How to Best Manage Par 3 Golf Holes, Golf Tip

Par 3 holes are golf's great little equalizers. Most players, regardless of skill, have enough power to reach the green in a single shot and make a par, or possibly birdie.

Despite the par 3's simplicity, strategy is required to score consistently well. Sometimes, that could even mean laying up from the tee. Here are some tips for tackling one-shot holes:

  • Tee up your ball: While some golfers eschew using a tee when hitting a wedge or short iron on a par 3, most teachers and tour pros recommend teeing it up every chance you get. Using a tee improves your odds of making clean contact and producing a high, lofted shot that lands softly on the green. For tips on proper teeing height, watch this brief video lesson.
  • Choose your club carefully: The scorecard gives you a yardage from a specific spot on the tee to the center of the green. But seldom will the day's tee and flagstick be placed in those exact locations. First, check the tee position. Many courses provide in-ground markers identifying the spot from which each tee is measured. Next, determine whether the pin is in the front, middle or back of the green. As a general rule, subtract 10 yards from the total distance for a front pin and add 10 yards for a back pin. Depending on the tee and pin placements, a par 3 could play 20-30 yards different from its listed scorecard length.
  • Don't get greedy: With the ball teed up and a free run at the green, it's tempting to aim directly at the flag. But if there's a hazard between you and the pin, you're better off playing away from the trouble. On par 3s that stretch your distance limits, you might consider playing short of the hazard – a deep bunker or a creek, for instance – rather than risk hitting into it.

Par 3s present great opportunities, but these short holes can still bite. Approach them with respect and sound strategy to take advantage of scoring chances while minimizing the potential for a “blow-up” hole.

When you first get started in golf, you may tend to think of the par three holes as the easiest on the course.

How to Best Manage Par 3 Golf Holes

After all, they are the shortest holes you will play, so it seems that they should obviously be the least challenging. However, it doesn't take long to realize this is not the case. In fact, par threes tend to be some of the most difficult holes on any course, so you never want to overlook the challenge that these holes present. If you can make it through the par threes successfully during a given round, you will be well on your way to posting a quality score.

So, why are par three holes so difficult? Let's do a little math to clear up this picture a bit. Let's imagine that you tend to play the middle tees on your local course, which are often known as the 'white' tees due to the color of the tee markers. From the white tees, a par four may be somewhere between 350 – 375 yards, with the occasional hole reaching out to 400 yards. For the sake of our example, let's take the case of a 375-yard par four. On such a hole, a solid drive of 240 yards is going to leave you with an approach shot of just 135 yards. If you can stretch your drive out even farther – to 250 or 260 yards – you'll have an even easier approach.

Now, let's think about the par threes. While you might run into one from time to time that comes in under 150 yards, those tend to be the exception. Even from the white tees, it is common to find par threes at 160, 170, or even 180 yards. That means the shots you are hitting into the green are typically going to be longer than the approach shots you hit on par fours (and par fives). There are exceptions to every rule, of course, as you'll find a short par three or extra-long par four on occasion. Generally speaking, however, the shots you hit into the green on the par threes will be some of the longest approach shots of the day.

Fortunately, it's not all bad news. You do have a couple things working in your favor when you play a par three. For one thing, you get a great lie for your approach shot into the green, since the ball will be resting on a tee. Also, unlike a par four or par five, you don't have to deal with the risk of hitting a poor drive. You get to start from the tee box, so it is like you've already dealt with the tee shot successfully before even getting started.

In this article, we are going to provide some advice on how you can manage par three holes successfully. We won't be talking about the technical aspects of the swing, but rather the strategies you can use to complete these holes is as few strokes as possible. Course management is an important topic in golf, but many players ignore it when they walk up to the tee on a par three. Rather than thinking strategically, plenty of amateur golfers just pick a club and aim directly at the hole. That isn't going to be good enough, and it will never lead to optimal results. For those willing to make smart decisions on par threes, better scores await.

All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

Basics of Par Three Strategy

Basics of Par Three Strategy

To get started, we are going to discuss some basic strategic points that should guide your decision making when standing on the tee of a par three. As you can probably guess, some par three holes are going to require more strategy than others. For instance, if you are playing a short par three with the hole located right in the middle of a large green, there isn't any need to overcomplicate the matter. You can simply aim right at the hole and make your best swing. It is when the holes get longer and more difficult that you will need to think more carefully about your plan.

Let's look at a few basic points that will go a long way toward allowing you to think strategically on par 3 golf holes.

  • Think ahead. This is a point that can be applied to all course management decisions, but it is particularly important here. If you are lucky, you will get to enjoy the experience of making one or two holes-in-one in your entire golfing life. Many players never make one, even if they play the game for decades. What that means, obviously, is that your tee shot is almost never going to be the last shot you play on a par three. There will be a second shot, so you should be thinking about that shot while strategizing what you are going to do on the tee. Where do you want to leave the ball for the next shot? Can you place the ball below the hole so your next shot will be uphill? Take an overview of the green, and the area around the green, and determine where you would like to leave your ball.
  • Can you hit the green? One of the important questions to ask yourself on the tee is whether or not you can realistically hit the green with your tee shot. Not only would the ball need to land on the green, but you would also need to bring it to a stop before it rolls off the other side. On a short par three, this probably isn't a concern. On longer par threes, however, it is frequently a problem. For instance, if the par three you are playing is 200 yards long, and you need to use a three wood to cover that distance, it may be impossible to stop the shot on the putting surface. When that is the case, you'll need to think carefully about the possibility of laying the ball up. The only goal is to finish the hole is as few strokes as possible, even if that means laying up into a comfortable position.
  • Assess the hole location. The location of the hole on the green is going to say a lot about the strategy you employ. If the hole is cut hard against the right edge, for example, missing the green to the right would almost certainly result in a bogey – or worse. In that situation, you'd want to err on the left side so you would have plenty of space to play your chip (or a long putt). However, if the hole is near the middle of the green, you don't have to worry much about being short-sided.
  • Watch for wind. Never forget about the role the wind can play in your course management decisions. When a strong wind is present, it may not be possible to get your ball into certain positions. You might not be able to reach the back of the green when playing into the wind, or you may not be able to stop a shot on the front of the green when headed downwind. Cross winds can have a similar effect. There is nothing you can do about the wind, so accept it for what it is and make a reasonable plan.

So much of par three strategy comes down to being smart and remaining patient. You are going to find some difficult par three holes from time to time, and it is your job to make it through them in good shape. That might not always mean making a par, as sometimes a four will be an acceptable score depending on the hole. Use the points above to kick start your strategic thinking and you should soon be making better decisions.

Thinking About the Big Picture

Thinking About the Big Picture

On a typical full-size 18-hole golf course, there are four par threes. That is not set in stone, of course, as some courses will include five. So, if we assume the course you are playing has four par threes, that means there are 14 holes designed as par fours and par fives. By comparison, the par threes make up a relatively small percentage of your day. With that in mind, it is important to avoid letting the par threes completely throw your round off track.

The idea here is to take steps to avoid making a big mistake on any of the par threes. If, for instance, you make a triple bogey on one of the par threes, it is going to be hard to get those three lost strokes back on the other holes. As you plan the way you are going to attack a given par three, you need to pay attention to the big picture of your round. You'd love to make a par, or even a birdie, but managing to get through a tough hole with a bogey will be seen as a victory in some cases.

On many par threes, you aren't going to need to think this way because there won't be enough trouble on the hole to lead to a big score. For instance, if the green is only guarded by one or two standard bunkers – or even nothing but a little rough – you can just play the hole to the best of your ability and not worry much about making a big mistake. It is the holes that are guarded by major hazards that you will need to think carefully about before hitting your shot.

What kinds of design features should you be watching for on the par threes? Consider the list below.

  • Water. This is a common inclusion in the design of a par three hole. Many courses have at least one par three green that is guarded by water, if not more. Using water to guard a par three can force you to carry the ball all the way to the green, especially if the water runs all the way across the front of the putting surface. When you encounter a par three that has a water hazard, carefully look at the area around the green to see if you can find a relatively safe path for your shot. Forget about the location of the hole – your main goal is to get the ball either on the green or in a safe position for a chip shot. By avoiding the water, you will likely take a big number out of play. Even if you miss the green and fail to get up and down, you can walk away with a bogey and no major damage done.
  • A deep bunker. You don't necessarily need to be afraid of every greenside bunker you encounter when playing a par three hole. Many greenside bunkers are relatively benign, with a shallow profile and plenty of fluffy sand to allow you to play an explosion shot up toward the hole. With that said, some bunkers need to be treated with as much respect as water hazards. If you see that a par three green is protected by a deep bunker with a steep wall on the green side, proceed with caution. Hitting your tee shot into such a bunker could be just as punishing – or even worse – than finding the water.
  • A steep slope. This is a subtle way for a golf course designer to trick you into making a mistake. Picture a par three where the green is surrounded by nothing but grass. On the right, there is some light rough waiting to catch an errant tee shot. On the left, there is fairway-length rough on a steep slope that runs down away from the green. This kind of hole might not look as intimidating as a par three that is guarded by water, but it can be just as tough on your scorecard. If you miss left – even by a little – the ball is likely to run down that slope and away from the green. You'll then have a difficult chip/pitch shot to even get the ball up on the putting surface. Don't be tricked by this design feature – a steep slope covered in short grass can be a major hazard.

You don't always have to be a hero on the par threes. By being patient and keeping the big picture of your round in mind, you can stay away from big mistakes on these holes. It might not always be fun to take the safe path, but that choice is frequently in your best interest.