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Small Wonders: Par-3 Courses are Good for the Game

Does this sound like anyone you know?

  • Will only play golf courses measuring at least 6,000 yards with a par of 70-plus.
  • The USGA Slope rating must be a minimum of 120.
  • Play a nine-hole round? Fuggedaboutit.

I personally know someone who fits the description: yours truly.

Yep, I’m quite the snob when it comes to determining what is – and what isn’t isn’t — a proper round of golf. Which makes absolutely no sense, given my modest tee-ball length and limited schedule.

I do make an exception, though, when it comes to par-3 courses. I love ’em. And it seems my affection is spreading, with high-profile mini-tracks springing up at resorts like Nebraska’s Prairie Club and, more recently, Bandon Dunes in Oregon.

The Prairie Club Nebraska

In fact, the official unveiling of Bandon Preserve on May 1 was undoubtedly the most highly anticipated – and well-covered – opening of a par-3 course in history. And rightly so. Designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Bandon Preserve is a 13-hole seaside stunner, complete with $100 greens fees. (Net proceeds go to the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance, a group dedicated to conservation of the state’s glorious southern coast.)

Bandon Dunes New Par 3 Course

Few of us are lucky enough to have a Bandon-caliber par-3 course in our backyards. But if you’re looking for a fun, quick diversion, just about any short course will do. What’s so great about these small wonders? I thought you’d never ask…

No time? No money? No problem

The two biggest reasons golf participation has declined in recent years: It’s too expensive and too time-consuming. The par-3 course overcomes both objections quite nicely, thanks.

Bandon Preserve notwithstanding, par-3 courses nearly always charge less than their full-sized counterparts. The bargain is even bigger when you forego the cart (more on that momentarily). As a for-instance, Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course – a beachside beauty that’s been ranked as America’s No. 1 short track – currently charges $22 for 18 holes. And that’s on the pricey side.

Palm Beach Golf Club Par 3

If there’s anything more precious than money, it’s time. All things considered – driving to and from the course, warming up, a post-round cocktail or two – a standard round of golf is easily a five-hour investment. Even on a busy day, an 18-hole par-3 outing should take no more than 2 ½ hours, and you’re usually looking at three hours or less, door to door.

Par-3 courses are perfect for walking

It’s a dead horse that I’m happy to keep flogging: Golf should be played on foot. I recognize that many factors conspire against us devoted walkers (oppressive heat, monster hills, vast distances between greens and tees, riding-only policies), but I have yet to encounter a par-3 course that wasn’t easy to hike.

Besides the much shorter holes, par-3s typically space each green close to the next tee. Plus, most golfers can leave the driver, fairway woods and maybe their hybrids in the trunk, lightening the load.

Bring the family

The golf industry tries desperately to get kids and families involved in the game, but let’s face it: Time and money issues make it a non-starter for many of us. Even if you’ve got plenty of both, kids tend to get bored pretty quickly on a regulation course, and taking them during peak hours – when they’ll inevitably slow down play, maybe even pitch a tantrum – is courting disaster.

Par-3 courses, on the other hand, tend to be extremely kid-friendly. The smaller confines help, and many courses welcome juniors at discounted rates or even free.

Know what else par-3s are great for? Date night. Beats the hell out of dinner-and-a-movie, not to mention putt-putt.

You won’t get bored

Sadly, you don’t see a lot of “serious” golfers on par-3 courses. Maybe they think these tracks are just for kids. Maybe they can’t stand the idea of playing an entire round without hitting the driver. Or maybe they picture themselves making birdie on every other hole – yawn, right?

Clearly, these golfers don’t know that the single most important stat in the game is greens in regulation. In other words, good iron play is the biggest key to scoring well. A par-3 round offers 18 opportunities to sharpen those irons in real-life situations, as opposed to bashing balls mindlessly into a wide-open range (especially if hitting from mats).

Take it from a genuine snob: A few rounds of par-3 golf will make you a better player. Maybe a better person, too.

Daniel MitchellDaniel Mitchell is a golf writer and contributor who lives in Jupiter, Fla., a few miles from Tiger Woods as the crow flies but worlds away in every other respect. An avid golfer since age 12, Mitchell carries a (shaky) single-digit handicap, investing far more time in his dogs than his swing.

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