Americas favorite par-3 courses


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.