With detailed input from GOLF’s 88-member Top 100 Courses ranking panel, its editors, architects from around the world and select other short-course aficionados, we’ve compiled GOLF’s first long look at “short courses,” including our inaugural ranking of the world’s 50 greatest 9-hole tracks, plus 25 superb sub-6,000-yard courses and the 25 best par-3 courses. Because good things really do come in small packages.
In the mid-19th century, when golf gained traction in Scotland, it did so at the grassroots level. Communities saw the value in friends having fun together outdoors, a brief respite from the day’s chores. Were the courses 18 holes with large clubhouses and fancy locker rooms? They were not.
The earliest tracks were 5-, 6-, 7-, 9- and 12-hole affairs. The locals looked for land that drained well, with interesting natural obstacles. If the property only supported six holes, so be it. The sport wasn’t meant to soak up half the day. Work beckoned. The Industrial Age eventually created the chance for more of the population to pursue leisure activities, and golf expanded. Move the clock forward 150-odd years and courses of all shapes and sizes now exist.
Warming up, playing 18, having a refreshment afterward? Yes, sometimes. But there have always been places — we now call them “short courses” — to get the same jolt of fun and relaxation faster, and they’re having another well-deserved moment in the sun. We want to shine more light on them.
For our purposes, GOLF defines short courses as anything under 6,000 yards. From there, we’ve divided things into three categories: 9-hole courses, par-3 courses and sub-6,000-yard courses of any number of holes. The undisputed virtue of short courses is that they cram in more golf per minute than long courses. You walk less distance and swing the club at faster intervals on a short course than a long one.
An undeniable stigma still exists in North America that somehow big courses are innately superior to short courses. Wrong. War and Peace isn’t inherently better than The Old Man and the Sea because it’s thicker. What’s best for each course site varies based on many factors, from parcel size and the intended audience’s skill level to landforms and soil type. In short: Don’t judge a course by its length.
With detailed input from GOLF’s 88-member Top 100 Courses ranking panel, its editors, architects from around the world and select other short-course aficionados, we’ve ranked our list of global 9-holers from No. 1 to 50 and also named our top 25 par-3 courses and top 25 sub-6,000-yard 18-hole courses.
The sport remains grand when played on courses under 6,000 yards — and here are 100 sterling examples in total, some in exotic locations, some with wild greens, all with a variety of hazards that deliver profound pleasure and stir the soul.
The 50 best 9-hole courses
This is GOLF’s inaugural effort in this category, and it’s about time. Our World and U.S. rankings always stimulate lively debate, and 9-holers deserve the same attention. Here, we’re focusing solely on stand-alone 9-hole courses, in part to show that solo niners — as opposed to 9-hole tracks built to complement full 18s, like the dazzling Valliere nine at Morfontaine in France or William Flynn’s excellent Primrose nine at The Country Club outside Boston — are quite viable financial entities in and of themselves. American golfers might be unfamiliar with some of the greatest 9-holers. Unlike par-3 courses, where North America dominates, this group features plenty of UK loops, many of them built by “members” and “locals,” guaranteeing colorful originality. (Approximate playing time: 1 hour, 45 minutes)
The 25 best par-3 courses
For the par-3 tracks, we’ve arranged 25 of the world’s best from oldest to youngest. (GOLF plans to do a proper ranking in the near future.) Doing so underscores just how popular par-3 courses have become recently. More than a third of our list opened in the past five years, including two this year, making par-3 courses maybe the hottest trend in architecture. Just look at the design names attached to these tracks: Nicklaus, Fazio, Dye, Doak, Hanse, Coore, Crenshaw. Many of North America’s high-end resorts have cottoned to the fact that not every golfer needs or wants to play a full-length course twice in a day. From Bandon Dunes to Sand Valley and Cabot Links to Pinehurst Resort, par-3 tracks now thrive. (Approximate playing time: 45 minutes)
25 superb sub-6,000-yard courses
Organized by distance, this category includes courses that fall in every 100-yard bucket, from 4,400 yards to 5,999 yards, with only a few exceptions. They fill a multitude of critical roles, none more important than as relaxed places to learn the game as well as to grow old with the sport. The courses are, by definition, more manageable in length. But that doesn’t mean they lack challenge. Eight years ago, as they were about to open Cabot Links, cofounders Ben Cowan-Dewar and Mike Keiser played the full-length course on a particularly windy day. Cowan-Dewar moved the two of them around the assortment of tees, and afterward Keiser remarked that he didn’t recall when he’d had so much fun under such trying conditions. He asked Cowan-Dewar how long the course had played that day and the final tally was 5,920 yards. Said Keiser: “Too bad so few golfers will knowingly play a course under 6,000 yards.” Amen. (Approximate playing time: 3 hours)