Dramatic Par Threes: One-Shot Wonders

Whether it requires a mere flip of a wedge or a big swing with a fairway wood, a par-three hole has the ability to not only immortalize a golf course—it can define a player’s entire round. “It’s what we remember because it’s only one shot,” resort developer Mike Keiser says of a par three. “They’re the most important thing about a golf course.”

Keiser has famously developed bucket-list golf destinations such as Bandon Dunes and Sand Valley, yet those looking for proof of Keiser’s affinity for exceptional—and dramatic—single-shot holes will find it most emphatically on display at Cabot Links, where the resort’s second course, Cabot Cliffs, boasts six par threes. Of course, Keiser isn’t the only developer or course architect to place such emphasis on this style of hole. “They’re so visually exciting,” Rees Jones says of par threes, “because they’re holes that immediately unfold themselves to the eye.”

Although all par threes are infused with a level of inherent drama, some are exceedingly more dramatic than others. Here is our list of 10 of the most dramatic single-shot holes in North America that the public can play.

17th Hole: TPC Danzante Bay (Islands of Loreto, Mexico)

178 yards from the back tees; 78 yards from the most forward tees

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TPC Danzante Bay, 17th hole (photo by Joann Dost)

By the time golfers reach the 16th green at TPC Danzante Bay, their round will have taken them across the desert, over and around arroyos, through picturesque canyons, alongside seaside beaches, and up into the mountains. Despite such a journey, the course’s 17th hole presents arguably the most spectacular landscape of all.

Perched atop the cliffs and encircled by a horseshoe-shaped bunker, the 17th hole’s 6,250-square-foot green sits 250 feet above the Sea of Cortez. Remarkably, this hole wasn’t a part of the course’s original routing. It only came to be after architect Rees Jones and his team walked the entire site.

Jones acknowledges that he drew inspiration from the shape and orientation of Augusta National’s 12th hole when conceptualizing the green complex for Danzante Bay’s signature par three, especially as it’s presented to golfers who play from the back tees which require shots ranging from 133 to 178 yards. Like Augusta’s “Golden Bell,” Danzante Bay’s 17th is one that can often be impacted by swirling winds; but according to Jones, that’s not the hole’s most challenging feature.

“The thing that makes it such a challenge, you have to convince yourself that you need one less club,” he says, referencing the fact that the back tee boxes are positioned more than 60 feet above the putting surface. “Because it’s a drop-shot, the hole gets into your head.” http://tpcdanzantebay.com/

18th Hole: Wynn Golf Club (Las Vegas, Nev.)

249 yards from the back tees; 140 yards from the most forward tees

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Wynn Golf Club, 18th hole (photo by Brian Oar)

At times throughout your round at the Wynn Golf Club you may need reminding that in certain areas you’re only 500 yards from the Vegas strip. When you get to the 18th tee box, however, there’s no ignoring that Sin City locale.

With a 35-foot-tall, 100-foot-wide waterfall cascading in the background about 25 yards beyond the green—and with the Wynn and Encore towers majestically standing guard over the entirety of the hole—the 18th delivers on the spectacle. “When you stand on the tee in modern-day golf, you want to hear one word and it’s ‘wow,’” says the course’s designer, Tom Fazio.

The waterfall may first catch players’ eyes, but other water features—namely the creek that runs the length of the hole’s fairway down the left-hand side and the lagoon that swallows any balls that come up short of the green complex—make this long par three even more difficult.

And then there’s the hole-in-one promotion. Golfers at least 21 years of age will have the chance to win as much as $20,000 for a hole-in-one on the 18th (based on the tee boxes being played), should they hit that odds-defying shot with at least one eyewitness present. https://www.wynnlasvegas.com/experiences/golf

12th Hole: The Straits course at Whistling Straits (Kohler, Wis.)

163 yards from the back tees; 89 yards from the most forward tees

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Whistling Straits, 12th hole (photo courtesy Destination Kohler)

The 7th hole on The Straits course, although dramatic in its own right, only serves as a precursor of things to come. Like the 7th hole, the 12th at The Straits plays to a green that is set along the shore of Lake Michigan on the right. Unlike the 7th hole, however, the green site for the 12th features a bigger and steeper slope guarding the front and right side of the putting surface. Additionally, that steep slope is peppered with half a dozen bunkers, which make getting up and down for par a daunting task—though it’s still a less futile prospect than trying to recover from the fescue surrounding those traps.

At no point during play of this hole can any assumptions be made about the safeness of a shot that’s hit. “The large green has two distinct sections,” says Mike O’Reilly, director of golf operations, “a very small, flat section in the back right that’s visually intimidating from the tee, and a large, but undulating section in the middle and left. From the tee it appears like the back right pin is the toughest but if a player thinks this to be true, they will be fooled. The back-middle section of the green has several pin locations that look tame from the tee but will deflect a shot that is not perfectly struck.” https://www.americanclubresort.com/golf/whistling-straits

16th Hole: TPC Colorado (Berthoud, Colo.)

140 yards from the back tees; 118 yards from the most forward tees

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

On paper, the 16th hole at TPC Colorado isn’t teeming with drama. The short, slightly downhill par three plays no more than 140 yards to an expansive green measuring more than 9,000 square feet. Although the putting surface is aptly guarded by five bunkers, there are no other dangers that golfers must avoid. Nevertheless, the hole is as dramatic as any on the course for two key reasons: its general location and the vistas that it provides.

As course architect Art Schaupeter acknowledges, the elevated site of the 16th is “the premier view” on the property, one that delivers unobstructed vistas of Long’s Peak and the rest of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The hole’s elevated green complex is also visually deceptive, as it makes it appear as though the waters of the Lonetree Reservoir come right up to the back edge of the green.

“Throw in a little afternoon wind out of the west, very typical in Colorado, and things start to get a little more dramatic,” Schaupeter says. “Then add in the fact that it’s almost the end of the round, and oh, by the way, you’ll be hitting your tee shot in front of a gallery as you are only a few paces away from the clubhouse restaurant and patio that runs along the back edge of the tee, and the drama and nerves are hitting a peak.” https://tpc.com/colorado/

6th Hole: Quivira Golf Club (Los Cabos, Mexico)

180 yards from the back tees; 98 yards from the most forward tees

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Quivira, 14th hole (photo by Jim Mandeville/The Nicklaus Companies)

Awesome. Spectacular. Picturesque. A monster. These are all the words that course architect Jack Nicklaus uses to describe the 6th hole at Quivira. Carved into the side of a cliff, the hole plays significantly downhill to a green flanked on its left by a series of bunkers that provide only a sliver of forgiveness for errant shots. Any ball that lands more than seven yards left of the green is destined to trundle down the steep rocky precipice and into the frothing surf of the Pacific Ocean below.

Angled into the prevailing wind, the hole—at first glance—seems straightforward. “The shot shape that the hole favors is one that’s straight,” Nicklaus says, partially in jest. “The golf hole and the trouble pretty much sit right in front of you and you have to be able to hit your shot into the little space where there is a green—and avoid that big water hazard on the left.”

That said, Nicklaus does assert that some prior course knowledge can be beneficial. “I think this particular hole is one you might need to play four or five times before you figure out exactly what you want and need to do, because so many things can happen on it.” https://www.quiviraloscabos.com/golf

7th Hole: Pebble Beach Golf Links (Pebble Beach, Calif.)

106 yards from the back tees; 90 yards from the most forward tees

Pebble Beach, 7th hole (photo by Sherman Chu)

When caddie Casey Boyns arrives at Pebble Beach’s 7th hole with the player he is caddying for that day, he often attempts to ease the golfer’s anxiety with some humor. “I say, ‘Don’t be long, left, right, or short,” he chuckles. “It’s only 90 yards—you can throw the ball down there—but they don’t know how easy to hit it. They’ll hit a pitching wedge and they’ll fly the green by 30 yards.”

Perched on a little spit of land that juts into Carmel Bay, the postage stamp of a green—protected by five bunkers of various size—no doubt appears even smaller when viewed from the tee boxes set 40 feet above the putting surface. The prospect of softly hitting a wedge may work in benign conditions, but when the wind blows the hole overflows with drama. Some of the best players on tour have occasionally needed mid-irons during their practice rounds, and decades ago a club pro reportedly made a hole-in-one during the Bing Crosby Invitational (now the AT&T Pro-Am) by hitting a 3-iron into the wind. Sam Snead even used his putter once off the tee just to keep his ball out of those bludgeoning gusts. https://www.pebblebeach.com/golf/pebble-beach-golf-links/

16th Hole: Cabot Cliffs (Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada)

176 yards from the back tees; 89 yards from the most forward tees

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Cabot Cliffs, 16th hole (photo by Jacob Sjoman)

With a two-tiered green set out on a rocky promontory, the 16th hole at Cabot Cliffs asks better players to hit a forced-carry tee shot of almost 180 yards over the edge of the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean that surges into Plaster Rocks Cove below. According to Bill Coore, who designed the course with partner Ben Crenshaw, a heroic, do-or-die tee shot isn’t the only option for players standing on those back tees.

“It’s a very intimidating tee shot over the ocean out to the promontory,” says Coore, “but there is more than one way to play that hole. Depending on the wind and the shape of your shot, you can play onto the higher ground left of the green and the ball will trundle down onto the putting surface.”

When the hole location is set on the right side of the green (the lower tier), the tee shot can look even more intimidating; however, Coore points to a spine in the center of the green that can funnel balls down the slope. “Even though it appears to be the most difficult section of the green. In a lot of ways that’s the easier place to get to.” https://www.cabotlinks.com/

17th Hole: TPC Sawgrass (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.)

137 yards from the back tees; 92 yards from the most forward tees

17th hole at TPC Sawgrass (Photo courtesy PGA Tour)

Years of television broadcasts of The Players Championship have elevated this 137-yard par three to a level of notoriety that few other golf holes can reach. In the process, amateur golfers have spent years wondering what it must be like to play the hole. As soon as those golfers book a tee time on the famous Pete Dye course, anticipation sets in—and it only grows stronger as the days tick by. “When people hear that you played the Stadium Course,” says Tom Alter, vice president of communications for the PGA Tour, “the first question that everyone asks is, ‘How did you do on 17?’”

Measuring 78 feet in depth and about that same distance in width, the 17th green isn’t small, yet all the water surrounding it creates the illusion that it is. “Your nerves are really tested as you are standing on the tee and you see this large green just 137 yards ahead of you but then you realize you have nowhere to miss or you’ll be in the water,” says Brian Riddle, the head pro at TPC Sawgrass. “In a short amount of time, it’s amazing the number of thoughts going through your head and the knots in your stomach. To be a short par three, it sure creates a lot of emotions!” https://tpc.com/sawgrass/

5th Hole: Teeth of the Dog (La Romana, Dominican Republic)

174 yards from the championship tees; 114 yards from the most forward tees

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Teeth of the Dog, 5th hole (photo courtesy Casa de Campo)

“More photographs are taken on the 5th hole than anywhere else on the golf course,” Robert Birtel, the director of golf at Casa de Campo, says of the Teeth of the Dog’s first seaside par three. “It’s the first hole you come to [that’s along the Caribbean Sea]. You make the turn and boom! You’ve arrived. It’s what sells airplane tickets.”

The scorecard might suggest that the hole can play as long as 174 yards—and that’s true—but Birtel acknowledges that the back tees are almost always set no more than 160 yards from the green. But every golfer is also challenged with having to hit a tee shot over the water, even those who play from the forwardmost tees, so the Caribbean Sea is always in play. “It’s equally intimidating and equally challenging from every tee box,” Birtel declares.

The challenge—and inherent drama—of the hole is its miniscule green. Measuring only 3,180 square feet, the putting surface juts out into the Caribbean Sea on an equally tiny peninsula and is protected by copious amounts of sand and plenty of water. “Even with a wedge,” Birtel acknowledges, “you’re thinking, ‘Wow, that’s such a small target.’”  https://www.casadecampo.com.do/

16th Hole: Streamsong Red (Bowling Green, Fla.)

208 yards from the back tees; 103 yards from the most forward tees

Streamsong Red, 16th hole (photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

Two compelling pars threes at Streamsong Resort stand side by side—the 7th hole on Streamsong Blue (designed by Tom Doak) and the 16th hole on Streamsong Red (designed by Coore & Crenshaw). Although both play similar distances and require players to hit shots over the same water hazard, Red’s signature par three barely edges Blue’s in intimidation factor. Even with more room to miss left of the green, the 16th requires a daunting tee shot that must carry more of the hazard and then challenges players with a deep and significantly contoured Biarritz-style green.

As for that bailout area to the left, players who purposely play to that safer location—or watch in frustration as their ball misses the putting surface on the left and trundles down the slope—will discover that the recessed collection area, perhaps 30 feet below the putting surface, demands a precise recovery shot. “You can hit it down there and make four pretty much all day long,” Coore says.

Although the 16th hole is defined by a thrilling tee shot and features a classically styled putting surface, its varied terrain is what Coore is most enamored with. “In a relatively small area it showcases the character of Streamsong. You see a lake, sand dunes, native grasses, and turf. In some ways that sums up what Streamsong is all about.” https://www.streamsongresort.com/


What are your favorite dramatic par threes around the world?



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