The Etiquetteist: The 6 rules for playing a par-3 course

Par-3 courses are all the rage these days, and no wonder. The finest of them are artful, approachable and wildly entertaining. They also allow for looser codes of conduct — liberation from the starchier strictures of the game.

Does that mean no rules apply? Not exactly. Next time you play one of these small wonders, here are six guidelines to keep in mind.

Lighten the load

No need to bring your Tour bag. Maybe don’t bring any bag at all. Any number of these courses can be played with any number of clubs. In many cases, three or four will do: putter, wedge, perhaps a pair of mid-irons. You can clutch them in one hand like a quiver of arrows, and play creative shots when you don’t have the just-right stick for the distance. Just one problem: where are you going to stash the booze? A lightweight bag may be in order, after all.

Bandon Dunes’ 13-hole par-3 course, the Bandon Preserve.

Join forces

Foursomes are fine. But why limit yourself? A lot of par-3 courses allow for larger groups. At Bandon Dunes, for instance, they’ll let you out on the Preserve with as many as an eight-some. At Pinehurst, they’re even more permissive. You can play The Cradle as a pack of 12, which should account for everyone on your buddies trip. The more the merrier. Just be sure to social distance, and, with so many people taking practice swings, take care that no one gets whacked with a club.

Play a team game

Four vs. Four. Six vs. Six. Low ball wins, and pick up after bogey. That will keep things moving and help ensure a payout. Otherwise, in a big group, all you’re going to get is carry-overs. And ties are boring. You want someone to claim the skins. For added excitement, set aside a special pot in case someone makes an ace (more on that later).

Ready golf, please

Let’s be clear: unless you’re competing in a tournament, this is how you should always try to play. But on a par-3 course it’s especially important. Nowhere on the planet will you look more silly pacing off your putts to see who is away.

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Embrace the quirks and customs

Who says a round of golf must be 9 or 18 holes? The Nest, at Cabot Links, is a 10-hole routing. The Sandbox, at Sand Valley, ends after 17. Par-3 courses don’t just buck convention. They cultivate fresh customs. At The Cradle, music blasts from speakers disguised as rocks hidden in the wire grass. At The Preserve, tradition calls for everyone to play putter off the tee on the closing 13th hole. In the summer of 2021, Destination Kohler plans to open the Baths, a par-3 course with water hazards that double as swimming holes. (Just do us a favor and don’t strip down to your skivvies while you’re playing. There are some things that can’t be unseen.)

Accept the limitations of your ‘Ace’

So, you smooth one off the tee and it one-hops in the jar. Congratulations! That counts as a ‘1’ on your scorecard. It just doesn’t count as an official hole-in-one. An ace is an ace, after all, but it ain’t the real deal if you make one on a course that consists exclusively of par-3s. It’s still a cool achievement, and you should celebrate. At Pinehurst, they’ll even help you mark the occasion. Complete a hole in a single stroke on The Cradle and they’ll gift you with a poker chip, emblazoned with the Pinehurst logo and the number of the hole where you kinda-sorta (except not really) pulled off one of the game’s most cherished feats.

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A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.