Designing My “Dream” Par-3 Course (Part 1: The Front Nine)

I was watching a special on the Golf Channel the other night. It featured the “best” moments in the history of the famous 17th island green at the TPC Sawgrass PLAYERS Stadium course. I recently had the pleasure to play that hole and it was quite an experience. It made me think about some of my other favorite par-3 holes and what it would look like if I could build my own “dream” par-3 course. 

I came up with a long list of worthy holes based on a mix of criteria. Unique hole designs, memorable settings/views, personal “sentimental” value—all of these elements factored in. To help narrow down the final list even further, I had to develop a few rules in order to craft my final course layout.

  1. It has to be a hole I’ve played.
  2. No single course can be represented more than once in the final 18-hole design.
  3. The number of the hole in real life must correspond with the number of the hole in this fantasy course layout. Some courses have switched nines at various points, but these are accurate to today’s routings, as far I can tell.

That certainly helped break down the list for me, but it still wasn’t easy. A few really famous holes didn’t make the final cut, along with some personal favorites. Just remember this is my personal list based on my own criteria and special rules. I guarantee there are some that I’ve forgotten about, but then again, if I’ve forgotten about them then they couldn’t have been that memorable to begin with.

Below you’ll find the front nine of my personal “dream” 18-hole par-3 course layout. The back nine will be revealed next week. There are a ton of honorable mentions listed, as you can see, so some of the most notable ones will feature stories and pictures in a another post that will ultimately follow on Golf Nomad.

There are some common elements when thinking about these great par-3 holes. Many feature water. Several feature ocean views. Many are drastically downhill. In fact, if someone were to actually construct this course, they’d have to start at the top of a mountain and work their way down one hole at a time. Yet I think the final course list offers a nice mix of distance, challenge and layout.

THE FRONT NINE:

Hole 1: Kings Valley Golf Course • 125 Yards • Crescent City, California

[Honorable Mention: Monarch Dunes (Challenge Course)]

Hopefully I don’t lose everybody on the first hole, but this one is a purely sentimental pick. There are a few reasons why. For starters, there aren’t too many regulation courses out there that start with a par-3. So immediately, I had to think of par-3 courses and executive layouts.

The main reason I picked this rinky-dink little hole at this crappy course is that it’s the first golf hole I ever played. I grew up right down the street from this 9-hole (par 28 with one very short par 4) course and it’s where I fell in love with the game of golf. Every summer I would play this course as many times as I could, so it’s very special to me. The great memory of the first hole is also that it was extremely intimidating, especially when I was 12 years old and really sucked. A very small pond (maybe 30 feet wide) stood between the tee box and the fairway. The first tee here uses a mat, which also makes things less comfortable. Add to that, you almost always had to tee off with people around the clubhouse watching. It was frightening for a novice golfer! So my personal dream course simply has to start with this hole. Unfortunately, I don’t even have any pictures of it, so the best I could do is take a crummy satellite image and point out the areas of interest to show you just how small that pond really is.

Hole 2: Bandon Trails • 166 Yards • Bandon, Oregon

[Honorable Mentions: Moreno Valley Ranch (Valley), Apple Mountain, Moorpark Country Club (Creekside), Riverwalk (Presidio)]

The second hole was a tough one, as well, since most courses don’t put a par-3 on either the first or second hole. I did think of a few good ones, though. If you go on the Bandon Dunes website and click on the tab for the Bandon Trails course, this is the hole you’ll see in the header. It is one of the signature holes out there. A fun shot over some dunes and fescue to a green with some really severe slopes. The first hole at Trails feels consistent with the other Bandon courses, but it’s on the second hole where you start to get that “inland” feel and a course layout that feels distinctly different than the rest at this incredible resort.

Hole 3: Spyglass Hill • 148 Yards • Pebble Beach, California

[Honorable Mentions: Pasatiempo, Coeur d’Alene, Mt. Woodson, Oak Valley, Pumpkin Ridge (Ghost Creek), Rio Secco, Cresta Verde, Ojai Valley Inn, Coyote Hills]

All four of the par-3’s at Spyglass Hill are magnificent. All made the Honorable Mentions list, so this choice could almost be considered a cumulative award. The third hole at Spyglass is the most memorable. A tough downhill par-3 with a gorgeous view looking directly out toward the Pacific Ocean. It features a relatively small green and there is simply not much room for error on this great hole.

Hole 4: Banff Springs • 165 Yards • Banff, Alberta (Canada)

[Salmon Run, Harbour Town, Terra Lago (South), Meadow Lake, Old Works, Soboba Springs, Redhawk, Pelican Hill (South), Hemet, Diamond Valley]

It was really hard not to pick the fourth hole at Salmon Run in Brookings, Oregon. Pictures of that hole have already appeared several times on this site. But when you get to number 15 on this list (***SPOILER ALERT***), you’ll see why I pulled a switcharoo. It also enabled me to get in one of the more famous par-3 holes I’ve had the pleasure to play. The fourth hole at Banff Springs is the signature hole of this incredible course and it’s known affectionately as “Devil’s Cauldron.” Overall, this course is one of the most scenic I’ve ever played (probably the most, in fact) and this hole is a true stand-out. Downhill tee shot over a big, cool-looking lake. The green has some severe slopes and is well-protected. If the water doesn’t get you, there are some nasty bunkers that will sure try to grab your ball. A great challenge in a beautiful setting.

Hole 5: Coeur d’Alene Resort • 132 Yards • Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

[Honorable Mentions: Mt. Shasta, Pebble Beach, Monarch Dunes, TPC Sawgrass (Dye’s Valley), Sandpines, Bandon Trails, Old Macdonald, Spyglass Hill, Champions Club at the Retreat, Moorpark Country Club (Creekside)]

Say what? I included a hole from Coeur d’Alene, but I did NOT include the world-famous floating island green? I must be crazy!

Well, I might be a little bit, but this was actually my favorite par-3 at Coeur d’Alene. My second favorite on this course would actually be the hole that follows this one, #6. I came to play the island green, but these two holes are the ones that left the biggest impression on me. The fifth hole features a slightly elevated tee shot with a spectacular view of the lake in the distance (more elevated view from #6 is even better, though). Tall trees frame the hole and some monstrous boulders are exposed for a great scene. What makes this hole so memorable is its very unique green complex with a crazy three-tiered, three-leaf clover kind of shape, surrounded by some deep and nasty bunkers that would make even Pete Dye cringe a little bit. I mean, what’s not to love here?

The picture doesn’t quite do the green justice, but this little diagram from the CDA Resort site shows how evil this hole is:

Hole 6: Bodega Harbour Golf Links • 154 Yards • Bodega Bay, California

[Honorable Mentions: Classic Club, Coeur d’Alene, Coral Canyon, Bandon Dunes, Salishan, Sea Island (Seaside)]

I really love this course and that’s why the sixth hole at Bodega Harbour gets the nod. This hole features a perfect view of the waterfront in the distance with some distinctive Bodega Bay homes in the foreground, representative of this cool little seaside community north of the Bay Area. Nice downhill shot with a severe right-to-left and back-to-front sloping green. You don’t want to go long here, but you can’t leave yourself too short either. Pretty much a do or die shot, especially if the pin is in the front left.

Hole 7: Pebble Beach Golf Links • 107 Yards • Pebble Beach, California

[Honorable Mentions: The Presidio, Old Works, Anaheim Hills, Pumpkin Ridge (Ghost Creek), Costa Mesa (Los Lagos), Pelican Hill (South), Mt. Shasta, Sea Island (Plantation)]

One of the most famous holes in the world and rightfully so. Straight down the hill with absolutely no room for error. Right out on the point, so wind is almost always a major factor. An absolutely beautiful setting for a ridiculously fun golf hole. There’s not too much more to say. It’s not hard to justify having this hole on my dream course. I’d love to sit up there all day with a wedge and just hit as many balls as I could at this green, but unfortunately that’s not likely to happen.

Hole 8: CrossCreek • 202 Yards • Temecula, California

[Honorable Mentions: Wolf Creek, Sea Ranch, Soboba Springs, Costa Mesa (Mesa Linda), Redhawk, Ocean Dunes, Spanish Bay, Old Macdonald, Avila Beach]

If I were to put this to a vote, I’m certain the eighth hole at Wolf Creek in Nevada would be a clear winner out of this group. It’s a truly spectacular hole and you can read all about it when I highlight some of the Honorable Mentions later. But the much-less-interesting CrossCreek #8 holds special personal significance because it is the only hole I’ve ever aced. October 14, 2005. It was a brisk autumn morning as the sun rose from the east. We were staring directly into it while hitting our tee shots on this downhill hole. I laced one headed straight for the pin and it looked like it landed on the front edge of the green. We couldn’t see what it did after that, though. As my group neared the green, I could not see my ball on the green and quickly became frustrated. That was, until one of the guys in our group said “maybe it’s in the hole.” We ran up there to check and sure enough, there it was. My only hole-in-one to date. Therefore, CrossCreek makes the list, no questions asked.

Hole 9: Chambers Bay • 168 Yards • University Place, Washington

[Honorable Mentions: La Purisima, Fallbrook, River Course at Alisal]

Again, I went against the grain here by selecting the non-signature hole at this renowned course (the 15th hole, “Lone Fir,” is Chambers Bay’s most publicized hole). The ninth hole left more of an impression on me for a variety of reasons. It is the highest tee box on the course and has the best view of the rest of the course with the stunning Puget Sound waters in the distance. Plus it’s a cool hole design. Drastic downhill drop to a green that slopes severely from left to right. The front/right is guarded by one of the nastiest bunkers you’ll ever see that blends seamlessly with the rugged coastal dunes this course is built on.

This hole also has a good personal story. One very cool aspect of the hole is the tee box is situated right by a pedestrian walkway at the top of the hill and somewhat near the Chambers Bay clubhouse. Well, there happened to be a pretty good-size crowd of onlookers the day I played there, which was a little nerve-wracking (especially because I was playing pretty poorly that day). I teed up and hit a shot that went directly at the stick. In fact, it hit the flag on the fly and then rolled to the front of the green. It got a small ovation, I took a sarcastic bow and it was the most memorable moment of my visit to this amazing course. I think this hole will make for a great setting at the 2015 U.S. Open.

There’s the front nine. Back nine will be posted next week and then some of the noteworthy Honorable Mentions will follow in a subsequent post sometime after that.

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