My favorite holes to play are short par fours. The 10th at Riviera CC is most often held up as the gold standard for the great short par 4. I don’t really like that hole, because you rarely see anybody actually drive the green and the layup is boring. You don’t even ever see that many birdies made on it during the LA Open. The standard criteria for greatness seems to be that the hole is drivable and therefore there is a potential for an eagle. Another generally accepted aspect of this criteria is that there is a somewhat substantial risk involved in attempting to drive the green. This concept is obviously known as risk/reward. The risk vs reward concept is often exciting on great short par fours, but not essential for me.
Lists, by nature, are subjective. My criteria for greatness is also subjective. The holes in my top 5 have to be those that I’ve played a few times, so there won’t be any holes from Cypress Point, Friars Head or The National Golf Links of America. I don’t necessarily think a great short par 4 has to be drivable, although I do like that option. All of my holes are technically reachable from the tee, but I could never recommend trying that on a couple of these holes. The hole has to be under 350 yards and it has to be fun. Fun is probably the #1 criteria for me. Aesthetics and the setting are important too. All that said, the top 5 short par fours in golf are:
5. The 3rd at Dunaverty Golf Club – Argyll, Scotland
Architect: Founding Club Members
I stumbled on the stunning Dunaverty golf course on my first trip to Scotland in 1994. Mr. David Baxter, the then owner of the wonderful Ardell House B&B (overlooking the 18th fairway at Machrihanish) told me I should give it a try while I was in the area. I am glad I did. A par 66 course, with an honesty box on the first tee to pay your 5 pound green fee! This was unheard of to an American used to the tree lined Factory courses of the US. There was no one there on the day we played. The small clubhouse was locked. We wound up playing the course several times over the span of 3 trips. You can see across the Irish Sea to Royal Portrush on a clear day. This is Scottish golf at its best.
The 3rd normally plays downwind. It is a stunningly beautiful hole. It can be reached with a 3 or 4 iron when playing with the wind because the ball rolls forever at Dunaverty. I imagine the original members who designed the hole just walked around and just decided where to put the green. There can’t have been a single cubic yard of earth moved to build this entire golf course. The ideal shot is at the left side of the green and let the ball roll 50 or 60 yards along the fairway onto the surface. This hole can be brutally hard in a strong crosswind. Balls can easily fly out onto Dunaverty Beach with a strong left to right wind. By the way, the beach is in play. Don’t ask me how I know. The 3rd at Dunaverty probably yields more birdies than bogeys, but what is wrong with that? It’s fun and there is also the potential for a quick double or triple.
4. The 1st at Prestwick Golf Club – Ayrshire, Scotland
Architect: Old Tom Morris
Prestwick Golf Club hosted the 1st Open Championship. It is one of the great golf clubs in the world….and it welcomes visitors! What a novel concept. Every hole at Prestwick is good, many are great. The feeling of standing on the 1st tee at Prestwick is similar to the experience of being on the 1st tee at The Old Course. It is a fun hole, but of all of these 5, it is also by far the most frightening. Standing on the tee right outside the clubhouse door, having just finished your delicious soup and sandwich lunch in the upstairs bar, you look out and have no idea where to hit the ball. There is an out of bounds wall running hard by the entire right side of the fairway, along the railway. It is highly likely that the train to Troon will come flying by just at the top of your backswing. This hole almost defies description. You never feel safe after the strike until your caddie says “shot”.
In an earlier post, I talked a lot about the legendary Prestwick caddie, Chris McBride. The first time I played there, Chris handed me a 5 iron and said to hit it hard down the left. There was no actual discussion about any other options. I suppose the green could be reached in the the right wind conditions, but I cannot imagine anybody ever trying that. A well struck 4 or 5 iron off the tee will leave you with a little pitch into one of the best green settings in the world of golf. This hole can yield birdies, but my guess is that it more often yields bogeys or worse.
3. The 8th at Machrihanish Golf Club – Argyll, Scotland
Architect: Old Tom Morris
Machrihanish is simply the greatest golf course on earth. I won’t belabor the point. The 8th might seem like an odd choice to some of you that have played there. There is just something about the feeling of being on that hole, completely isolated from the rest of the world, with this exposed green brilliantly sited by Old Tom on the top of a massive sand dune. Once again, the green could be possibly reached under the right wind conditions, but I feel that is ill-advised. The precipitous drop off on both sides of the green leads to certain death. Its better to hit a 3 wood or long iron to a relatively wide fairway and then try to judge your pitch to one of the worlds great green sites. Once you ascend to the summit, take a few minutes to look around and reflect on the game of golf. Score is irrelevant in that moment. You are alone in the world.
2. The 5th at Sweetens Cove Golf Club – South Pittsburg, TN
Architect: Rob Collins
I have written at length about Sweetens Cove before, so my feelings about this place are obvious. The 5th hole is the very essence of fun. I’ve probably played it 100 times now and I think I’ve hit driver off the tee every time. It seems to be either play straight downwind or dead into the wind. It’s really not even worth thinking about laying up. Having said that, you can make an 8 faster than you can make a 2. There is some hope to escape from the bunkers on the right if you go for it and miss, but the pot bunker guarding the left is a place of certain destruction. The green is just too good.
I’ve gotten to know the brilliant course Architect and fellow MSU graduate Rob Collins. Playing with him a few weeks ago, I hit a nice drive to the front edge of the green. I walked off with an 8. I told Rob I had birdied the hole earlier that morning. He said, “Yes, that’s the beauty of a short par 4.” Very true. This is one of the great holes in golf. Stunningly beautiful and fun for any handicap level. What more do you need?
1. The 8th at Cruden Bay Golf Club – Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Architect: Tom Simpson
How do you begin to describe the joys of Cruden Bay? Its the 2nd greatest golf course in the world, after Machrihanish. The 8th is the best short par 4 in the world of golf. On the surface, you might question my assessment. Unless you have walked up to the 8th tee at Cruden Bay and looked at this green just sitting there surrounded by the most massive sand dunes on the planet, don’t judge me. Its a perfect golf hole. Hit your driver, 3 wood, or 4 iron, depending on the conditions, and see if you can make birdie or eagle. You should, but you might not. It’s the very essence of fun golf.