What if you could play a beautiful and challenging golf course in less than three hours? Less than two hours maybe? Well, you can if you play any one of the country's best par-3 courses -- whether they're 18 holes or nine holes.
Sure, there are times when you want to get out and see what you can do on a 7,000-yard beast (on the appropriate tees, of course). After all, if you like hitting the driver, that's pretty unlikely on a par-3 layout. But even then you might be surprised. The Challenge Course at Monarch Dunes on the central California coast, for example, has a par 3 where most players could hit drivers. But I digress.
What makes a great par-3 golf course? Basically the same elements that make any course exceptional -- beautiful scenery, terrific conditioning, an interesting layout and plenty of challenge. With that said, here are some of my favorites across the U.S.
Bandon Preserve at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore.
It shouldn't be any surprise that the best par-3 course in the country is arguably at the best golf resort in the country. Bandon Preserve, a Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw design that opened in 2012, is a 13-hole short course with views of the Pacific Ocean on every hole. It can't get any better than that. Additionally, Bandon Dunes owner Mike Keiser donates 100 percent of the net proceeds from this course to the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance, a non-profit organization he founded to support economic, ecological and tourism initiatives on the southern Oregon coast (click here for more information).
Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course in Palm Beach, Fla.
Like Bandon Preserve, this 18-hole municipal par-3 course has ocean views galore, except it's on the other coast. The Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course sits right between the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway on some expensive real estate on the southeast coast of Florida. This all-paspalum course, redesigned recently by Raymond Floyd, is always in great shape, and the holes are really interesting, especially the ocean holes. To top off the experience, the course got a new clubhouse about a year ago. With even better views of the ocean than many spots on the golf course, the restaurant on the second level, al Fresco Pizzeria Ristorante & Bar, is killing it with golfers and non-golfers alike.
Threetops at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Mich.
Located at the Treetops Resort in Gaylord, this northern Michigan gem is certainly among the best two or three par-3 courses in the country with mountains and elevation change as its primary scenic draw. For many years, Threetops at Treetops Resort was home to the ESPN Par 3 Shootout. In 2001, Lee Trevino aced the 150-yard seventh, which plays three clubs less because of the highly elevated tee. He won more than $1 million for that shot. In case you're wondering, Threetops yields between 30 and 60 aces each season.
Challenge Course at Monarch Dunes in Nipomo, Calif.
While the 12-hole Challenge Course at Monarch Dunes, designed by Damian Pascuzzo and Steve Pate, is paired with a really good championship course, it can stand on its own just fine. Most unique are the dunes, fescue and links features that make up these holes. Located near San Luis Obispo on the central coast of California, what really makes the Challenge Course interesting are the seemingly endless array of tee options, which means you can play a totally different golf course each time.
Origins Golf Club in WaterSound, Fla.
Origins Golf Club, located near Watercolor Resort on the Emerald Coast of northwest Florida, should be a model for future golf courses. Why? Because it makes great use of land and is so flexible. Designed by Davis Love III, it can be played as a six-hole layout with regulation par 3s, par 4s and par 5s, a nine-hole executive course with par 3s and par 4s, and a 10-hole par-3 course between 1,600 and 1,800 yards. The design, which actually harkens back to old golf courses in Scotland, encourages golfers of every level and background.
The Links at Terranea in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
The Links at Terranea has a Pacific Ocean backdrop, so right away it makes our list of favorites. Located just south of Los Angeles in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., this family friendly nine-hole design is a blast to play. The layout includes elevation changes, contoured greens, creative bunkering and great views through a wide range of classic strategic elements. Hole lengths range from 50 to 180 yards.
Top of the Rock Golf Course near Branson, Mo.
Top of the Rock Golf Course is Jack Nicklaus' best (and only) short course. This short Nicklaus Signature course is also a little pricey -- $115 for nine holes at last check -- but it does include the additional putting course, a bag of range balls and a canyon and nature trail tour. Located just south of Branson, Mo., which is an emerging golf destination, Top of the Rock Golf Course is part of Big Cedar Lodge and located high above Table Rock Lake, offering great views and terrific conditions. It's also an Audubon Signature Cooperative Sanctuary course.
Cloud Nine Short Course at Angel Park Golf Club in Las Vegas
The Cloud Nine Short Course at Angel Park Golf Club is actually 12 holes, but at night it reverts to nine because those are the holes that are lighted. As part of a 48-hole complex, this may be its best attribute because it allows you to play after the sun goes down. Many of the holes on Cloud Nine were inspired by some of the best par 3s in the world, including the 17th on the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Florida.
Barn Hollow at Hawk's View Golf Club in Lake Geneva, Wis.
One of Lake Geneva's best daily fees is Hawk's View Golf Club, which not only has a terrific championship course, but also a great 18-hole par-3 course called Barn Hollow, named for the old abandoned barn on the property. Like the main course (called Como Crossings), it's well conditioned and has plenty of water and sand, but its greens may be even more challenging. It's a great course for families or groups that want to play an extra 18 and wager a couple of bucks with a cold beverage or two.
Short Course at Magnolia Grove Golf Club in Mobile, Ala.
There are several par-3 courses on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, but the Short Course at Magnolia Grove Golf Club in Mobile, Ala., is not only the best of the lot, but also one of the best in the country. Anything but easy, there are plenty of forced carries over marshes to bulkheaded greens with plenty of slopes. It's a lot of golf course, even for good players.
Do you have a favorite par-3 golf course in your home town or favorite vacation destination? Let us know in the comments below.