the cradle at pinehurst

The magic number? 3. Here are the 25 best par-3 courses in the world

The Cradle at Pinehurst, which was designed by Gil Hanse.

Courtesy Photo

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 the 25 best sub-6,000-yard courses and 25 best par-3 courses. Because good things really do come in small packages.

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.

They’re all about fun, families, friends and inclusiveness. Their ability to include all players make them the ideal place to enjoy the game no matter one’s age or ability.

“The growing popularity of par-3 courses is a wonderful anomaly in a game often obsessed with distance,” says Adam Messix, a head PGA professional in Cashiers, N.C. “From one perspective, par-3 courses are a test of precision. More important, I think, they’re a joy to play for golfers of every caliber. Par-3 courses lack the formality you see at quote-unquote real courses, where you have to follow golf’s various conventions, like four players maximum to a group. They’re all about fun, families, friends and inclusiveness. Their ability to include all players make them the ideal place to enjoy the game no matter one’s age or ability.”

Tackling one of them is also a fantastic way to hone your short-game skills, where the game is generally won and lost.

The 25 best par-3 courses (listed from oldest to youngest)

* Course descriptions compiled by GOLF’s Top 100 Course Panelists and GOLF staffers.

Augusta National, Augusta, Ga., (Cobb & Roberts/1958)

Expert’s take: Perhaps the most famous par-3 course in the world ever since the annual Masters Par-3 Contest was broadcast on TV, this charming layout wraps around two ponds (DeSoto Springs and Ike’s) and employs tiny yet speedy greens.

The par-3 course at Augusta National.

Fred Vuich

Grand National/Magnolia Grove at RTJ Trail, Opelika/Mobile, Ala. (Robert Trent Jones Sr./1992)

Expert’s take: More than half of the 18-hole short course at Grand National runs along Lake Saugahatchee and has a nice mix of difficult tee shots and tricky pins. The short course at Magnolia Grove got even better after a renovation years ago that gave a makeover to a number of greens.

The short course at Grand National.

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Pine Valley Golf Club, Pine Valley, N.J. (Tom Fazio/1992)

Expert’s take: In my opinion it’s the best thought-out par-3 attached to a big course. The idea to create templates for some of the big course’s approach shots was brilliantly conceived and superbly executed.

The Olympic Club (Cliffs), San Francisco, Calif. (Tom Weiskopf/1994)

Expert’s take: Many consider the Cliffs course to be the most fun layout at The Olympic Club, and the Morrish-Weiskopf team did a fantastic job routing these holes along the Pacific cliffs back in the 90s. The conditioning is always near perfect and the bunkering really replicates the Lake Course challenges. The views, however, are what makes this course so special. Play it!

Headwaters, Cashiers, N.C. (Tom Fazio/1999)

Expert’s take: Tom Fazio created a nine-hole gem with tremendous variety in its subtle greens. Combine this with a stunning mountain setting with idyllic flora to make repeat rounds in one day.

Hamilton Farm (Hickory), Far Hills, N.J. (Hurdzan & Fry/2001)

Expert’s take: One of the most fun two hours you can spend on a golf course. This is no pitch and putt. Eighteen beautifully maintained green complexes ranging in length from 104 to 229 yards.

Kanawha Club, Manakin-Sabot, Va. (Lester George/2003)

Expert’s take: This private 9-hole par-3 course has undulating greens and superb conditioning. It calls for shots ranging from 108 yards to 225 yards (from the back tees), but don’t dismiss the middle or forward tees, either. They call for just as many exciting shots from different numbers, some as short as 62 yards.

The Kanawha Club in Manakin-Sabot, Va.

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Quarry at La Quinta, La Quinta, Calif. (Tom Fazio/2003)

Expert’s take: A very sporty short course and always in unbelievable condition. The landscaping, running water, rock work and incredible turf grass make this an unforgettable experience, and the golf holes themselves are loads of fun to play.

Palm Beach Par-3, Palm Beach, Fla. (Dick Wilson/1961; Updated by Raymond Floyd/2009)

Expert’s take: Stunning views of the ocean and intercoastal waterway. A great place for family fun. My son and I played there many times when he was a junior. An added benefit is the outstanding restaurant overlooking the dunes and ocean for lunch or post-round drinks.

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Origins GC, Watersound, Fla. (Davis Love III/2006)

Expert’s take: There’s more than one way to tackle this gem. The Origins Course has six regulation holes yet also plays as a 10-hole par-3 short course that’s not only a blast but extremely walkable. Played at about 1,800 yards, the course is forgiving enough for beginners yet still calls for strategic shots for experienced players.

Mission Hills Haikou (Stepping Stone), Hainan, China (Brian Curley/2010)

Expert’s take: As the architect here (Brian Curley), I wanted to create an experience where only a few clubs were needed (holes range from about 100-150 yards) and something that was more target-style as opposed to the typical par-3 built upon a connected swath of turf. Key to its presentation is that while there are paths for maintenance (and the few golfers who do have a cart), golfers walk a straight line through the lava rock on unique trails that weave through vegetated lava rock walls. Wild variety of green designs and any hole can be inserted into any of the full-scale courses.

Stepping Stone at Mission Hills Haikou.

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The Prairie Club (Horse), Valentine, Neb. (Hanse & Shackelford/2010)

Expert’s take: No tee boxes? Yes, please. This 10-hole short course lets you call the shots, and it’s a blast. It can play anywhere from 485 to 1,125 yards and is the perfect way to start or end your day at The Prairie Club. Better yet, it’s complimentary with any visit, with a suggested donation to The Prairie Club Foundation.

The Olde Farm, Bristol, Va. (Bobby Weed/2011)

Expert’s take: The Orchard Course has holes ranging from 50 to 130 yards, yet you can always pick your own route and swing away. There are a ton of different shots to pull off to increase the fun factor.

Bandon Dunes (Bandon Preserve), Bandon, Ore. (Coore & Crenshaw/2012)

Expert’s take: The best-kept secret at Bandon Dunes. The trip will not be complete if you did not play the Bandon Preserve. It’s 13 holes of pure golf joy — and make sure to use your putter when teeing off on the last hole.

The 13-hole Bandon Preserve.

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St. Andrews Club, Delray Beach, Fla. (Pete & Alice Dye/2013)

Expert’s take: An 18-hole par-3 course designed by the Dyes is exactly how you would imagine it — challenging. Yet it’s a gorgeous walk with few trees, water views and blooming flowers. A blast for any age.

Big Cedar Lodge (Top of the Rock), Ridgedale, Mo. (Jack Nicklaus/2014)

Expert’s take: The Top of the Rock Golf Course is the first-ever par-3 course to be included in a pro golf tournament (Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf) and looks even better in person than it did on TV. Dramatic tee shots, waterfalls, lakes and gorgeous golf holes make this place a must-play for any trip to Big Cedar Lodge.

The Top of the Rock at Big Cedar Lodge.

Edward C. Robison III

Scottsdale National (Bad Little 9), Scottsdale, Ariz. (J. Kahn Golf Course Design/2016)

Expert’s take: Perhaps the most diabolical nine holes in all of golf. Impossible for ANYONE to play in par or better. Purportedly modeled after a video game. Who says life can’t imitate art? A mix between devil and delight, no player can help but smile when a well-struck wedge is but the mere start of an adventure.

Pinehurst (The Cradle), Pinehurst, N.C. (Gil Hanse/2017)

Expert’s take: Brilliant design and fun experience for all levels of golfers. The sandscapes incorporated as part of the design provide stunning views. The adjacent Thistle Dhu putting course makes this a can’t-miss experience for those coming to the area.

Brilliant design and fun experience for all levels of golfers.

Course rater on The Cradle

Ballyneal (The Mulligan), Holyoke, Colo. (Tom Doak/2017)

Expert’s take: There are 12 greens here but no right way to play The Mulligan Course. It’s creativity at its finest — both in how you play your round and the shots you need to pull off. Less than five years old, this place is still somewhat unknown but definitely a gem.

Big Cedar Lodge (Mountain Top), Ridgedale, Mo. (Gary Player/2018)

Expert’s take: Thirteen holes that are more like an adventure with golf clubs. It has dramatic views and some really fun but fair golf holes. My personal favorite among all of the courses there.

The Mountain Top at Big Cedar Lodge.

Courtesy Photo

Sand Valley (The Sandbox), Nekoosa, Wis. (Coore & Crenshaw/2018)

Expert’s take: When they designed The Sandbox, Coore and Crenshaw wanted to break the typical golf mold. So they designed 17 holes and ended it at that. Seventeen! How great is that? And the 17th ends with an 83-yarder that mimics Pine Valley’s famous par-3 10th (with the Devil’s Asshole bunker). On most days the entire course can be played with exactly three clubs: a lob wedge, one slightly longer club, and the flatstick. We love that.

The Sandbox at Sand Valley

Christian Hafer

The Concession GC (The Gimme), Bradenton, Fla. (Chris Cochran/Nicklaus Design/2019)

Expert’s take: This is barely a year old and fun for a number of reasons, but the best part is in the name: it’s called The Gimme as a hat tip to Jack Nicklaus’ conceded putt to Tony Jacklin in the 1969 Ryder Cup. So, what’s that mean for you? Everything inside two feet, as marked on the flagstick, is good!

The Hills (The Farm), Arrowtown, New Zealand (Darius Oliver/2019)

Expert’s take: Brilliantly routed to follow the water race, the Farm is a leisurely walk across dramatic land overlooking postcard views of Queenstown. The nine par-3s are eminently playable with huge teeing areas providing extensive options and alternative routes which provides challenge and fun for all abilities. From the back plates it’s a helluva test whilst from the front you can play each hole with a putter. An epic set of greens are punctuated by a dell, halfpipe and a wild double green which may well be the biggest putting surface Down Under.

Les Bordes Golf International (Wild Piglet), Saint-Laurent-Nouan, France (Gil Hanse/2020)

Expert’s take: A 10-hole par-3 that opened this year. Yardages are from 131 yards to 198. Gil Hanse has been on a roll with his short courses. Just wish this one was closer!

Cabot Links (The Nest), Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada (Whitman & Axland/2020)

Expert’s take: It’s hard to imagine Cabot getting better since it already had the Links and Cliffs courses, but the 1,300-yard Nest was a fantastic changeup. You can hit wedges and woods and, despite being a par-3 course, that’s angles aplenty.

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