Short par-4s have become a big deal in recent years. The risk/reward deliciousness fascinates golf announcers and fans alike.
Too often forgotten, though, is the short-but-tricky par-3.
Let’s call it the SBT3.
Every course should have an SBT3. Sure, you want at least a couple of par-3s that require a mid- to long iron. But I think some layouts are overly focused on par-3s that punish and have forgotten about par-3s that might seem like a breather but make you hold your breath when your ball is in the air.
I’m not talking about a 7- or 8-iron. I mean a wedge or, at most, a 9-iron. That’s the true definition of an SBT3. It should be a really short shot, but there’s nothing easy about it.
We’ve watched two perfect examples in recent weeks on the PGA Tour.
This weekend at Austin Country Club, it’s a delight when a match gets to the par-3 17th. That means they have to negotiate a wedge over that looming ledge to the left of the green.
I’ve been as shocked as the players probably were as I’ve watched shot after shot come up short and dribble over the wall into the hazard.
And just a few weeks ago, the pros looked absolutely perplexed as the wind at TPC Sawgrass turned the granddaddy of all SBT3s, the island green on No. 17, into a treacherous voyage over the water.
Closer to home, we have the most picturesque SBT3 in the world – No. 7 at Pebble Beach. It’s not as tough as Austin or Sawgrass, but when the wind comes up it requires a shot that’s extremely delicate.
Every SBT3 has one thing in common, if it’s a good hole: You should feel as if it’s an easy par – but know that it easily could turn into a double bogey.
It got me thinking about the courses I play most often. They don’t really have an SBT3.
One of them, in fact, has four par-3s that are about the same distance. They all require about a 6-iron to an 8-iron. That’s the worst of all short-shot worlds. Too much sameness.
Another has two particularly demanding par-3s that feature a long shot with trouble everywhere. There’s one shorter hole that almost qualifies as an SBT3, but it’s still an 8-iron over the water. Not good enough.
I especially like an SBT3 that has extremely unusual features. It doesn’t always have to be guarded by water.
One of the most interesting is when it’s straight downhill. There’s something about watching your ball flight as it plummets to earth way down there that makes it so hard to judge.
And you also can trick up a par-3 into an SBT3 with a difficult green. In fact, I think every SBT3 should have a green that’s hard to putt. That’s a key part of its defense.
The hole shouldn’t be so simple that I feel defeated when I walk away with a par. I should be breathing a sigh of relief. Par is never a given on a good SBT3.
If I were building a golf course, I’d have one risk/reward hole of every variety.
One par-5 that’s extremely reachable in two but presents some sort of challenge on one or both shots.
One par-4 that can be driven but also can be royally messed up.
And one SBT3.
That’s one more great thing about our great game – the fact that we have the option to play courses that offer those options.
So get out there and find an SBT … but watch your step. Disaster might be only one shot away.