Forget about lengthening courses! Why not build more par-three venues?
Two rather lengthy par four holes – the 18th at Muirfield and the 11th at Augusta – have witnessed the most significant moments in my career. Yet, if I asked a group of golfers to name their most ‘memorable’ or most ‘fun’ holes in a round, I guarantee that par threes would get the most mentions. I’m sure much of this has to do with the fact that when you tee it up on a par three you can view the entire hole – you can see all the features, all the hazards, and you can visualise all the ensuing drama. In fact, never mind ‘fun’, this latter aspect tends to make par threes the most intimidating holes in a round. Whereas a good golfer may expect to pick up a stroke or two on the par fives, and will also hope to birdie some of the par fours, a player never really expects to make a two and is always content with par.
I think the 12th at Augusta fully encapsulates the intimidation factor – it’s an ‘all or nothing’ shot, and it’s the one hole in the world where my caddie tells me that she starts to play whenever she walks on to the tee. Of course, this hole is stunningly beautiful as well as intimidating; and the same could be said of the 16th at Cypress Point, the 4th at Royal County Down, the 5th at Royal Melbourne, the 7th at Pebble Beach, and the 15th at Ballybunion. It is worth noting how these five holes vary greatly in length – Pebble’s 7th is less than half the length of the 16th at nearby Cypress.
Par threes are best able to produce variety and effect a real change in pace to a round of golf. If a typical course features four par threes, then an ideal quartet might comprise: one really short hole; two of medium length (but with one playing longer or calling for a different type/shape of shot) and one very demanding one. Though nowadays the ideal would probably include at least two strong par threes given that technology has blunted so many par fours. Again, in a perfect world, these short holes will offer contrasting topography, and be angled in four different directions, so allowing any wind to complicate club selection and further enhance variety.
I’m often asked if there is such a thing as a ‘good uphill par three’. I’ll usually cite the 14th at Kingston Heath and the 12th at Ballybunion as proof that there is, although there are many others, including the uphill 211-yard 13th at Sandhills in Nebraska, which I aced a couple of years ago.
Course architects often route a golf course to accommodate one or two stand-out holes and invariably these will be par threes. We are working on a project in the Dominican Republic that features seven dramatic cliff-top holes and we have configured them to ensure that the most spectacular green site is reserved for a heroic short hole played across the edge of the ocean.
Recently we were invited to propose for the design of a golf course in a similarly exotic location, but on land that was extremely hilly. After some detailed site analysis we concluded that it would be impossible to build a good ‘full length’ golf course here – at least, not without moving ludicrous amounts of earth at an exorbitant cost. We eventually proposed the construction of a par three course. Not only is it far less expensive to create such a layout but we were able to map out an extraordinary array of dramatic holes. By creating a relatively inexpensive par three layout some of the budget savings could be invested in some exceptionally attractive landscaping features.
I believe there is a great future in par three courses. They are especially appropriate for resort style golf and in situations where people do not want (or are unable) to spend the best part of half the day on the golf course. For general play, I think a large number of golfers would be more excited and more inspired by playing a sequence of diverse, interesting par three holes – rather than a potentially monotonous run of drive and pitch par fours. I often hear people suggesting that new golf courses need to be made much longer to reflect the modern game. Well, maybe in certain circumstances the opposite affords a better solution: let’s build more par three courses. To underline my point I happen to think that the most ‘fun’ and most picturesque golf course in the world is the Par Three Course at Augusta – and there’s no reason why we couldn’t achieve its equal in Britain.
— Sir Nick Faldo