Industry News

Let’s get this party started: Best par 3s on Tour

By John Gordon

Has the 16th at TPC Scottsdale, site of this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, become more famous for its party than its par 3?

Unquestionably, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Squint for a moment when you’re watching this week. Try to block out the bleachers and skyboxes that encircle the hole, hosting more than 16,000 raucous and, for the most part, inebriated fans every day. (Maybe “fans” is the wrong word. “Partygoers” is more accurate.)

Imagine instead the original mounds intended to accommodate 2,000 or so spectators put in place by designers Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish when the course opened in 1986. See the hole for what it is architecturally: a relatively non-descript 163-yarder with a kidney-shaped green flanked by unremarkable bunkers.

But these days the 16th, aptly nicknamed The Coliseum, is arguably the best-known par 3 on the PGA Tour not because of its aesthetics or shot value but because of its atmosphere. Although the short-lived tradition of caddies racing one another from tee to green regrettably has been banned, every tee shot is graded with cheers or jeers. 

It’s fun. But unless you like relentless hooting and hollering, it’s neither the best place to be a spectator nor close to being the best par 3 on Tour.

Here are three of the finest examples from both perspectives, in my opinion, in chronological order per the Tour’s schedule:

No. 7 at Pebble Beach Golf Links (AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Feb. 9-12): At just 106 yards, this is the shortest hole on Tour but one of the most spectacular anywhere. The tee shot down to the green jutting into the Pacific must fight the fickle and unpredictable ocean breezes. Gaping bunkers take huge bites out of the putting surface. It is said that Sam Snead once putted off the tee in deference to the wind and made par and Eddie Merrins, no slouch himself, once made a hole-in-one here. With a 3-iron from 100 yards. Downhill.

No. 12 at Augusta National (Masters, April 6-9): “Golden Bell” is the shortest hole at Augusta, at just 155 yards. Again, swirling winds make club selection an unnerving challenge with Rae’s Creek fronting the infamously quick putting surface and one bunker in front and two behind. All sorts of mayhem have transpired here. Most recently, Jordan Spieth, leading by five shots in hopes of winning his second consecutive Masters last April, put two balls into the water, ending up with a 7 for the hole. It’s doubtful that he took much consolation from the fact that the aforementioned Weiskopf splashed five balls here in 1980, walking away with a 13. What’s that? A deca-bogey?

No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass (The Players Championship, May 11-14): Pete Dye’s iconic “island green” gets its reputation from its very existence. Surrounded by water (with the exception of a narrow walkway at the back), the hole is the ultimate “do or die” scenario. At just less than 140 yards from the back tees, it’s a wedge or 9-iron. But which? Where’s the wind? Oops. Splash. Reload. Or reload x4 as Bob Tway did when he made an even dozen here in the 2005 Players. The course is open to public golfers, who dunk an estimated 100,000 balls into the drink annually.

What are your favorites?

John Gordon, who has covered golf for more than 30 years for Canadian newspapers, magazines and a TV network, has authored eight books on the game. He lives in Midland, Ontario. Email:  gordongolf@outlook.com.  Twitter: @gordongolf.