I am particularly fond of those short par-3 holes labelled the “Tiny Tims of golf” by Golden Age architect Albert Tillinghast. I am talking about a hole somewhere between 100 and 130 yards in length. The sad fact is that these types of holes are somewhat of a rarity today as golf clubs look to stretch their one-shot holes to the maximum. Of course we know length doesn’t always equate to quality – and to quote Tillinghast again: “The merit of any hole is not judged by its length but rather by its interest and its variety as elective play is apparent. It isn’t how far but how good.” Yet we continue to be obsessed with creating long golf holes and long golf courses.
In my experience the best par-3 holes I have seen (or played for that matter) are ultra-short in length. I am thinking of the 12th at Durban Country Club, the uphill 11th at Shinnecock Hills, the downhill eighth at Kingsbarnes and the 12th - played through the trees - at Noordwijske in the Netherlands. These are all remarkably interesting holes and incredibly fun to play, which is what matters the most.
In fact my favourite par-3 – the tiny seventh at Royal County Down – can’t measure much more than 130 yards off the back tee. It’s a fascinating hole. At first glance you may think of it as a bit of sleeper – requiring little more than a 9-iron, the hole features bunkers bordering the front and left side of the green. Your first glimpse of this hole comes as you walk down the sixth. The severe slope – from the front to the back of the green and into the gnarly bunker on the left – stands out like a sore thumb. To compound the problem there is short grass beyond the green which helps accelerate the ball away from the putting surface.
Imagine having a 100-yard pitch from the tee ground and then being left with a 40-yard pitch back to the pin from behind the green? This happens a lot. To make matters worse the flattest area on the green, which accounts for about 40 per cent of its total surface – and where you ideally want to land the ball – lies just beyond the front bunker which is now very much in play.
If anything, this gem proves that you don’t need a “short” hole to be 260 yards long to challenge the golfer – and let’s be honest: rarely are these ultra-long holes much fun to play. As highlighted by Robert Hunter in his wonderful golf book, The Links: “A first rate one shot hole is the acme of golf, and a series of such holes of varying length and character gives more concentrated excitement than any other type of golf.” But please forgive me favouring short over long and seeking variety in other ways, shapes or forms.
Click here to see the published article.