We all have one. For some, it is where you first learned the game. For others, it is the place to bring the novice golfer. It can be the local community spot, or a place to slip away for a brief and rewarding golf experience. Often overlooked, your local par-3 deserves your attention.
If you have not noticed, short courses are now en vogue. Some are of the pitch and putt variety (Stanley Park, Butler). Others have a bit more length and architectural interest (Schoolhouse Nine, The Hay). There is also one that enjoys the international spotlight year after year; the par-3 course at Augusta National is without doubt the most famous.
In the current era, you could argue a golf resort is not complete unless it includes a short course. A few highlights include: The Nest (good except for the odd 10th hole finisher), The Cradle (a fun golf experience, but a longer hole or two would add to the variety), and Bandon Dunes, which currently has two and a third in the pipeline as recently profiled on Beyond the Contour.
There are some—such as Turnberry Golf Club in Brampton—that stretch the traditional definition of a par-3 course by including a handful of par 4s (The flavour of par-3 most preferred by Andy Johnson from The Fried Egg). Personally, I prefer playing a par-3 with only a handful of clubs, so carrying a driver for the odd hole or two is not exactly my favourite.
There are also a few that fly under the radar, including Coys Par 3 in British Columbia (golf among the mountains, sign me up), or the ‘hidden’ course at Wolf Creek (GolfNorth, on the heels of your recent acquisition, please see to bringing it back to its former glory).
The common themes across all of these examples is fun and accessible golf in a setting where it is easy to remove yourself from the concept of “scoring”.
My Local Par 3 Through the Years
I, too, first experienced golf at my local par 3. Two as a matter of fact, the 18-hole Pleasure Park Golf Centre and the 9-hole Riverside, both just north of Toronto. The pair have long been lost to development. I naively thought no golf writer would ever bother mentioning one of these places, but Lorne Rubenstein—the dean of Canadian Golf journalism—has rightly proved me wrong. Perhaps his ask of “more par 3s, please” is finally being answered?
While Pleasure Park and Riverside were not much to speak of from an architectural perspective (Robert Moote did not have all that much to work with at Pleasure Park), they still hold a special place in my golfing memory.
I remember standing on the elevated first tee of Riverside, rental 7 iron in hand, wondering if I could carry the gully to the green 100 yards away. I did not, but I eventually did. As I gained skill, experience and my very own set of clubs, I could reach the green with a 9 iron, then eventually a pitching wedge.
I also fondly remember my first hole-out from a distance. It was the 9th hole of Pleasure Park from roughly 80 yards out. No, it was not a hole-in-one. Rather, it was for par after two miss-hits. Yes, golf can be cruel and wonderful all on the same hole.
Dentonia Park Golf Course
Later in my golfing life, Dentonia Park Golf Course became my local. As one of five Toronto municipal courses, the 18-hole Dentonia Park is exactly the type of golf perfect for an urban setting: accessible, inexpensive and fun for all skill levels. An interesting historical footnote, the origin of Dentonia Park can be traced back to an estate once owned by the Massey family, a prominent Canadian industrialist and philanthropist family of the late 19th century. Named after Susan Marie Denton, the course sits on what was once part of an experimental urban farm, which eventually was donated to the City of Toronto around 1926.
With that history lesson aside, the course surprisingly has a number of stand out holes. The first hole is memorable, with a seemingly easy wedge to a severely sloped green 104 yards away. Miss long and your chipping will be put to the test.
The 169 yard 6th is the first opportunity for some variety. It challenges the shorter hitter with a carry over water, and puts something other than wedge in the hands of the more skilled player.
The 11th hole, measuring 185 yards, has the potential to be something special. Defended by OB left and water right, the 100-foot drop to the green below is the most thrilling shot of the day. A bit of tree maintenance and some attention to the tee box would certainly help, but not enough to give the 8th at Uplands a run for its money.
Overall, Dentonia Park is an enjoyable golf experience. The routing traverses the interesting property quite well, taking full advantage of the elevation changes characteristic of Toronto’s unique deep ravine system and urban forest network. Aside from the first five holes that vary in distance by no more than 10 yards, the subsequent holes feature a decent mix of lengths requiring a mixture of wedges, short and mid-irons. The pro shop beneath the subway station is also an intriguing quirk and excellent reminder that you are playing golf within an urban context.
Canadian golf course architect Christine Fraser has regularly referenced Dentonia Park as her favourite course. I don’t know if I should interpret that statement as hyperbole with the intent to bring more attention to accessible golf (very justified), or as a metaphor to describe what golf should ascribe to be. Either way, everyone should experience Dentonia Park at least once. Bonus points if you arrive by subway or bicycle.
Apollo Valley Golf Club
As Ontario emerged from the first wave of lockdown in 2020, I was on the search for a place where my wife, somewhat new to the game, and I could play. My criteria was rather limited: 1) it had to be close to home; and 2) it had to consist of only par 3s. At the top of this crude list was Apollo Valley Golf Club, a 9-hole par-3 between Hamilton and Brantford. To my surprise, it was much better than I had expected. Needless to say, after that first round we were so impressed, we both joined as ‘members’ right on the spot. It was the best $360 I spent in a long time.
The holes at Apollo Valley have a good mix of length ranging between 85 and 160 yards. The routing makes best use of the varied topography over the relatively small site, resulting in a few uphill and downhill shots, as well as one blind and two partially blind tee shots. Just enough variety to keep it interesting on the replay. Greens are not the fastest, but they roll true and have enough contour to keep it fun. Some might be disappointed with the lack of bunkers, but I see this as a feature, not a bug. This characteristic helps to minimize maintenance requirements and presents a less intimidating challenge for the novice. And of course, how could one reference Apollo Valley without mentioning Andy, the friendly owner-operator. In the early morning, you will find him mowing or rolling greens, with the honesty box by the proshop picking up the slack.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Apollo Valley is a must visit course. Rather, the highlights of the place should serve as a template for more short courses to consider.
Fairway Cut from Tee to Green: A hole that measures over 150 yards plays as a pseudo par-4 for the beginner or much shorter hitter. Let’s help them out with more short grass leading up to the green.
Slower Greens with More Slope: Greens are more interesting when they have more slope. Slower greens are also easier (more economical) to maintain and generally result in quicker play. What a perfect combination.
Varied Distance: No one enjoys hitting the same shot over and over, save that for the range. The best par-3 layouts require more than just a wedge for the better player. Interestingly, a par 3 course also provides a bit more liberty for holes that measure under 100 yards, even under 60 yards for matter. This sort of variety increases interest for the expert while also presenting a challenge for the shorter hitter.
Dress Code: As in, no dress code. It is fun to play golf in a t-shirt and track shorts. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
Community Asset: This is likely the most important attribute. More than a traditional course, a par 3 course is primarily there to serve the local community, introduce new players to the game and provide fun, social and unpretentious golf experience.
To be honest, golfers of all skill levels should play more par 3 golf. Where else can you practice your short game without it feeling like practice? Challenge yourself to hit creative shots around the green? (yes, leave that lob wedge at home for a change). Or experience golf when all you have is an hour to spare?
Where is your favourite local par 3? Let us know in the comments and I might just pay it a visit.