Americas favorite par-3 courses

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 1, 2010, 10:23 pm

Golf course rankings go a long way in helping determine the best courses in America, but par-3 courses usually are left out of the conversation. In this edition of Travel Punch Shots, senior writers Mike Bailey and Brandon Tucker weigh in on two short courses that rise above the rest.


The best par-3 golf course and most fun par-3 golf course can be two very different things.

The best I've played is Threetops at the Treetops Resort in northern Michigan. This nine-hole par-3 course is so good it's as much of a must-play as the Tom Fazio and Rick Smith championship courses that wind around it. There are alternate greens, Augusta-like holes over small ponds with flowers blooming, and a handful of sharply downhill shots.

But I don't think par-3 courses should set out to be as good as championship courses, because what usually happens is that it has to be built so expensively that a round costs more than people are willing to pay. Fork over more than $20-$30 to play golf, you better be hitting some drivers.

Par 3s are better when they are designed cheaply and for beginners and juniors, ideally located in a convenient, urban environment. I regularly play Butler Park Pitch & Putt, a $7 par-3 course in my home of Austin, Texas. The longest hole is 118 yards, the greens are scruffy, the tees are dirt, pace of play is awful, dogs are running around off-leash and you can bring as much of your own beer or liquor as you wish. Play barefoot or shirtless and no one even bats an eye.

But I've introduced at least a dozen people to golf on this course and it's one of my favorite ways to spend the weekend – so long as I don't get pelted in the back by a shanked ball, which happens.


For years, the knock on most par-3 golf courses has been conditioning. At the very least, par-3 courses should have good greens so putting is enjoyable. Nice surrounds and approaches would help as well. But as a whole, par-3 facilities are generally disappointing, uninteresting to better players and generally unfulfilling for avid golfers.

I realize it's easy to price a par-3 golf course out of the market, but if it's fun enough and the price is fair, people will play it. Plus, we need a paradigm shift in the golf industry. Many golfers feel cheated if they don't get in 18 holes, but let's face it: Golf is still too time-consuming and too difficult for its own good. Building more quality par-3 courses and shorter courses, such as 12-hole and nine-hole layouts, could help alleviate that.

Last year I had the pleasure of playing one of the most interesting par 3s in the world. The 12-hole Challenge Course at Monarch Dunes in Nipomo, Calif., near San Luis Obispo on the central California coast, has more going for it than most regulation golf courses. Designed by Damian Pascuzzo and former tour player Steve Pate, this is a golf course that can be played infinite ways, and most players can use every club in the bag depending on what tees they use.

There are big natural bunkers, small bunkers, lakes and high grass on this links-style golf course that's as scenic as most regulation courses. And the large undulating greens have six different pin positions.

The Challenge Course is a great warm-up (and is often discounted as such) for the excellent Old Course at Monarch Dunes Golf Club. But the Challenge has star power in its own right – if golfers will only give it a chance. If it was close to me, I'd play it every week.

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”

Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)

Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.