When the PGA Tour reversed the front nine and the back nine of East Lake Golf Club for the 2017 Tour Championship, the message was clear. Ending on a par-3 just didn’t create enough drama at the conclusion of the tournament, which crowns the $10-million, season-long winner of the FedEx Cup.
East Lake, a private club in Atlanta, permanently switched the routing of its classic course with ties to Tom Bendelow, Donald Ross and Rees Jones after the tournament last fall. That leaves the Old White TPC at The Greenbrier, host of the Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., as the only course on the PGA Tour closing with a par 3.
All this leads to an interesting architectural conundrum: Should a regulation course ever end on a par 3?
It’s probably not a good idea for elite tournament courses, although it has happened a handful of times over the years at major championships. The 1997 U.S. Open on the Blue course at Congressional Country Club in Maryland was the most recent major to end on a par 3 following up the 1940 PGA Championship, when Byron Nelson won the match-play event at the West course at the Hershey Country Club in Pennsylvania (now a par-73 layout with a par-4 closer). The backlash from players and fans in 1997 forced a redesign of Congressional's historic Blue course after the event. Its old finishing hole, a par 3 over water, was replaced by a brute of a par 4 and became the 10th hole during the 2011 U.S. Open won by Rory McIlroy. Other U.S. Opens to finish on a par 3 date all the way back to 1909 at the Englewood Golf Club, a course in New Jersey redeveloped decades ago, and 1902 at the private Garden City Golf Club in New York.
Playing a par 3 is not my favorite way to end the day, either, but it’s also not the worst. That would be the dreadfully long par 4 that’s the stereotypical tough closing hole.
Quite a few courses on the planet do end on par 3s: By my research, more than 175 from around the world. Tom Doak’s original routing at the private Stone Eagle Golf Club in Palm Desert, Calif., called for a finishing par 3. His renovation projects at several classic courses - notably the No. 1 course at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago and the Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, Calif. - left their finishing par-3 holes intact.
"I would not hesitate to use a par-3 for the 18th hole if I thought it was the best solution to that part of the property. But, clients don't like it," Doak wrote at GolfClubAtlas.com. "The 19th hole at Stone Eagle was suggested as the 18th and rejected. That's how it became the 19th.
"… All that said, if I was planning a course from scratch a la The Rawls Course, I'd never think about making the 18th a par 3. For me, it's not about the difficulty of hitting driver or anything of the sort -- it's just that if a match is still going at 18, I want the drama to last a bit longer than the first guy's tee shot."
It takes a really strong finishing par 3 for the hole not to feel like an afterthought or a lame attempt at solving the problem of a lack of land for a proper routing. Some architects have done better than others. Here are my 10 favorite par-3 closers you can play at public courses around the world:
10. Ocean Links course at Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, Amelia Island, Fla.
Comment: This 135-yard hole is actually the shortest and weakest of the six par 3s on Ocean Links, a 6,108-yard, par-70 course, but it’s still strategical enough with a semi-island green in the waters of Red Maple Lake. The best three par 3s (nos. 5-6-15) are sandwiched between high dunes and the Atlantic Ocean.
9. Pierce Lake Golf Course, Chelsea, Mich.
Comment: For most of the hackers and everyday golfers playing Pierce Lake, an excellent Washtenaw County-owned muni southwest of Ann Arbor, it takes driver to avoid the front bunker and reach the green from either the tips (239 yards) or the gold tees (218 yards).
8. Cascades Course at The Omni Homestead Resort, Hot Springs, Va.
Comment: The 203-yard closer called “Taps”, rated the easiest hole on the Cascades Course, is part of a unique 3-5-5-3 finish on the iconic par-70 layout by William Flynn set in the Alleghany Mountains of southwest Virginia.
7. Inn of the Mountain Gods, Mescalero, N.M.
Comment: Men will play this beast anywhere from 190 yards from the white tees to 272 yards from the tips (the blues are 225). It’s the hardest par 3 at the Inn of the Mountain Gods, but surprisingly only the no. 10 handicap, considering how daunting the tee shot over water and between two bunkers looks.
6. Royal St. David’s Golf Club, Harlech, Wales
Comment: The 201-yard finisher completes the final five-hole loop through the dunes at Royal St. David's, a James Braid links that dates to 1894. The Par-69 course was increased to a challenging 6,629 yards in 2008. Its signature will always be the holes with views of the 13th-century Harlech Castle towering over the links.
5. Sandpiper Golf Club, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Comment: The 181-yard par 3 isn’t one of the six holes with tees or greens on the Pacific Ocean, but it’s still pretty good hole, playing over the only pond on the 7,159-yard Sandpiper Golf Club.
4. Old White TPC at The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Comment: The 175-yard 18th hole, which plays over water, was changed as part of the restoration and renovation following last year’s devastating floods that ravaged the resort. Architect Keith Foster and his staff went back to old photographs of the original C.B. Macdonald design and took out the swale within the green, replacing it with more of a thumbprint design to open up more pin placements. Putting will be a little more befuddling unless you're a Tour pro.
3. Links Course at Wild Dunes Resort, Isle of Palms, S.C.
Comment: Golfers on the tee of the 185-yard 18th hole stare off into the blue of the Atlantic Ocean, although old-timers and regulars of the Links Course still lament the loss of the original Tom Fazio hole, a dogleg par 5 destroyed by coastal erosion outside of Charleston.
2. Brora Golf Club, Brora, Scotland
Comment: Only a links as charming as the 6,201-yard Brora could get away with such a “Home Hole”, a 201-yarder that is fun, demanding and awkward all rolled into one. Slices sometimes threaten the out-of-bounds and the clubhouse on the right, especially since the elevated green requires most players to hit hybrids and fairway woods. It's almost a rite of passage for first-timers to roll back down into the valley in front of the green. Another one of my favorite, unheralded Scottish links - the Struie Course at Royal Dornoch Golf Club down the road - ends in a quirky par 3 as well.
1. Pasatiempo Golf Club, Santa Cruz, Calif.
Comment: The 169-yard closer at Pasatiempo isn’t all that tough if you can fly the barranca and avoid the four greenside bunkers. A closing thought: Pasatiempo was the ‘home’ course of Alister MacKenzie – who lived along the sixth fairway for years. If the good doctor – considered by many the greatest architect of all time – didn’t mind his course ending on a par 3, then why should we?
Do you have a favorite course that ends in a par 3? Tell us why you do or don't like ending the round that way in the comments below.