Short courses -- whether they are executive or par-3 golf courses -- often times go largely unheralded. They are a small-but-critical piece of the golf industry, however. They rarely receive much in the form of press or awards (except when it's a signature, premium experience like Top of the Rock), but their affordability and accessibility are a huge part of introducing new and junior golfers to the game in a welcoming and low-key environment.
I practically grew up on a short course in Ann Arbor, Mich.: Huron Hills, a 5,000-yard course that dates back to the 1920s. It was usually a little scruffy, but I could play all day for $6, often times walking 36 holes. It was challenging enough from the time I began playing through my competitive high school golf days. (There was a time during the most recent economic downturn where a private business wanted to develop the land, but fortunately residents' pitchforks came out against the plan and the lovely layout along the Huron River remains.)
Sometimes short courses are munis, like Huron Hills. They can also be an amenity at a golf resort, or they may be squeezed into a small parcel of valuable urban property, helping city dwellers scratch their itch without having to trek into the 'burbs.
Golf Advisor receives ratings of not just regulation, 18-hole courses, but courses of all shapes and sizes. We've combed through the data to find a sampling of short golf courses in the United States that are consistently highly rated by golfers.
What defines a "short course," by the way? It's an arbitrary term. But for this list, we looked at 18-hole courses under 5,500 yards or nine-hole courses under 2,700 yards. We filtered out "pitch 'n putts" under 500 yards.
We also know that many championship courses go out of their way to promote "Tee It Forward" or provide forward and even "super-forward" or junior tees. But what we like about short courses specifically is the fact that everyone in the group is playing from the same or nearly-same spot. It makes for quick rounds with little space from the green to the next tee. Short courses are also almost always walkable (with the exception of mountain par 3s such as Threetops in Gaylord, Mich.) and almost always affordable.
Short courses, like standalone driving ranges, can have a tough time making ends meet given today's soaring property values and saturated golf course environment. They also have the not-so-glorious task of managing unpredictable novice golfers. So be sure to support them when you can, and if you have a great experience with a new or junior golfer, tell us all about it in a review.
Here are the top 25 short courses on Golf Advisor since we began gathering review data in 2012:
Top 25 short courses according to Golf Advisor ratings and reviews
2,595 yards | 18 holes | Par 57
Pembroke Pines, Fla.
1,599 yards | 18 holes | Par 54
Palm Desert, Calif.
3,489 yards | 18 holes | Par 60
Incline Village, Calif.
3,527 yards | 18 holes | Par 58
4,012 yards | 18 holes | Par 60
Winter Garden, Fla.
1,563 yards | 9 holes | Par 29
1,450 yards | 9 holes | Par 28
4,220 yards | 18 holes | Par 62
Lake St. Louis, Mo.
1,526 yards | 9 holes | 1,526 yards
Port Sanilac, Mich.
5,428 yards | 18 holes | Par 72
4,175 yards | 18 holes | Par 63
2,718 yards | Par 54 | 18 holes
2,809 yards | 18 holes | Par 57
La Quinta, Calif.
1,992 yards | 18 holes | Par 54
3,038 yards | 18 holes | Par 56
Port Orange, Fla.
5,025 yards | 18 holes | Par 72
1,250 yards | 18 holes | Par 54
1,535 yards | 9 holes | Par 27
1,435 yards | 9 holes | Par 27
Yarmouth Port, Mass.
3,911 yards | 18 holes | Par 60
Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
1,239 yards | 9 holes | Par 27
North Providence, R.I.
2,606 yards | Par 34
Palm Beach, Fla.
2,572 yards | 18 holes | Par 54
Lake Geneva, Wis.
2,708 yards | 18 holes | Par 54
Fort Myers, Fla.
5,146 yards | 18 holes | Par 67