A Great Debate: Should courses end with a par 3? The 12 best public tracks that do

When the PGA Tour reversed the front nine and the back nine of East Lake Golf Club for the 2016 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 Deegan's Dozen, my 12 favorite par-3 closers you can play at public courses around the world:

12. Old Course at the Marriott® St. Pierre Hotel & Country Club, Chepstow, Monmouthshire, Wales

Comment: When the Old Course at the Marriott® St. Pierre Hotel & Country Club hosted the 1996 Solheim Cup, the difficult 18th hole became the 16th hole to make sure it was in play for the majority of the matches. The course's signature shot is this tee shot, a 236-yard bomb over the lake's edge to a raised green. It has ruined many a round, even for pros like Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and other legends who competed on the course in the defunct Dunlop Masters and Epson Grand Prix match play events from the 1970s to early 1990s.

11. Brackenridge Park Golf Course, San Antonio, Texas

Comment: The beloved 6,300-yard muni of Brackenridge Park by A.W. Tillinghast remains one of the country's great value plays. The oldest public golf course in Texas was the first-ever host to the Texas Open in 1922 until 1959. The original holes 15-18 were lost to road development, so the current 180-yard 18th plays over a pond.

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. EDITOR'S NOTE: Course closed in 2017.

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.

What a #golfcourse! @PlammoSport #RoyalStDavids #NorthWales #GolfApp #connecting #golfers #uk #playmoregolf

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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.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Niagara Falls Country Club, a Tillinghast design, has a mid-length par 3 finisher, surrounded by a great collection of Tillie bunkers. It is home of the Porter Cup, a top amateur event for years, and has provided some great finishes. It comes right after a brute of a par 4 at #17.

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Echo Falls in Snohomish Washington has an island green par three that finishes at the club house for great viewing by all enjoying the restaurant and bar.

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I love a finishing par three that is a challenge. My grandfather, Alexander H. Findlay (see LINKS summer 2013 pgs 60-63) in which a very good article was put together by Steve Pike. Alex loved to finish an 18 with a good par 3. Take for example Pittsburg Field Club which hosted a PGA championship finishes with a great uphill 3. Of course, you mentioned the Greenbrier which also finishes with a 3, Alex designed the original course there. In Basking Ridge NJ Alex designed the finishing par 3 that is slightly uphill if my memory is correct. You can start with a pitching wedge stretching to 200 yards. The beautiful thing about a par three is the extreme difficulty involved. It's much easier to score a birdie on a par 5, less so on a par 4 seldom on a par 3.
So you want to make your concluding holes eventful in which the outcome could easily change the ultimate winner right to the end. Richard Findlay is my name and I am Alex's grandson. The best to you in your game. Maybe we will meet on a truly unique course that Alex designed.

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Hi Richard, found a Findlay course in Rhode Island that has not been attributed to him in many places. Found an old New England Magazine advertisement that names him as the architect. Been trying to find your contact info online but wondering if you have ever heard of Jamestown Golf Course in Jamestown, RI as an Alex Findlay design.

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I like a course that ends with a birdie-able short par 4 or 5 for some last minute lightning, better than a par 3!

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Our weekend grudge matches frequently come down to the last hole. The course we play has a very nice par five with risk/reward on both the tee shot and the second shot. You couldn’t ask for a better way to end a tight match. Not a big fan of either a par three or brutal par four as a finisher. To me the critical element is choice, more than one way to do it, with multiple chances for good and evil to prevail.

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Weak, hate courses ending on Par 3

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If the par 3 is over 250 yards and very difficult go for it

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I agree with you, it's probably not a good idea for elite tournament courses, but for leisure golf course it's may be OK. Some people says :" I got birdie on the last hole and I can sleep well to night." It's gives a relieved feeling.

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Idle Hour Country Club in Macon, Georgia ends with a par 3. It’s a narrow, two-tiered green which is often seeing a crosswind. It’s picturesque and difficult. The GSGA has held the Georgia State Amateur Championship at Idle Hour a record eight times. So it must not be too bad.

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Gil Hanse's masterpiece Boston Golf Club closes strong with 15 thru 18 going par 5,4,5,3. The best courses are not formulaic, but natural with inspiring nuances. Televised events manipulate the action appealing to a mass audience. Great golf courses and exciting tournament golf courses can be mutually exclusive.

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A Great Debate: Should courses end with a par 3? The 12 best public tracks that do