The 9 best and most affordable par-3 courses in the United States

Pinehurst (The Cradle)

The 5th hole at The Cradle at Pinehurst.’s 25 Exemplary Par-3 Courses are lower in distance. They’re par-3s. The Short Course at Grand National in Opelika, Ala., is 3,328 yards from the tips over its 18 holes. The Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course in Palm Beach, Fla., is 2,572. The Horse Course at The Prairie Club in Valentine, Neb., is 1,125 over its 10 holes, though there are no set tee boxes. 

They’re lower in price, too. What they lack in volume, they make up for in value. Grand National is $18. Palm Beach is $14.45 to $37. Horse Course is complimentary with any visit to Prairie Club, though a donation to The Prairie Club Foundation is suggested. 

“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, North Carolina. “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.”

In all, nine of the courses are open to the public and in the U.S. The nine, listed from oldest to youngest:

Grand National/Magnolia Grove at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail 

The short course at Grand National. Courtesy photo

Location: Opelika, Ala./Mobile, Ala.

Designer: Robert Trent Jones Sr./1992

Cost: $18 and $18

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.

Palm Beach Par 3

Location: Palm Beach, Fla.

Designer: Dick Wilson/2003 (Updated by Raymond Floyd/2009) 

Cost: From $14.45 to $37

Expert’s take: Stunning views of the ocean and intercoastal waterway. A great place for family fun. An added benefit is the outstanding restaurant overlooking the dunes and ocean for lunch or post-round drinks.

Origins Golf Club

Location: Watersound, Fla.

Designer: Davis Love III/2006

Cost: $30

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.

The Prairie Club (Horse Course)

Location: Valentine, Neb.

Designer: Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford/2010

Cost: Complimentary with any visit. (A donation to The Prairie Club Foundation is suggested.) The rates for the regulation Dunes and Pines courses range from $85 to $199.50.

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.

Bandon Dunes (Bandon Preserve)

The 13-hole Bandon Preserve. Courtesy photo

Location: Bandon, Ore.

Designer: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw/2012

Cost: $50 to $100

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.

Big Cedar Lodge (Top of the Rock)

Location: Ridgedale, Mo.

Designer: Jack Nicklaus/2014

Cost: $80 to $135 

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.

Pinehurst (The Cradle)

Location: Pinehurst, N.C.

Designer: Gil Hanse/2017

Cost: $50

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.

Big Cedar Lodge (Mountain Top)

The Mountain Top at Big Cedar Lodge. Courtesy photo

Location: Ridgedale, Mo. 

Designer: Gary Player/2018

Cost: $50 to $60

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.

Sand Valley (The Sandbox)

Location: Nekoosa, Wis.

Designer: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw/2018

Cost: $30 to $65

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.

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