Whatever you have seen, heard or think about par 3 golf courses, it’s time to reconsider.
Long ridiculed as an undignified version of the game suited only to children and novices, acclaimed US golf writer Joe Passov wrote earlier this year that serious golfers often regard par-3 courses, undeservedly, as “the red-headed stepchild of golf layouts”.
Now, a new nine-hole par-3 layout in Thailand, at the country’s official best golf course – Black Mountain at Hua Hin, 200 kilometres south of Bangkok – seems set to change attitudes inAsiaabout the short version of the 500-year-old game.
Like its big brother layout named last month as the best in Thailand and best championship course in Asia Pacific, Black Mountain’s new par-3 course, which opens officially this week, is winning plaudits from the outset.
European pros Johan Edfors, Pelle Edberg and Alex Noren raved about the layout when they test-drove (or, more correctly, test-ironed) it last week.
Deep and plentiful bunkering, water on almost every hole, greens protected by steep banks, and undulations everywhere make the course a far cry from the pitch-and-putt image of par-3 courses – and a challenge even for tour pros.
“It’s awesome, the best par-3 course I have played … the world’s best driving range,” remarked triple European Tour winner, Alex Noren. “It compares more than favourably to Valderama’s par-3 course inSpain.”
“You could take every hole, put it on a championship layout and it would fit fine,” said Johan Edfors, a seven-times winner on three tours and who finished 19th at this year’s US Open and 16th at last weekend’s Dubai World Championships. “It’s a great course to sharpen up short and mid irons and the greens are big enough to hit. For me, I can learn more in an hour playing one round here than from a day on the range.”
“There’s a real place for this type of course,” said Pelle Edberg, who had his best year ever in 2011 on the US Challenge Tour. “Having the same grass as other top courses inAsiais important for practice. Apart from that, it’s a real test and a lot of fun.”
BlackMountain’s members, who have been playing the course for the past few weeks, agree.
“Members with handicaps of 20 or more have really enjoyed it,” says Black Mountain general manager, Harald Ellison. “It’s not a course for beginners, but appeals to low, middle and even higher handicappers who want to test their skills on a spectacular layout with challenging holes.”
Designer Phil Ryan of Pacific Coast Design in Melbourne, Australia, who also designed Black Mountain’s 18-hole course that opened in 2007, has cleverly used a natural valley, with a meandering stone-walled watercourse running through the centre of the course to build the nine holes. On either side of the water are holes of 125 metres to 175 metres from the back tees, or as little as 85 metres from the front tee boxes.
By using different tees for some holes, tee-to-green shots of more than 200 metres are possible. And there will even be a tee on the clubhouse roof for novelty events.
Richard Halls, a partner in construction company Links Golf Services, which built the course as well as Black Mountain’s 18-hole layout, says it has the potential to be regarded among the world’s best, along with acclaimed par-3 courses like Cloud Nine in Las Vegas, Nevada.
And what of the course itself? It starts gently enough with a hole playing between 130 and 160 yards protected by front bunkers. Water comes in to play at the second hole, also 160 yards from the blacks, while the third with a 75-yard green that is a scale shape of Sweden can be especially tough if the pin is placed at front right near the water or back left on a steep slope.
Three of the last four holes are the toughest. The sixth, the longest hole at 175 yards from the blacks, can be played as long as 200 yards if the tee box is moved to the back of the adjoining fifth tee. The green is perched high above walls made of wooden railway sleepers.
It is likely to be Index One on the card, ranking with the ninth hole as the toughest. The latter, playing from just 90 to 140 yards, requires the most accurate tee shot of all.
Two pot bunkers protect the green left and right, while any missed shot long or right will end up in the water.
Green fees for the par-3 course will be 500 baht (approx. $US16) for nine holes and 750 baht (approx. $US25) for two rounds. A combined rate for the nine-hole and 18-hole courses may also be introduced.
The par-3 addition is one of several new developments atBlackMountain, situated within easy reach of the popular seaside resort city ofHua Hin. This month,BlackMountainwill open a water park and wakeboard park that will be among the best inAsia, while the first 15 of 57 new villas adjacent to the par-3 course will open before New Year.
“We are creating a complete community with golf, condominiums villas, water activities, tennis and other sports,” Harald Ellison explains. “It means thatBlackMountainis becoming a tourism destination in its own right.”
BlackMountainwas named as best course inThailandand best championship layout in Asia Pacific at the Pattaya golf summit in November. In 2010, it was selected by Asian Tour players as their favourite host venue of the year.
The club is a member of Thailand’s golf destination marketing program Golf In A Kingdom (www.golfinakingdom.com) that includes the kingdom’s top golf courses, resorts and hotels.