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Pete Moss asks, 'What makes a great par-3?'

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


I'm not sure I know! Perhaps great par-3s are like great art - I know it when I see it.

The par-3s I consider great are very scenic and have wonderful settings, starting with the 16th at Cypress Point and working your way down the list. Par-3s are often attractive since you can take them all in at once glance. Being naturally spectacular - like Terry Hatcher's breasts* - is always a good thing for a par-3 hole.

In routing, it's easy to put a par-3 on dramatic land. At Canterberry we were required to leave canyons as wildlife corridors. Since I can control tee-shot distances on par-3s, and the shot is easier with the ball on a tee, a thrilling carry shot is the most acceptable use of rugged land.

Although sadly overdone, par-3 holes can make good and straightforward precision shot-making challenges, for similar reasons, and their greens can have smaller margins for error than par-4s. Given the number of ball marks on par-3 greens, however, it's not practical to test precision with tiny greens, so multi-tier putting surfaces with several smaller sub-targets usually work better.

Since par-3 holes are inherently less strategic than two-shot holes, carefully placed tee shots earn no advantages on the approach. As such, par-3s are good places to test specific shots, like fades or draws, high or low, or high-spin or low-spin shots.

They are good candidates for unusual surfaces, like ribbon or highly contoured greens where putting is the main challenge.

They are also a great place for concept shots, like Charles Blair MacDonald's Biarritz (a green bisected by a deep valley that calls for a hard-running shot), or Redan (which falls away and left and calls for a shot to the front-right of the green that rolls out to the back-left).

As technology shortens long par-4s and par-5s, I design par-3s of 250-300 yards routinely now, as it's the only place to test long irons and fairway metals for our best players. Also, on two- and three-shot holes players can lay back to full-wedge distance, or allow a half-wedge shot on ultra-short holes like Pebble Beach's No. 7.

Using multiple tees from different angles means they provide great opportunities to build holes that play differently each day, using varied tees and a smallish green or large green from limited tees, or a large green with large, varied tees!

They can also be an "all-or-nothing" type of hole, either via the forced carry or a green feature like a false front that may reject shots back to a valley. They can also be memorable. Using another showbiz analogy, as Curly says in "City Slickers": "There is just one thing . . . and you got to find it (or avoid it) to find true happiness."

Those kind of par-3 holes are at least memorable, if not great!

*To my future readers (or current ones with short memories or those who don't watch TV) this reference is to a long-running joke on "Seinfeld" about whether the Hatcher character had real or augmented breasts. In the show's final episode, it was revealed that they were in fact both natural and spectacular!

Jeffrey D. Brauer and his firm, Golf Scapes, have designed 40 golf courses and remodeled 80. Canterberry Golf Course in Parker, Colo., and Giants Ridge are rated among the best affordable public courses in the U.S., while his Avocet Course at Wild Wing Plantation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was a Golf Digest best new course winner, Champions Country Club is rated 5th in Nebraska and TangleRidge Golf Club is 12th in Texas. President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects during its 50th anniversary year in 1995-96, Brauer also designed Colbert Hills Golf Club at Kansas State, which opened in June 2000 as the cornerstone golf course for The First Tee program as well as the first collaboration between the PGA of America and Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.