For most golfers, a par-3 course usually means an open field with tee boxes and flagsticks cut into closely mown areas, or a bare-bones operation for families with children or players working on their short game – not a destination for serious play.
But that concept is changing as professional designs and superior conditioning find their way to the par-3 world. Bandon, Ore.’s, golf destination recently added Bandon Preserve, a 13-hole par-3 layout as excellent as its full-size kin, but in a compact package. South Carolina also has layouts that offer challenging golf you can play with a handful of clubs, in less than two hours. In our “Short Course” series, we’ll explore some of the best.
On the website for his StoneBridge Golf Course and Caddy Shak Driving Range
, owner Tom Wingard invites golfers in the Lexington area
to “come take the rust off of your game.” In fact, his 12-hole par-3 course – which celebrated its fifth anniversary in late November – will do that and more, testing your irons game with a variety of shot requirements, all in a low-key, relaxed environment.
Located at 381 Pilgrim Church Road off S.C. 6, StoneBridge appears at first glance to be nothing special, perhaps a bit rustic. But once you step to the first tee, you find a professionally designed course that demands your attention.
Take the opening hole, a 155-yarder from the men’s tees. There’s water to the left off the tee, and you play to a slightly elevated green with a narrow entrance guarded by mounds and a bunker to the right rear. Not to mention trees scattered along both sides.
This is no home-built layout. “I brought in an architect (Ron Cutlip) from New York,” Wingard, retired from the real estate business, says, and laughs. “Found him on the Internet.”
Tucked into 22 acres (the 10-year-old driving range takes up another nine acres), StoneBridge makes the most of its tight confines. Its dozen holes intertwine across the property – first-timers should hook up with a regular to guide them around – but each stands out as a unique challenge.
Water comes into play on eight holes, notably the 12th, at 182 yards the longest and requiring a carry over two small ponds (or you can play to the right of the water and then chip back to the green). Trees define most fairways, and mounds and sand bunkers around the greens demand precision on shots into the smallish putting surfaces.
Wingard started the Caddy Shak driving range as a hobby after inheriting the property in 2001. He added the 12-hole course because “I wanted to have fun, and I love to see kids hit golf balls. That’s where my heart is. We get a lot of families out here, and it’s perfect for beginners.”
Yet StoneBridge can still test the weekend player with tightly-bordered approaches, elevated greens and deep hazards. Wingard says only one player, a longtime friend, has broken par (36) in the course’s five years. “He played by himself that day, so …,” Wingard says, laughing.
Why 12 holes? “That’s what would fit on the land,” he says. “If I had it to do over, I’d make it shorter and easier.” Regulars who play in a regular 3:30 p.m. “dogfight” each week are glad that didn’t happen.
StoneBridge’s one blemish is the rubber mats that players are asked to use to spare damage to the tee boxes; Wingard, who says requiring players do so used to hurt his business, now allows them to play off the grass tee areas if they want. The low prices (walking costs $8 Monday-Tuesday, $9 the rest of the week; carts are available for $5/person) make it an economical way to brush up on one’s game while enjoying an interesting, well-thought-out series of holes.
Wingard also offers plenty of deals. Buckets of range balls run $7 and $8, but for $11 a player can use the range all day; pay for two rounds and you can play all day, too. For a Christmas special, the pro shop – inside a building that once was a magistrate’s office – offers $35 gift certificates for $70 worth of play or merchandise.
All in all, StoneBridge is a relaxed, down-home kind of place, a stern-enough test for most players’ games. One warning: In late afternoon, a number of holes play directly into the setting sun – though it apparently doesn’t stop a group of regulars who head out at 3:30 p.m. every weekday.
For information, call (803) 356-GOLF (4653) or go to the website