No great golf course, at least none of my favorites, is complete without an exciting, short par 4. Ideally, the green can be reached off the tee in the right conditions and you're playing the right tee box.
Riviera Country Club's 10th hole gets more ink than any other short par 4. Is it the world's best? Its perplexing decisions off the tee and around the green depending on the pin position, not to mention its location next to the clubhouse affording an ever-present gallery, certainly puts it in the discussion.
The 18th on the Old Course in St. Andrews may be the only drivable par 4 that is more famous. Despite being the oldest known course in the world, far too few great golf courses finish with a short par 4, often times opting for a brutal, hang-on-for-dear-life closer instead. I think the best rounds are those that finish with a birdie chance, whether that's a par 5 or a short par 4. Part of what makes a loop at St. Andrews so fulfilling is the very real chance at birdie following the extremely difficult penultimate hole.
I grew up on a 5,000-yard 1920s-course in Ann Arbor Mich. - Huron Hills - that was full of short par 4s, especially on the hilly back nine. Some were blind, others downhill, others over trees. Yet none were alike. I later fell in love with the 6th hole at the University of Michigan course, which played less than 300 yards. I'd never seen anything like the kidney-shaped, elevated two-tiered green. I holed out for eagle once - a vivid career highlight all these years later.
My adulthood home course, Lions Municipal, culminates with a sub-300-yard par 4. According to my Garmin Golf scoring app, it is my lowest hole average on the course, and if your drive can catch the cart path down the left side of the fairway, a couple power kicks will get you on the green no problem. A birdie finish makes you want to come back, right?
Here is a roundup of some of the most memorable short par 4s I've played in my travels that are available to the public. I've tried to spread the wealth around geographically, stylistically and by architecture firm. Tell me your favorites in the comments below!
King's North at Myrtle Beach National - No. 3
I have fond memories of King's North at Myrtle Beach National during my time living in Myrtle Beach. You've surely heard about the "Gambler" island fairway on the 6th hole but that's not the only time this Arnold Palmer design eggs you on, especially if you can hit a right-to-left longball. Case in point is the par-4 3rd hole. An elevated tee shows you options: bail out right or go for the green. Considering every choice requires a forced carry over water, you may as well swing the big stick, right?
Princeville Makai Golf Club - No. 14
Short par 4s are generally not associated with the era of architecture dominated by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Pete Dye, but Robert Trent Jones Jr. has a sneaky good amount of cool, short par 4s in his portfolio. It's fitting that he would have several in the breezy and easy climes of Hawaii. I really love his redesign of the Princeville Makai Golf Club on Kauai, and its cliffside climax comes at the par-4 14th hole. It resembles similar strategy to that of No. 16 at Bandon Dunes in that that the farther you bang it away from the coastline, the safer the play, and the hazards are diagonal. But you're on vacation, why on earth would you lay up?
Forest Dunes - 17th
Death, taxes and Weiskopf designs with a short par 4. They are the calling card of the architect and why his portfolio is a favorite among amateur golfers. Book a tee time on a Weiskopf course and play the right tees and there will surely be a par 4 you can take a swing at.
So, where to start? The 17th is that hole at Forest Dunes, with a wispy look and shaping from the tee that calls for the high draw.
Cabot Cliffs - 17th
Here's a hit-and-hope effort from Coore-Crenshaw. It has one of the most dramatic tee boxes in golf, perched overlooking the cliffs. You're also still full of adrenaline from the even more famous tee shot on the par-3 16th at Cabot Cliffs.
From the 17th tee, you can see virtually nothing of the hole. Nothing at all besides some of the most dramatic cliffs anywhere. If you can simply hit a drive that carries the cliffline, your job is done. A steep slope straight down to the green will do the rest. It's time to enjoy the walk and see where the ball ended up. In the two times I've played it, I never found my ball (likely didn't carry far enough) and ended up in a greenside bunker. If the wind is in your face, you can putt it from the fairway downhill and onto the green.
As widely acclaimed by amateur and traveling golfers as the Coore-Crenshaw firm is, they haven't been shy about building bold and, at times, controversial short par 4s.
TPC Colorado - 6th
Can't get a member hookup at The Riv? TPC Colorado (currently offering limited public rounds until memberships sell out) has a handful of odes to classic architecture, including the reachable 6th hole. It's nicknamed "Riviera" and inspired by the famous 10th, though it is considerably wider and larger in scale, both under foot and with the Rockies as a backdrop.
River Course at Blackwolf Run - 9th
Pete Dye was generally not a fan of drivable par 4s and the PGA Tour's altering of the 12th hole at TPC Sawgrass was controversial. That isn't to say they are totally absent from his portfolio. Dye is at his rule-breaking best at Blackwolf Run, with his "dogleg par 3" 13th hole, but before then his short par-4 9th hole has a similar look. You can take three separate lines off the tee, with the farthest right being straight to the green along the river. The average amateur will have a hard time making par on frankly any of the 72 holes at Kohler, so taking a risk on one of the easier holes is Dye's intimidation at his best.
Pacific Dunes - 6th
Give the people what they want. It's safe to say you could attribute at least some of the success of Bandon Dunes to the fact there are short par 4s galore on property. Bandon Dunes' cliffside 16th is the most famous, but don't sleep on the Pac Dunes' 6th, which, while off the coast, is far less forgiving. An elevated green is reachable from the tee but only if you take a perilous line. The bailout play is to the left but it won't leave you with an easy pitch to the green, which has a falloff long. I have memories of this green site exposing my nervy wedge from the left.
Wolfdancer Golf Club - 15th
Near Austin, Arthur Hills' Wolfdancer course is one of the architect's most reputable resort courses and the 15th hole is one of the demanding Central Texas course's best birdie chances. The 15th is a highlight of the low-lying holes along the Colorado River with a scenic grove setting. The green has been propped up on all sides, so the approach shot, wherever it is from, will be tricky. Pray for some wind at your back and get it up as close as you can.
The Course at Sewanee - 8th
Sweetens Cove has earned plenty of acclaim for its short par 4s. Personally, I loved the nearby 9-hole Course at Sewanee every bit as much and possibly more. Considering the difficulty of both of its par 3s, the opportunity for a birdie on the drivable 8th (315 yards from the tips) is welcomed at a great time in a match. But you'll have to thread the needle with a high draw to run it up.
World Woods Pine Barrens - 15th
Fazio isn't as known for drivable par 4s as some of his contemporaries, but a standout among his public portfolio is the 15th at Pine Barrens, which may be the best combination of value and fun among his designs. The broad and rugged shaping Fazio employs on this ode to Pine Valley is in full view from the 15th tee, where a sliver of fairway begs golfers to take the shortcut over waste area.
North Berwick, St. Andrews 18th holes
I go back and forth between which is my favorite Scottish course, but both North Berwick and the Old Course finish the same way: short par 4s back into town with respective valleys of sin serving as pretty much the only method of defense (besides O.B. right and the accompanying fear of taking out a windshield) on otherwise relatively flat ground.
Pilgrims Run 18th
Then there's the 18th at Pilgrim's Run, a perennial Michigan favorite. The finisher here is named "Entice" and is a dogleg right around a pond to a perched green. It's not an easy reach for most amateur players. But how enticing is it? When I played it, a foursome had snuck a bucket of range balls with them in their cart and unloaded the whole thing from the tee box.
If that isn't an endorsement for the joys of a drivable par 4, then what is?