Short holes have a challenge and beauty all of their own - perhaps because they offer golfing nirvana in the shape of a hole-in-one. Nick Rodger takes his courage in both hands and tries to identify the best in the land
It's short, can often be called a little monster and has the ability to make you either laugh or cry. It's not Jimmy Krankie but is, in fact, the par-three, that cruel temptress-like creation on the golf course that lures you in with promises of a birdie or even a hole-in-one then turns around and gives you the vicious slap in the chops that is a quadruple bogey seven.
From the lowest reaches of the amateur game, to the upper echelons of the professional ladder, the hopes and dreams of many a player have been shattered by a badly judged tee-shot that's lodged itself in an unforgiving greenside bunker or has become entangled in the branches of a Douglas Fir.
Yet that fine line between success and downright failure is very much part of the allure of a good short hole. Get your approach right and the opportunities to plunder a stroke are abundant. Get it wrong however and the punishments are considerable. Just ask German amateur Hermann Tissies who at the 1950 Open Championship took 15 shots at Troon's very own little monster, the Postage Stamp.
But what makes a good par-three? What's the best way to play them? And what are some of the finest that Scotland has to offer? Admittedly, posing such questions opens the doors for all manner of debates. After all, who among us has the right to say: 'That is a great hole.'
The aformentioned Mr. Tissies probably thought the Postage Stamp was a wretched little number, but speak to any number of golfers, commentators or course architects and the first par-three that rolls off the tongue will probably be Troon's 8th.
What better place then to tee-off our saunter round the short holes of Scotland than at the famous Ayrshire links. Troon's motto reads: 'Tam arta quam marte', the latin for 'as much by skill as by strength'. Perhaps they should scribble in 'as by a strong stomach' as well, because standing on the 8th tee with the doubts running rampant in the thoughts is enough to turn the most hardened professionals into golfing rabbits.
The Postage Stamp, at 126 yards, is the shortest hole in Open golf but size, as the saying goes, isn't everything. Its tiny green - hence the name - is heavily guarded on both sides by treacherous sand traps. Find one of those and you are likely to wind up playing ping-pong to and fro across the green. Colin Montgomerie, who grew up playing the rigourous links of Troon and whose father was the club secretary, once commented: 'Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay the Postage Stamp is that it is one of those holes which can change the whole course of a round. It must be treated with respect.'
Whether the late Gene Sarazen had respect flowing through his mind during the 1973 Open Championship is anyone's guess. The 1932 champion cushioned a five-iron to the green and watched in wonder as it sailed in for a hole-in-one. The following day, when Sarazen eventually succumbed to the lure of the Postage Stamp's perilous bunkers, he still managed to hole out for a birdie. Skill, luck, divine intervention? Whatever you want to call it, Sarazen is one of the few who have completely mastered the hole, alongside R&A secretary Peter Dawson.
'I was playing in a university match a number of years ago,' he recalls. 'I hooked my tee-shot miles to the left. I managed to hack it out of the rough but ended up in the bunker from where I chipped in to save my par.'
Taking the tourist route to the hole is perhaps not the best option to adopt and while there will always be those who salvage glory from the jaws of disaster, for others, a misguided tee-shot is more often than not severely punished.
'The Postage Stamp is perhaps one of the best examples of what a short hole should be,' admits Dave Thomas, the renowned golf course architect who has designed numerous courses in Scotland, including Newmachar and the highly acclaimed Roxburghe near Kelso.
'If it's a good hole, then length is immaterial. It's what you're being asked to hit which is important and the isolation of the Postage Stamp's green makes it a very difficult hole. There's a fear when you're standing on the tee. It has this reputation and if you do get into trouble it can end up ruining your entire round.'
Better then to gather our clubs, leave the perils of Troon behind and venture forth a short distance up the West coast. Nestling alongside those Bonnie Banks on the ancient estate of the Colquhoun Clan is the parkland treasure at Loch Lomond (pictured), considered by many already - it was only opened in 1994 - as one of the finest courses in the British Isles. Indeed, course architect Tom Weiskopf described his creation as 'my finest work ever.'
The sombre beauty of the area, with the glittering loch and the imposing Arrochar Alps make it arguably one of the most picturesque courses anywhere, the breath taking surrounds blissfully disguising the stern challenges that lie within.
The four excellent par-threes all offer a different challenge. The 190 yard 5th can cause all manner of problems with a stiff breeze blowing in off the Loch; the 8th requires an accurate approach past a host of bunkers to a small green of almost Postage Stamp proportions while the 235 yard, uphill 11th can easily call for a driver from the tee.
Of the quartet of shorts, Weiskopf himself makes special mention to the 17th, a challenging 205 yarder named The Bay. Dave Thomas agrees with the course architect.
'The 17th at Loch Lomond is another example of a good par-three,' he says 'There's the inlet on the left and the trees and although the green is relatively large, it still needs to be hit because if not you've got problems staring you in the face otherwise. It's one of those holes that will yield birdies but there's plenty of potential for disaster.'
And that really is the essence of a good par-three. A hole that rewards the good shots, punishes the bad and slowly tortures the ugly. Over at the Perthshire gem of Gleneagles, there is plenty of scope for such castigation should things go pear-shaped from the tee.
At just over 200 yards, the 17th on the Queen's course is known as the 'Hinny Mune'. Apparently, it simply means honeymoon and it may well seem like one should you be fortunate enough to conquer it. Get it wrong however and it could quite easily turn into the marriage from hell. The challenge of the hole lies in the fact that there is no fairway, so hitting the green is absolutely vital. The length between the teeing ground and the green is dominated by sloping ground that leads to hazardous rough all the way along the lower right hand side. Even if you do find your target there's still plenty of work to be done as the putting surface is littered with hills and hollows.
Out on the King's there is the challenge of the 178 yard 5th called Het Girdle. Throw in a menacing wind and that challenge becomes all the more testing. The high, plateau green is much more exposed than the teeing ground making the right club selection pivotal. Find one of the deep, greenside bunkers and you're asking for trouble. The upslopes are so severe, that the pin is often rendered invisible, making extricating yourself much a case of hit and hope.
Like the Het Girdle at Gleneagles, the short 13th across on the East coast at Muirfield, the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, offers little sympathy to those who find the lure of a nice, deep bunker too much to resist. At just under 160 yards, it's another fine example of how a short hole doesn't have to be 200 yards or more to be challenging. Like all good holes, finding the putting surface with your approach is crucial. The bunkers surrounding the raised green are about as deep as your average coal-mine and a brief excursion into one of them usually results in one thing. A bogey.
Yet it is not just at the more revered courses of Scotland where you'll find the jewels in the par-three's crown. We could go on, hacking our way through a host of memorable short holes. Turnberry's 6th, St Andrews'11th, Kingsbarns' 15th, Carnoustie's 16th.. This country, after all, is the home of golf, with some of the finest courses anywhere in the world. But there are also abundant treasures to be unearthed in the most surprising of places.
The Gulley hole at Clydebank Overtoun for instance, which at 235 yards, requires a 150 yard carry over - yes, you've guessed it - a treacherous gulley to a green which to the left slopes sharply down into the depths of golfing despair and to the rear and to the right is festooned with trees and rough.
And the 17th at Kirriemuir, appropriately called 'Braid's gem' after the architect who designed it, wins a lot of plaudits.
Or what about the 5th at Clober which is barely 100 yards long but with a wall going up the left and a burn that runs across the front of the teeing ground and snakes suspiciously along the right hand side of the green, it's full of potential pitfalls should you veer off line.
But before we pack up our clubs and head for the best hole of the lot - the 19th - it's perhaps worthwhile asking ourselves just what is the best way to play a tricky par-three?
Standing there on the tee with your trusty 7-iron [or 5-wood!, Ed], the temptation to go for it is considerable. You desperately want to throw caution to the wind and adopt a cavalier approach that may perhaps reap that so far elusive hole-in-one. Success is lying seductively on the horizon and you're not going to let a bit of rough, five bunkers and a pond come between you and the ultimate glory.
Unfortunately, given the fact that the odds of the ordinary punter on the golf course scoring an ace are 42, 952 to 1, there's probably more chance of seeing your ball being carried off by Elvis in a flying caddy cart than of it nestling in the cup.
'It's very easy to look at the flag when you're playing a short hole,' says Ian Rae, head coach at the Scottish National Golf Centre. 'Try and get away from that. When the flag's in a difficult position, what we call a 'sucker pin', it's much better to aim for the fat of the green and come short of the flag. Try to find the position from where you're most likely to get two putts. If you do go for it and get it wrong you can end up in all sorts of dangers.'
Don't say you haven't been warned.
What do you think; have we identified the best par threes Scotland has to offer, or do you know of some glaring omissions from the list? Write and let us know and we will try and produce the definitive list, with your help.
The first response comes from Iain Bannister, an ex-pat Scot living in New Zealand, who supplied us with this list of lesser-known gems:
As a 1 handicapper, but in the main an lover of Scottish rather than manufactured par 72 US courses, I would like to at least add nine different holes that I have come across that warrant even a passing thought and not in any particular order other than my favourite on Iona.
3rd hole at Iona (190ish yards as I don't recall there being a card)- Stunningly beautiful with a crystal clear azure of the Atlantic lapping on the white sand of a bay on the right. Out of bounds on the left, with a fence to keep the livestock ON the course (yes I mean on and not off the course as they are the greenkeepers). On the left hand side and front of the elevated green runs a stream that has eroded quite a bit of the soil to form a gloriously picturesque bunker. Tiny green.
1st at Glencorse - great opening test
4th at Cruden Bay (220ish yards) [actually, it's 183 from the yellow tees, Ed] huge gully and big sloping green that is a test in all conditions. With wind off the sea and in your face, it is a driver for even the longest hitter.
Cullen, can't remember which number [13, Ed] but on the back nine. It's 150ish yards it says on the tee box, and the only clue to which direction is an arrow pointing skyward on a huge red rock. A thin by yourself or one of your partners and you need reactions of a grand prix driver.
Hopeman (again on the back nine). Also 150ish yards but a drop of over 100 feet to a wickedly sloping green, the contours of which you cannot make out from the tee [it's the 12th, Ed]. The backdrop of the Moray Firth and gorse everywhere else.
17th Craigie Hill - a course built where there is no right to be one, yet classic views throughout. The hole is not what you want having tramped up and down hills, but is about 190 yards log with a huge tree encroaching on the right, 170 of carry over a nasty gully and rubbish to the left.
16th North Inch - 70 yards maximum, River Tay on your left, bunkers long short and right and the thought in your head that it could not be any easier a hole. How wrong.
15th Nairn West (last par 3) - Huge drop from the elevated tee and even on the green you cannot imagine where the best place to land the ball would be.
6th Dornoch - 170ish yards of trouble. Again a 'hit the green or else' hole.
I also recall great par threes on; Dalmahoy, Kirriemuir as you mentioned, Downfield, Murrayshall , Auchterarder, Mortonhall, Gullane, Banchory, Ballatar, Hazlehead, Elgin, Peterhead, The Hirsel and Coldstream to name but a few.
|| 28 - SEPTEMBER 2001