To speak in stock market terms, I am long short courses.
Until recently, popular golfthink held par-3 courses up as more or less throwaway facilities, better than no golf at all but ultimately too small to mean much. They didn't get a lot of love in the big magazines, partly because until the mid-2000s there were too many "big courses" being built to allow the little ones any sunshine.
That's all changed. Amid the post-Great Recession slowdown in big-course construction, short courses are having a moment. Actually, they're having a decade. They have popped up in all corners of golf in recent years, particularly at sought-after golf resorts from Bandon Dunes to PGA National and seemingly everywhere in between.
Golfers have awakened to the fact that well-thought-out, small-footprint courses can deliver a surprising amount of golfing pleasure, especially after a tussle with an on-site "big course." Operators have realized that charging a modest fee can still net out nicely, especially when cocktails are close at hand for golfers looking to keep the party going.
If its first two years are any indication, the 2020s will be a big decade for small golf. The list of par-3 courses that will have come online in 2020 and 2021 is staggering, and there's a lot more where that came from starting in 2022, too.
But before we look at what's coming, here's a look at the history of par-3 courses.
O.G. par-3 golf courses: Pre-1990
Short-form golf has been part of the game since its origins in Scotland. Golf has been played over Edinburgh's Bruntsfield Links since the 1400s, and the current Bruntsfield Links Short Hole Golf Club's 36-hole pitch-and-putt routing has been used since 1895. The Wee Course, or Children's Course, at North Berwick dates to 1888. Other early par-3 courses of note in Scotland include the Dinvin Course at Portpatrick Golf Club (1912) and Gleneagles Hotel (1928). Several other clubs have a short course that accompanies the main layout, and there are scores of par-3 courses in the style of super-short pitch-and-putts throughout Great Britain and Ireland.
Many of these courses are, understandably, rudimentary: cheap and cheerful places to stretch the legs and try and wedge it close on greens that are often shaggy. It took a while before a more formal par-3 course experience could emerge, particularly in America.
It took no less an institution than Augusta National Golf Club to legitimize the par-3 course stateside. Alister MacKenzie had provided for the building of a nine-hole "approach and putt course" in his 1932 course plan, but it wasn't until 1958 that George Cobb and chairman Clifford Roberts built the club's Nine Hole Course. The institution of the Par-3 Contest beginning at the 1960 Masters granted unprecedented visibility to short-form golf.
Other notable par-3 courses followed in the 60s, like the Palm Beach Golf Course, designed by Dick Wilson. It remains one of America's most scenic shorts, sitting on a slender tract between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. The course's newfound fame from a 2009 renovation by Raymond Floyd foreshadowed the most resurgence of par-3 courses.
Also in the 60s, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., built several of the first "executive" courses, which mixed the odd par 4 in with mostly par 3s. The par-58 Tecolote Canyon Golf Course, opened in 1964 in San Diego, is one example of this trend.
That same year, architects Alfred Tull and Ted Robinson, Sr., brought par-3 golf to the small Atlantic island of Bermuda. Turtle Hill Golf Club, which sits on the grounds of the chic Fairmont Southampton hotel, includes several dramatic drop-shot holes and arresting ocean views. It has hosted the World Par 3 Championship several times and is a must-play for Bermuda-bound travelers.
Par-3 courses would really start to take hold in the 1990s, with the current boom beginning in the late 2000s.
The precursors: Notable par-3 golf courses from 1992 through 2019
1992: Threetops at Treetops Resort | Gaylord, Mich.
Several made-for-TV matches put this Northern Michigan nine-hole Rick Smith design full of drop-shot holes on the map. An ace by Lee Trevino in 2001 remains a highlight of the bygone era of "silly-season" golf.
1992 and 1993: Robert Trent Jones Trail | Various sites, Ala.
Seven of the Alabama-spanning Trail's 11 sites have par-3 courses, all built in '92 and '93 to complement the big, long main courses at their respective sites. Hampton Cove, Oxmoor Valley, Grand National and Magnolia Grove have 18-holers, while the shorties at Silver Lakes, Cambrian Ridge, and Highland Oaks each have nine holes.
1998: Knight's Play Golf Center | Apex, N.C.
Par-3 golf courses proved a great platform for the rise of night-golf opportunities, especially in population centers. Longtime Pete Dye collaborator David Postlethwait designed this 27-holer in North Carolina's busy Research Triangle, the nexus of cities Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. The course offers 9-hole tee times until 9:00 pm.
2010: The Horse Course at the Prairie Club | Valentine, Neb.
Complimenting this resort's two huge 18-holers is Gil Hanse's tiny choose-your-own-adventure playground, with 10 greens of varying sizes where there's scarcely a limit to the fun shots visitors can dream up.
2012: Bandon Preserve at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort | Banson, Ore.
Two decades after the RTJ Trail's exploits in short-course golf, Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw added 13 spectacular par 3s to a finger of land between the iconic resort's original David McLay Kidd course and C&C's own Bandon Trails layout. The Preserve's high-profile opening undoubtedly got the attention of many golf resort operators.
2014: Top of the Rock at Big Cedar Lodge | Ridgedale, Mo.
It's not often that the splashiest course at a resort is the shortest, but the adventure that has been the development of Johnny Morris' sprawling, idiosyncratic ode to the Ozarks has been anything but conventional. Equal parts golf experience and rock-and-water garden tour, Jack Nicklaus' nine-hole design is unique and over-the-top in a good way. It eventually hosted a PGA Tour Champions event. Four years later, Gary Player's 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 layout gave this resort two very different short courses for golfers to enjoy.
2014: #miniDunes at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club | Maricopa, Ariz.
This six-holer advanced the concept of building a short course into a facility's practice range. It has proven to be a trendsetter, not via the hashtag in its name but in the way it allows course operators to toggle between uses.
2016: Bad Little Nine at Scottsdale National Golf Club | Scottsdale, Ariz.
Chances are you won't get to play this course situated at golf equipment brand PXG owner Bob Parsons' swanky, ultra-private desert digs, but the Jackson/Kahn layout is innovative in the way it boldly stretches the boundaries of what short-course golf can be. The perched-up green of the 99-yard closing hole is probably smaller than your dining room.
2017: The Cradle at Pinehurst Resort | Pinehurst, N.C.
Carving out a couple acres and rerouting the opening holes on the #3 and #5 courses gave Gil Hanse and team all the room they needed to build a compact, crazy-fun nine practically on this historic resort's front lawn. The Pinecone cocktail cart stationed on the course gets a lot of business.
2018: The Sandbox at Sand Valley Golf Resort | Rome, Wisc.
Coore & Crenshaw fashioned a cheeky romp at this Wisconsin cousin-property of Bandon Dunes, which also has an odd number of holes: 17. The whimsical approach invites golfers to try not just high-lofted pitches but scooting bumps and even long putts.
2020 and 2021: Par-3 courses gain in popularity
The last two years have seen short courses pop up at both high-profile and up-and-coming facilities, including some standalone concepts and municipal courses. It turns out that drastically reducing the amount of land needed for a course makes the economics work nicely. Not only does the staff have less to maintain, the course's customers can pay a lower rate and operators can succeed on volume. Everybody wins.
Cabot Nova Scotia - The Nest | Cabot, Nova Scotia, Canada
Rod Whitman's Links and Coore & Crenshaw's Cliffs layouts helped set this Maritime retreat apart from others north of the border. The 10-hole Nest, by Whitman and Dave Axland, adds yet another fun amenity for golfers at this Dream Golf (Bandon, Sand Valley) property.
Forest Dunes Resort - Bootlegger Short Course | Roscommon, Mich.
Between its 90s-chic original course and Tom Doak's reversible Loop concept, this Northern Michigan resort already had plenty of variety for its visitors. Now, with a 10-holer by Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb, it's even more eclectically awesome.
Golf Club Les Bordes - Wild Piglet | Les Bordes, France
Gil Hanse and his Cavemen built a brand-new big course at this resort and club last year, and they tossed in this 10-hole short layout for good measure. Pourquoi pas?
Jack's Bay - The Playground | Eleuthera, Bahamas
Tiger Woods brought golf back to the Bahamian island of Eleuthera with a 10-hole par-3 course on cliffs above the ocean, kicking off the development of a residential community that seeks to also build a big 18-hole course in the coming years.
Timpanogos Golf Course - The Pasture | Provo, Utah
Honoring the past, when a cattle company built a nine-holer in Provo's pastures, architect Kevin Atkinson fashioned a lighted nine-hole par-3 course at this muni as part of a larger course renovation effort. It's a casual spot, but there are a couple rules, including this one: no more than eight golfers per group.
Pebble Beach Golf Links - The Hay | Pebble Beach, Calif.
Tiger Woods and consulting architect Beau Welling breathed new life into this gorgeous bit of ground near the resort's Lodge, complete with a yard-for-yard replica of the famous seaside 107-yard 7th on the big course.
The Baths of Blackwolf Run | Kohler, Wisc.
Owner Herb Kohler lent a hand to architect Chris Lutzke, who fashioned 10 all-out-fun tests here, complete with the cheeky features and pot bunkers that mentor and doge of Kohler Golf Pete Dye would have been very proud of.
PGA National Resort - The Staple | Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Architect Andy Staples turned one course into two at PGA National, converting the run-down old Squire's first and 18th holes into this inventive, nine-holer with no set tee boxes while fashioning the rest of the routing into a quirky match-play course. Groups are encouraged to start a hole from wherever they feel and tackle a wild and wonderful set of putting surfaces along the way.
Belmont Golf Course - Little Bell | Richmond, Va.
In reducing a tired 18-holer to 12, Davis Love III's design group seized an opportunity to introduce this six-hole short, patterned after some famous par 3s from the career of original architect A.W. Tillinghast.
Trappers Turn Golf Club - 12North | Wisconsin Dells, Wisc.
Two-time U.S. Open champion and longtime broadcaster Andy North teamed up with up-and-coming architect Craig Haltom to add a fresh dozen par 3s to this facility in one of the Badger State's hottest resort markets to complement a 27-hole championship layout.
Pioneer Pointe | Middleton, Wisc.
This Madison suburb is about to grow by 13 holes, designed by Todd Quitno and each patterned on one of the template holes from the work of Golden Age architects C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor. It's a contemporary golf experience, a residential community and a history lesson rolled into one, with holes ranging from 100 to 280 yards.
Gamble Sands - Quicksands | Brewster, Wash.
David McLay Kidd's gentle and gorgeous big course in central Washington has been wildly popular, so he came back to turn up the volume - literally - with a 14-hole short layout where rock music provides the sound palette.
The Preserve at Oak Ridge - The Patch | Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Complimenting a full-size practice facility at the heart of a residential community outside Knoxville, Bill Bergin built a dozen par 3s that meander out and back.
Skamania Lodge - Gorge 9 | Stevenson, Wash.
This outdoorsy resort used to have a big course, but they recently downsized in order to give guests some shorter-form golf possibilities: a walking-only short nine with synthetic tees and greens and an 18-hole putting course.
Barnbougle - Bougle Run | Bridport, Tasmania
Bougle Run isn't technically a par-3 course because two of its 14 holes are par 4s, but...close enough, especially since Bill Coore designed it to complement the already popular Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm courses here.
2022 and beyond: New par-3 golf courses set to debut
There are no signs of the par-3 course boom slowing as we get deeper into the 2020s. Any golf facility with a couple acres to spare should look into the feasibility of such a space.
Among the par-3 courses in development are a Nicklaus-designed short at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida's Sandhill Crane Golf Course; a layout called Hoot at Owl's Nest Resort in northern New Hampshire and even a new bit of golf at Australian Sandbelt standout Kingston Heath Golf Club. A new short course designed by Tom Clark and Kevin Atkinson will open next fall at eastern Oklahoma's resurgent Shangri-La Resort, and the new PGA Frisco complex in Texas will have a short course to compliment its new Gil Hanse and Beau Welling big courses. Manistee National in northern Michigan is working on a short course, too. A muni near me, Fairwinds Golf Club in Fort Pierce, Fla., also has a little bit of bonus golf underway. There is a long runway ahead for short golf courses.