The 9 best 'bonus' nines in golf

Don't skip the extra nine holes - play 27 holes! - at these famous facilities.
The yellow course, aka the third nine, at Portmarnock Golf Club is an excellent loop among the dunes.

Not all 27-hole facilities are similar in how they treat their nine extra holes.

While most courses try to market and sell all three nines as interchangeable, some facilities consider their extra nines holes as a separate course. Their length, characteristics or green fees tend to be uniquely different from what's offered on the main 18.

For years, I ignored these "bonus" nines at famous golf clubs, thinking there must be a reason they aren't the main attraction. That all changed on a trip to Ireland a few years ago. Subsequent visits to Canada and Northern Ireland confirmed the notion that exploring the unknown or unheralded nine might be the most joyful experience in golf. When you tee off with no expectations, and come away feeling like you just discovered a gem "hidden" in plain sight, it's the most euphoric feeling. I've collected nine of them in the list below.

In my opinion, playing all 27 holes is the best - perhaps ONLY - way to experience these famous places.

  1. Tunnel Mountain Course at Fairmont Banff Springs, Alberta, Canada
    The Tunnel nine intermingles with the original Stanley Thompson holes at the Fairmont Banff Springs.

    The Tunnel Mountain Course joined Stanley Thompson's masterful Rundle and Sulphur nines at the Fairmont Banff Springs 62 years later. If Thompson's work wasn't so well known in Canada, most golfers would have no idea the 3,287-yard Tunnel has only been around since 1989. It's scenic and sporty. Note its 469-yard par-5 6th.

  2. Yellow nine at Portmarnock Golf Club, Ireland
    Shadows creep along the dunes at Portmarnock Golf Club's yellow nine.

    Sadly, American tourists treat Portmarnock's Yellow nine like a stray dog, looking away when they should be paying it more attention. They stick to Portmarnock's Championship Course that has hosted the Irish Open 18 times not realizing how brightly the Yellow shines. With three greens and one tee near the coast, it boasts better views than the big links, including a drivable par 4 parallel to the water, the 300-yard 4th. It's also easier for scoring, a trait everybody appreciates fresh off a trans-Atlantic flight or at the end of a week's worth of walking Irish links. With a total par of 37, three par 5s allows for an extra chance at birdie. What's not to love?

    Golf Packages
    Dublin, County Dublin
    FROM $547 (USD)
    Golf Packages
    County Down, Northern Ireland
    FROM $607 (USD)

  3. White Clouds at Sun Valley Resort, Idaho
    No. 5 at White Clouds.

    White Clouds, across the street from Trail Creek, is a fan favorite at the 45-hole Sun Valley Resort in Idaho. Just ask our users, who have all given five stars. Golfer 'brittped' wrote "(I) wish this course had 18 holes." Another user 'rjb7911' added: "Wow. I recommend that you play this 9 hole course twice for 2 reasons - you will not be as distracted by the scenery the second time around and you will (maybe) know how to play the tricky back to back par 5s. The higher you get, the more spectacular the course and you will find at least a couple of highly challenging holes up there. You will also have a lot of fun!"

  4. Carne Golf Links, Bellumet, Ireland
    The par-3 second hole of the Kilmore Course at Carne Golf Links tumbles to a green surrounded by magnificent dunes.

    When I first visited Carne in the remote corner of northwest Ireland in 2015, the new Kilmore 9, designed by Jim Engh Design and McIntosh Golf Design in 2013, was played as a "bonus" nine. Although the original Eddie Hackett routing already ranked among the top 25 courses in Ireland, the dramatic dunescape of towering sandhills made the Kilmore 9 extra special. I joined the chorus of writers and raters, begging Carne to merge the Kilmore 9 with the back nine of the Hackett to form an Irish links unlike any other. We got our way. The new Wild Atlantic Dunes Course was born.

    Today, the club rotates play daily between the original Hackett 18 and the Wild Atlantic Dunes Course. If you want to experience the third nine you didn't play the first time, golfers need to add the extra loop at the beginning/end of their round or stay the night in town to play those holes as part of the "new" 18 they'll see the following day. I recommend sticking around as long as possible. This is an inspiring little outpost on the Emerald Isle.

    Golf Packages
    Enniscrone, County Sligo
    FROM $407 (USD)
    Golf Packages
    Letterkenny, County Donegal
    FROM $377 (USD)

  5. Charger Course at Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Florida
    The Charger 9 is Bay Hill's hidden gem with strong holes like the par-3 second.

    The Charger Course would be the best nine at many Florida facilities. Just not at a legendary place like Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Built in 1969, it is the shortest of the nines at 3,309 yards, but it's no slouch. The 156-yard 2nd might be the prettiest par 3 on property, playing over water to a green guarded by the rocks you see on the Championship Course. The watery 313-yard 3rd might be the best risk-reward hole at Bay Hill with water snaking up the right side the entire way. Do you dare pull driver? Arnie would.

    FROM $197 (USD)
    ORLANDO, FL | Enjoy 1 nights' accommodation at Bay Hill Lodge and 1 round of golf at Bay Hill Club.

  6. Bann nine at Castlerock Golf Club, Northern Ireland
    The fifth hole of the Bann course at the Castlerock Golf Club plays along the inlet to the sea.

    I'm still convinced that if Castlerock followed the lead of Carne and merged some of the holes on its Bann nine with its very good Mussenden Links, it would shoot up the rankings of the best links on the Emerald Isle. In its current form, this "relief" nine is a stimulating walk through the biggest dunes on property. What the Bann lacks in length as a par 34 of 2,446 yards, it counters with incredible views of the River Bann, blind shots and quirky holes - the biggest reasons Americans love links golf.

  7. Holes 19-27 at Paako Ridge, Sandia Park, New Mexico
    The third nine at Paako Ridge has a different feel than the original Ken Dye 18 built five years earlier.

    Paako Ridge continues to sell visitors on coming play its original Ken Dye 18 built in 2000, the layout consistently ranked the No. 1 course in the state by many publications. But members and locals who want some variety understand just how good the third nine is. It was added in 2005.

    "What surprises people the most, the original 18 has a more mountain feel and is more wooded," said Tyler J. Kirsch, the director of marketing and communications. "You don't see another hole. It is carved into a mountain side. It is more mountain golf than desert golf. The third nine is a high desert golf experience. It is more open and a different feel. People expect it to be similar because it's all the same property."

    New owners, Alvarez & Marsal, Inc., purchased Paako Ridge in 2018 and are moving forward with plans to build a lodge and casitas by next year to offer a more resort-style getaway.

  8. Fleming 9 at TPC Harding Park, San Francisco, California
    At 140 yards, the second hole is a rare short par 3 on the Fleming 9 at TPC Harding Park.

    Although the Fleming 9 is sometimes touted as a beginner-friendly extra nine, it boasts many of the same challenges as TPC Harding Park: Bruising rough, raised greens and tricky doglegs on a pair of demanding par 4s. Its routing is set entirely inside the tournament course, winding around giant netting that protects a turf practice area called the Sandy Tatum Learning Center, which is used by the First Tee of San Francisco.

    I recently played the Fleming 9 - named for local golf caretaker Jack Fleming - for the first time, thinking it would be a good warm-up for the course that hosted the 2020 PGA Championship. A double bogey on the 405-yard first hole was a rude introduction of just how strong the Fleming is. Virtually every hole could sub into the main routing and you wouldn't know it was from a "short" course. In the heavy San Francisco air, the 235-yard, par-3 5th is a driver for most of us.

    The only knock on the 2,165-yard routing - a par 30 of six par 3s and three par 4s - is you're bound to experience balls or players from other holes invading your space. I couldn't blame the beginners since I was just as guilty. Trying to drive the 260-yard 8th, I yanked a crooked tee shot left into an adjacent fairway. It's great fun and well worth your time.

  9. Links Course at Sand Hollow Resort, St. George, Utah

    Almost nothing compares to the stunning back nine on Sand Hollow Resort's Championship Course. So it's not fair to try and look at The Links Course in the same light. This 3,600-yard loop was built with, as its name suggests, a "links" theme. Playing a ground game on flatter land closer to the roadway isn't as intimidating for beginners as the yawning canyons and red rock walls of the back nine of the main routing, but it's still plenty challenging for anybody. Stone "sheep fencing" that roams throughout the routing was built to inspire the notion that an ancient links was dropped into the middle of the desert. With a drive over the fence on No. 2 and a semi-blind par 3 (No. 6), it's a fun alternative to the main course.

    4 Min Read
    January 7, 2021
    The best executive, par-3 and nine-hole public golf courses according to our reviews community.
    By Golfers' Choice

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries 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 @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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The 9 best 'bonus' nines in golf