Short golf courses are having a moment, popping up at resorts across the country. Why? Fewer holes and condensed yardages help, but most importantly, fun’s the word at these laid-back layouts that feature nothing but par-3 holes, where one shot to the green and two putts are a player’s expected number of strokes.
Once afterthoughts in the golf world, short courses have become staples at name-brand golf destinations, inviting players of all skill levels to kick back (and, in some places, take their shoes off) and tee it up with just a few clubs and a putter. Short on distance as they may be, these imaginative one-shot tracks, drawn up by the game’s most respected architects, are long on enjoyment.
From a Tiger Woods must-play in California to the pines of North Carolina, here are nine great public-access short courses worth seeking out in the U.S., where both beginners and single-digit handicappers can savor a quick and casual round with friends and family.
Bandon Preserve at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Bandon, Oregon)
Number of holes: 13
What it offers: A pilgrimage to the bluffs of coastal Oregon isn’t an option for disciples of the game, but a bucket list mandate. All five of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort’s regulation-length courses reside inside the top 20 of Golf Digest’s ranking of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses. Yet its biggest treasure might be its smallest parcel: Bandon Preserve, a 13-hole romp of unbridled golf bliss.
Commencing atop a sand dune before slowly funneling toward the beach, the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw layout oozes Scottish vibes throughout with its native scrub, prevailing winds and pinch-me Pacific Ocean views ornamenting the undulating, windswept surrounds.
The dreamscape is certain to bring out the child in you, especially at the downhill 109-yard final hole, where many players use a putter from the tee.
What you’ll pay: $120 in peak/summer season
Away from the course: Six miles of hiking trails snake through Bandon’s 2,525-acre property, inviting all comers to discover a variety of flora and fauna. For an unexpected treat, take the short Woodland Trail to The Labyrinth, where a soapstone replica of the mazed floor at Chartres Cathedral in France hides in a coastal forest.
Top of the Rock at Big Cedar Lodge (Ridgedale, Missouri)
Number of holes: 9
What it offers: The Ozark Mountains of southwest Missouri are a natural spectacle to behold. Credit Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, the visionary behind the wilderness-forward Big Cedar Lodge, for putting the family-friendly destination on the map and, in recent years, the radar of golf lovers.
When Top of the Rock welcomed the PGA Tour Champions in 2014 for the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge, it became the first par-3 course in the sport’s history to be included in a professional golf tournament. Jack Nicklaus helmed the nine-hole blueprint, which snakes through grounds so immaculate it feels like you’re playing in a botanical garden. Flowering dogwoods and rhododendrons, trickling creeks, oversize rock outcroppings, waterfalls and paper-white sand traps sanctify the scene.
At the first hole, you’ll tee off next to the charming Chapel of the Ozarks. At the short second hole, you’ll hit directly into a stunning portrait of Table Rock Lake, fronted by a green 100 feet below. The sixth hole reveals an island green worthy of a magazine cover before the bunker-wrapped ninth delivers a lake-view encore best witnessed at sunset.
What you’ll pay: $135 for resort guests; $150 for the general public in peak season
Away from the course: Hop in an electric golf cart and adventure through Top of the Rock’s Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail, a 2.5-mile self-guided tour through a jaw-dropping network of rock and cascading waterfalls.
The Cradle Short Course at Pinehurst (Pinehurst, North Carolina)
Number of holes: 9
What it offers: Serious golfers have long flocked to the Pinehurst in the Sandhills of south-central North Carolina for its stiff test of golf. Deemed the home of American golf, where major championships have been hosted since the 1930s, the nine-course golfing Eden is awash with storybook stands of longleaf pines and unspoiled topography that most architects can only dream of.
But it wasn’t until the Cradle opened in 2017 that the highly ranked destination could count a short course on its résumé. Gil Hanse’s inventive nine-hole design has earned a reputation for being what Golf Channel called “the most fun 10 acres in all of golf.” With on-course music, an open-air halfway house and holes ranging from 56 to 127 yards, it’s hard to argue otherwise at this sand-splashed playground.
What you’ll pay: $50 with free replay rounds
Away from the course: Be sure to walk the historic village of Pinehurst, a New England–inspired town where visitors can dine, shop or take it all in from the back of a horse-drawn carriage.