What makes for a great par-3 hole? When it comes to the shortest holes on any golf course, the bottom line is: How challenging/exciting is it to put a tee shot on the green and near the cup?
Obstacles for that task can include elevation (up or down), hazards (water, sand, rough), green size (smaller is tougher) and—once on the putting surface—its contours and slopes.
With all those elements in mind, plus factors like scenery and history, here in no particular order, is a selection of the best par-3 holes from South Carolina’s public and resort golf courses. Warning: Keeping this list to 10 is impossible, so we cheated a bit with alternative mentions. Players who love the short game won’t mind.
No. 17, The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island Resort (221-122 yards) This hole offers both difficulty and danger, with a touch of history thrown in. During the final round of the 1991 Ryder Cup matches, American professional Mark Calcavecchia, in singles vs. Europe’s Colin Montgomerie, drowned back-to-back shots to this pond-guarded, shallow-but-wide green. “Calc” was found sobbing on the beach after his team won. Honorable mention: No. 14, set alongside the Atlantic Ocean, playing from an elevated tee to a towering, green-topped mound
No. 9, Aiken Golf Club, Aiken (202-144 yards) The 16th hole, downhill from its elevated tee, is the course’s signature hole. But the ninth, all uphill carry with bunkers in front and a severely sloping green that continues the uphill climb, is probably this inland course’s toughest hole. Getting a ball on the putting surface is only the start of the battle.
No. 17, Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head Island (174-130 yards) The second-most photographed hole at Harbour Town (after the lighthouse-backed 18th), this flat-out gorgeous green is protected by water, marsh, sand and winds (and views) off Calibogue Sound. Honorable mention: No. 14, short but narrow (like hitting in a hallway), guarded by waterfront and right with a Pete Dye signature pot bunker back left.
No. 9, The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, North Myrtle Beach (221-130 yards) Like something from a Myrtle Beach postcard, this hole (playing up to 200 yards) has palm trees sprinkled across its front and views of the Atlantic Ocean beyond. The elevated green, combined with prevailing in-your-face winds from the surf and several deep sand bunkers, make for an intimidating, but gorgeous tee shot.
No. 3, Tidewater Golf Club, North Myrtle Beach (160-114 yards) Tidewater’s calling card is its location between the coastal marshes and the Intracoastal Waterway, and the elevated green—with marsh along the Cherry Grove inlet running the length of the left side—is also guarded in front by three large bunkers. The green itself has three tiers, making putting an adventure.
No. 6, Barefoot Resort (Dye Course), North Myrtle Beach (195-110 yards) The Dye Course’s signature par-3 requires precision on the tee shot, as water runs the length of the right side, while large mounds and Dye-esque pot bunkers line the left side. Bulkheads guarding the narrow green are another Dye standard.
No. 8, Cherokee Valley Golf Club, Travelers Rest (202-172 yards) If mountain golf is your thing, you’ve come to the right place. One of this P.B. Dye-designed course’s most awesome views is from the eighth’s elevated tee box, with its 70-foot tee-to-green drop and a panoramic vista of Glassy Mountain (and its famous chapel) as a backdrop. Good thing the green is large, as it’s easy to forget hitting it is the point.
No. 3, True Blue, Pawleys Island (190-103 yards) As with all Mike Strantz-designed holes, this island-green hole is beautiful both visually and strategically. A beach bunker wraps around the front and can run off into the water. Depending on tees and pin position, it can require anything from a wedge to a 5-iron; the difference between a front pin and one on the small back portion of the green is 40 yards. The front pins are no bargain, as shots into the down-slope of the green there can easily trickle into the bunker.
No. 12, Wild Dunes Links, Isle of Palms (192-119 yards) The back nine of this early Tom Fazio design has three memorable par-3s (including the 18th, formerly a par-5 before erosion shortened it), but the 12th best defines the “dunes” element. Plopped downhill from the tee amid sandy mounds and saltwater grasses, the green itself looks as if all that was done was stick a flag in it. Honorable mention: No. 16, surrounded by marsh with a view of the ocean beyond.
No. 17, The Walker Course, Clemson (192-100 yards) Parked on the shores of Lake Hartwell, this hole screams “Go Tigers” with its deep, circular green surrounded by bunkers that combine to visually form Clemson’s trademark Tiger Paw. From its elevated tee, the image is arresting—and the tee shot demanded is pretty attention-getting, too
No. 14, Furman University Golf Course, Greenville (201-156 yards) With a large, spacious green, the trick here is usually once on the putting surface. Sloping back to front, the green is affected by a mountain to its left, causing putts to break in ways that can defy reading. Miss the green, and that just adds to the difficulty. A signature hole for Furman’s challenging back nine.
No. 11, The Preserve at Verde Golf Club, Greenville (215-112 yards) With its forced carry over water to a shallow but wide, kidney-shaped green backed by forest, this hole—dubbed “Sitting Duck”—plays differently from different tees but is always a challenge. A bunker behind the green will snag long shots, and the bank of trees behind the bunker makes judging the winds difficult.