There is no more exciting hole in golf than a well-made par three. Great par threes begin with imagination, and are cultivated to provide a challenging one-shot experience interlaced with fantastic aesthetics, and occasionally options.
This article is dedicated to the par threes that I will never forget, and will be an ongoing examination of the greatest one-shot holes in the Midwest. Much like my all-time greatest courses list, it will be ever-changing and updated as necessary when I find one that deserves a spot in the rankings.
1. Whistling Straits, Straits Course #17 (249/223/197/165/131):
The legend of the seventeenth goes like this: At every course that Pete Dye designs, he allows his wife, Alice, to design one par three. This was the seventeenth for the Straits course, and she must have been angry with him that day!
The seventeenth, quite possibly the signature hole on the Straits course and one of the most beloved par threes in the state of Wisconsin, is a brutally long par three with very few spots to miss. The lake lingers left of the playing area, and huge mounds front the right entrance and entire right side of the putting surface.
The misses here are short and/or long-right, as the mounds right of the green can help carom slightly wayward shots toward the putting surface.
2. Wild Rock #15 (179/166/134/130/118):
With six individual tee boxes separated by the trees and cliffs, the fifteenth hole is one of the most picturesque holes on one of the state’s most picturesque golf courses. A large stone quarry lives between the elevated tee boxes and the elevated green, and anything hit short will be claimed by the waste area that lies beneath.
3. Lawsonia, Links Course #7 (161/146/140/109):
The seventh on the Links course is famous for the “Boxcar hole” and its steep embankment short and right of the green. Opened in 1930, the Links is rated the number 55 classic course in the country, and the seventh is its signature hole.
Legend has it that course architects William Langford and Theodore Moreau used an actual train boxcar to create the elevated green on seven – if that’s true, then we can reasonably assess the drop in elevation on the right side to be at least 11 feet. In person, it feels like 15-20 – not an easy recovery when missed!
4. SentryWorld #16 (173/155/127/116/106):
As any avid Wisconsin golfer has, I had seen pictures of SentryWorld’s famous “Flower Hole” prior to playing it. Needless to say, I did not expect it to live up to expectations. It did, though, and more. The reason I say more is that it is an excellent par three even without the 45,000-plus flowers!
The green on sixteen is slightly risen and heavily sloped, and the steep bunkers that front it can be awfully penalizing. While shots in to the flowers cannot be played or looked for, the course does allow for a free drop. The flowers are beautifully patterned, and the colors are vibrant and glorious: Oranges, reds, yellows, purples and whites.
5. Castle at the Bay #10 (146/132/127/95/81):
A beautiful replica of the world’s most famous golf hole, number 17 at TPC Sawgrass, the tenth at Northern Bay is intended to challenge your mettle at the 132-yard distance that is played on the PGA Tour.
6. Erin Hills #9 (165/150/143/138/135)
Previously billed as the course’s “Bye hole,” the ninth at Erin Hills is a phenomenal downhill par three that plays between a multitude of greenside bunkers and a false front that protects the entrance to the putting surface. Deep rough abounds, and the craggy sand traps are hellish to play out of.
7. Blackwolf Run, River Course #4 (219/195/185/146/117):
Narrow and well-guarded, Swan Lake is one of the most charming holes on the world-famous River course.
The two biggest stars on this hole are the swans that live in the pond, who seem to be avid golf enthusiasts, themselves: When you’re on the tee boxes, they’re by the tee boxes. When you’re on the green, they are by the green. This will be one of the holes receiving a lot of attention during the 2012 US Women’s Open, and my guess is these two swans (pictured below) will be quite popular with the national media.
At 195 yards from the blue tees, the tee shot is long and intimidating. Anything hit right is dead, so zero in with a long club that you can hit straight, and pray to stay dry.
8. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms #6 (193/183/173/163/153/80):
On an unbelievably difficult golf course, the sixth at The Bull does not let up. Narrow and guarded by trees and sand, this hole requires absolute precision. This is a gorgeous hole, and follows one of my all-time favorite par fours, “Follow On.”
That being said, this is a beast of a par three. With a downhill tee shot, I have felt every time that I’ve teed off on this hole that I’ve hit it pretty well. Alas, I have found sand, I have found forest, and I have yet to find the green. The bunker on the right is particularly difficult, and anything overhit from there will likely be lost in the woods [or in the traps] on the left side of the green.
The green is two-tiered, and slopes from the back to the front. Nicknamed “Elation,” I will certainly be elated if I ever find a way to mark par on this par three.
9. SentryWorld #12 (161/139/123/86/76)
One of the newly designed holes on the Robert Trent Jones, Jr. renovated SentryWorld, I think a lot of Wisconsin golfers will be excited in 2015 to see that the “Flower Hole” may no longer be the most beautiful par three on the course. It might be top three, in fact!
Twelve is a brand new par three, created in an area that had previously never been used by the course. Teeing off from a laterally running tee box over the course’s inland lake to a peninsula that runs hard toward the water, twelve requires the precision of an island tee shot, with a slight backboard on the left side to help hold approaches.
10. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys Course #15 (227/196/189/150/103):
The hole pictured on the Meadow Valleys scorecard, the fifteenth is a seriously PGA-caliber par three. Playing from 227 yards from the tips, and 196 from the blues, the tee shot is typically straight in to the wind and must carry almost the entire distance. Anything short is dead. Anything left is dead. Anything right is dead. Anything long will require a good touch downhill to keep from hitting the aforementioned “short” dead zone.
With one of the widest greens on the course, though, it is not impossible.
Adding to the mystique of this hole is maybe the most gorgeous vista in all of golf from the fifteenth hole’s tee boxes: Over the green and up the fairway of the “Nature’s Course” 14th hole.
The Honorable Mention List:
11. Trapper’s Turn, Canyon Course #7 (158/140/126/93):
The seventh on the Canyon course is a very intimidating tee shot, but actually plays a little easier than expected. Both sides of the approach area are slanted upward, which funnels shots slightly left or right in to the green area. Both times I have played it I have found myself on the green by way of the friendly bounce, which is much appreciated when playing on a course as tight as the Canyon.
12. Whistling Straits, Irish Course #11 (208/193/177/169/125):
Nicknamed “Lamb Chop,” the 11th at the Irish course is a long, and usually heavily wind-influenced hole chocked full of treachery. The cliff on the left side of the approach air zone provides a lot of character to the hole, and even that is wrought with sand traps. A sand trap from those areas would probably be best [or only] struck by the old “hand wedge.”
That was a [bad] joke, but this hole is not. It is absolutely gorgeous, with views of Lake Michigan and glorious mounding and bunkering.
13. Geneva National, Palmer Course #16 (218/204/177/156/141)
The start of one of the best combinations of back-to-back holes in the state, the sixteenth at the Palmer Course is a beautiful and challenging par three. The tee shot is long, at 204 yards from the blue tees, and plays to the shoreline of Lake Como. The backside of the green drops off to the lake, while the left and right sides are bordered by sand.
Perched atop the former Mt. Fuji Ski Hill, the back tees afford a view of much of the surrounding Lake Geneva and Delavan area, and 87 feet down to the putting surface of this gorgeous par three. At 153 yards, the wind was swirling for our round, and club selection proved to be quite difficult. My eight iron looked to be on the back of the green, but showed up in the back-side sand trap, making for a tough out that would finally be holed for bogey.
16. Edgewood, Oaks Course #14 (178/153/141/104):
Featuring another fantastic island layout, the fourteenth is the signature hole of the fantastic back nine on Edgewood’s Oaks course. From elevated tee boxes, the green is absolutely huge, and is affronted by a long sand trap and water on all sides.
17. Hawks Landing #17 (164/135/135/114/97):
18. Washington County #14 (197/175/147/92):
The fourteenth at Washington County begins on elevated tee boxes, and tees off over a pond that fronts and lines the left side of the green area. The green slopes heavily toward the water, making the sand trap on the right side quite difficult to play from. There is a small bailout area short and to the right, but the only safe play is to the green itself.