-three 18th holes in America.
Pasatiempo (Santa Cruz, Calif.)
As great as it is, this hole was actually included in our round-up of the game’s polarizing par threes—just because the concept of finishing with a “shorty” is so foreign to some golfers. This terrific, open-to-the-public Alister MacKenzie design is loaded with interesting holes throughout and the 18th is no exception, a 169-yarder that plays over a forested ravine to a pitched green surrounded by ruggedly cut bunkers.
The Greenbrier—Old White (Old Sulphur Springs, W.Va.)
Nice scenery here at the 18th hole at The Greenbrier with the leaves changing. pic.twitter.com/vnGmYmjYVz
— Dave Shedloski (@DaveShedloski) September 12, 2019
While the PGA Tour did away with its par-three finisher at East Lake, the pros also lost this one at the original 18-hole course at The Greenbrier, a C.B. Macdonald design that officially fell off the Tour schedule last year. Playing 179 yards from the back tees, the “Home” hole on Old White features a large horseshoe-shaped ridge that bisects the green and puts a premium on proper club selection and distance control.
The Cascades at the Omni Homestead Resort (Hot Springs, Va.)
Not many will call this closer short. Sam Snead launched his career at this venerable mountain course, where the 18th of the nationally ranked Cascades plays more than 200 yards over a pond to a green that’s angled back-to-front and flanked by bunkers. It makes for a decidedly unusual finish to the William Flynn design, as the 15th and 18th holes are both par threes, while the 16th and 17th holes are back-to-back par fives.
Garden City Golf Club (Garden City, N.Y.)
Also known as Garden City Men’s Club, or simply the “Men’s Club,” the intimate, old-school routing at this ultra-private enclave starts with a potentially drivable par four and finishes with a long par three. A pond is in play at the 18th hole, which has a healthy carry over water to a green backdropped by the clubhouse. For those just worried about staying dry off the tee, challenging bunkers ring the green, including one on the left that’s deep enough for steps.
Medinah Country Club—No. 1 (Medinah, Ill.)
No. 3 is the most celebrated layout at Medinah, having hosted the U.S. Open, PGA Championship, PGA Tour playoffs, and Ryder Cup, but this club outside Chicago also boasts two other terrific courses. Tom Doak worked on the redesign of No. 1, which closes with a challenging tee shot over water to a well-bunkered, two-tiered green.
Myrtle Beach National—West Course (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
— Myrtle Beach Trips (@MBTrips) March 27, 2018
If you’ve seen a picture of Myrtle Beach National, chances are it’s of “The Gambler” on King’s North with its island fairway that affords a risk-reward shortcut to the green. But the shorter West Course closes with a par five under 500 yards and then the par-three 18th with water down the entire left side that can play very differently depending on which tee you’re hitting from—jumping from the white tees at 165 to a testing 221 from the blues.
Roaring Gap Club (Roaring Gap, N.C.)
An uphill tee shot of more than 200 yards makes for an intimidating conclusion at this private club in the Blue Ridge Mountains, even if architect Donald Ross hadn’t originally intended for the hole named “Hill Top” to be the 18th. The short par-four 17th hole at Roaring Gap is particularly memorable for the 70-mile views from its infinity green, but the 18th makes for an unforgettable finish, perhaps painfully so if you find some of the deepest bunkers on the course.
Burning Tree Country Club (Greenwich, Conn.)
There’s a lot going as you stand on the tee for the par-three 18th hole at this private club in Greenwich, less than an hour outside New York City. To go directly at the well-guarded green, there’s a hefty carry over water and other trouble, while favoring a more conservative run-up along the left-hand side makes you realize how uncomfortably close the adjacent entry road is. Want even more of a challenge? There’s a rarely used back tee tucked away near an adjacent home.
Sandpiper Golf Club (Santa Barbara, Calif.)
— Big West Golf (@BigWestGolf) April 29, 2017
On the edge of the Pacific Ocean, Sandpiper is a public layout with ocean and mountain views from every hole. It has several holes that play down to and along the coastline, but only one hole—the par-three 18th—has a land-locked water hazard. Parallel tee boxes offer varying angles into the green, both over water, while the forward tees play from an island teeing ground in the middle of the pond.
Brackenridge Park Golf Course (San Antonio, Texas)
Located at the entrance to the walking bridge on the 18th tee at Brackenridge Park Golf Course. We can't help you clear the pond, but now we can help you choose your club. #ConstantImprovement #GolfSanAntonio pic.twitter.com/6tjl36iPe6
— AlamoCityGolfTrail (@AlamoCityGolf) June 27, 2019
Just north of downtown San Antonio, the 2008 restoration of “Old Brack” rerouted the course to A.W. Tillinghast’s original layout from the early 1900s, including a tester of a closing par three. The water hazard in front of the tees runs directly toward the green, along the same path as the final tee shots, before bending to the left. The squared-off green is set at an angle, further adding to the challenge. Don’t come up short or go left.
Know of other par-three finishers? Tell us about them in the comment section.