Pittsburgh-area par 3s among the greatest

By Chris Rodell, Contributor

Golf courses in Pittsburgh boast some of the game's most exciting par-3 holes. Here's a look at some of the best at top golf courses such as Champion Lakes, Cranberry Highlands, and Mystic Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.

The majestic landscape is studded with soaring mountains, rolling rivers, castle-sized boulders and impenetrable forest with chasms so deep and Fore!-boding many loving parents would think twice about entering to retrieve one of their offspring, let alone a scuffed old Titleist.

Yes, the only natural hazard western Pennsylvania needs to make its fabulous par 3s more demonic would be a string of active, belching volcanos guarded by pitchfork waving old rangers.

The par 3 is unique in that it is the only hole that offers the opportunity for instant and immortal glory. You may not think about it each and every time you're standing on a 150-yard hole - many do - but each and every par 3, from the mundane to the magnificent, offers you a chance to hit a shot that will make the local newspapers. Do it multiple times or with $1 million on the line and your swing could earn national acclaim.

That's what makes Pittsburgh-area par 3s so special. Many of the best ones, like the following 18, force you to think about the indelible rewards of hitting a shot at the pin and the scorecard-destroying consequences of hitting one that wanders.

You'll find anyone putting together a list of great par 3s will invariably come back to the same designers and the same golf courses. Some, like Pete Dye, appreciate the thrill golfers get from swinging the shorter sticks from a tee box. The best par 3s are on courses where all four are worthy for inclusion. Mystic Rock, Madison, Olde Stonewall, Grandview and Birdsfoot each has four par 3s so sublime that the five of them alone could hog the list. But in the interest of spreading around the kudos, the list will try and be as inclusive as possible.

And next time you're standing on the tee of one of these gems, remember the wise advise of Lee Trevino, the hall of fame golfer who's hit more memorable, lucrative aces than any other golfer alive. When asked how other golfers can be as successful on the short one as he's been, Trevino says, "Aim it at the hole!"

1. Champion Lakes Golf Course in Bolivar, No. 11, 188 yards - A classic par 3 at a classic western Pennsylvania golf course. A slightly elevated set of tee boxes looks out over a pond at the base of a shaggy hillside leading up to a green that slopes steeply from back to front. The cathedral of trees has seen many three putts from golfers who approached the green sure they were staring at birdie.

2. Cranberry Highlands Golf Course in Cranberry Township, No. 3, 194 yards - When you finally snake your cart down the precipitous hill and make your way to the green, you'll swear you're the victim of an optical illusion. The green sure didn't look this big way back up on that hill, did it? Water in back, front and left and a bunker on the right, many golfers feel giddy if they've simply hit the putting surface. Wrong. The green is so big that many golfers who felt relief at hitting it will begin fretting over putts in excess of 50 feet. Do yourself a favor: mentally break this one up into quarters and try and hit the section where the flag is, not just the green.

3. Mystic Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa in Farmington, No. 12, 173 yards - This is the signature hole on a golf course that has more signatures than the autograph book belonging to an NFL franchise owner's favored nephew. Elevated tees peer down on a visually striking challenge: water front and left and a green teetering on stacks of trademark blocks of granite. The green is angled right-to-left getting progressively more narrow. Front to back can mean as much as two club lengths difference. Designer Pete Dye allows for a generous bailout area short and right, but you'll have trouble sleeping if you don't take the dare and bring it in left to right from over the lake for a result that can be thrilling or chilling.

4. Birdsfoot Golf Club in Freeport, No. 9, 208 yards - A sign in front of the chasm the divides the tee and green warns golfers not to enter to look for mis-struck balls. It's unnecessary for anyone with two functioning eyeballs and an appreciation of heights. Stumble off the edge here and you'll meet the same fate Wily E. Coyote met when he'd was foolish enough to try and dine on the Roadrunner. Beep! Beep!

5. Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Champion, No. 11, 209 yards - This would be a toughie if it was a dainty 135 yards. But with both the blues and the whites playing about 200 yards, this downhill gem can look like a black diamond run to a beginning skier at the nearby slopes for which this resort is famous. Water laps right up to the right edge of the green and a large sand bunker snares balls that shy away from the wet stuff.

6. Tom's Run at Chestnut Ridge Golf Club in Blairsville, No. 2, 152 yards - From a 60-foot perch across the playfully babbling Tom's Run creek, golfers need to take two less clubs than usual to account for the steep drop. This nifty little hole kicks off a trio of memorable holes at one of western Pennsylvania's most scenic golf courses.

7. Champion Lakes Golf Course in Bolivar, No. 16, 188 - With the sprawling Laurel Mountains and Chestnut Ridge ranges as a back drop, this downhill hole, longer than it looks, means golfers can't hold anything back on a long iron to an hour-glass shaped green flanked by two bunkers. Strong winds frequently blow balls off target leaving golfers with some delicate chips when the cup is cut into the narrow neck of the putting surface.

8. Madison Golf Club in Madison, No. 8, 181 yards - A lovely little lullaby of a hole, so scenic you tend to forget how much trouble it can cause you. The tees are terraced into the side of a hill and feed through a stand of trees whose lush canopies can snag errant tee shots. A lake behind gobbles long shots. A bunker protects the right front and large tree on the left can pinball shots hit to that side. Madison has one of the best collections of par 3s in western Pennsylvania. This is one
of the reasons why.

9. Quicksilver Golf Club in Midway, No. 8, 169 yards - The water here is so wide and deep you might be praying, Holy Moses, how can I part this sea? Water has a way of turning the knees of even steel skeleton golfers into another substance: jello. The big green will accommodate stray shots, but you're putting better be superior to your tee shots or you're sunk here at this tough, tough course.

10. Mystic Rock, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa in Farmington, No. 7, 173 yards - An odd choice perhaps to some, especially considering this bumps the wonderful 17th at Mystic off the list, but the tee to green field of jagged rocks makes this an irresistible selection to anyone choosing tantalizing par 3s. A large bunker on the left catches stray shots. In fact, the bunker might be the safest place to be for anyone who misses the expansive green.

11. Birdsfoot Golf Club, Freeport, No. 17, 192 yards - This is what golf must have looked like when Alan Shepherd struck the first ball on the surface of the moon. The long green runs diagonally left to right away from the tee boxes. A baker's dozen bunkers, some with sand some without, can leave golfers feeling depressed by the depressions.

12. Tam O'Shanter Golf Course in Hermitage, No. 14, 152 yards - A haunting Halloween-of-a-hole that can spook even steely nerved golfers. A large gulch spanning the front of the green is called "Death Valley" because of its round-killing tendencies. Large oaks and maples - great hanging trees for horse thieves - sprawl at the green entrance left and right waiting to snag any balls hit just off target. Golfers are greeted at the tee with a small "cemetery" of broken clubs and golf spikes sticking up out
of the stony ground.

13. Hunter's Station G.C. in Tionesta, No. 7, 167 yards - A Tionesta hole that seems steeper than it is long. It's 167 yards, but the vertical drop has been measured at 166-feet - and it's nearly straight down. This may be the best par 3 in Pennsylvania, and is the most unheralded in the country. Non-golfing tourists from Europe make the hike up the mountain to see what golfers can't help but peeking at - even when they should be concentrating on the ball. But the view is just too lovely to not look.

14. Madison Golf Club in Madison, No. 17, 153 yards - Standing on the tee, this one looks like another 17th hole of some repute: the 17th at TPC Sawgrass's Stadium Course, the most famous par 3 in golf. Although not a true island, green, water surrounds three-quarters of the severely banked putting surface. A small island in the middle of the lake also has a sprawling tree that can force some slicing golfers to play a little more to the right than they'd like.

15. Hidden Valley Golf Club in Hidden Valley, No. 15, 185 yards - Slightly uphill with a rock-strewn creek cutting diagonally between tee and green from left to right, this hole is a hallway hallmark of the tight tree-lined fairways at beautiful Hidden Valley. Bunkers on the left and right front of the green conceal the putting surface, which is large and deep. You won't know how close you are until you drive up in the cart.

16. Grandview Golf Club in North Braddock, No. 5, 179 yards - What? Not the diabolically descending number 14? This gem of a course on one of the highest points in the city of Pittsburgh features more thrills for golfers than at the Kennywood Amusement Park whose roller coaster screams can be heard directly across the Monongahela River. The 14th hole is a great par 3 with an elevation change that means 160 can play like 120. But the fifth hole features a ledge-like green that is cut on the side of a hill. A great test on a great course. Some of best views in Pittsburgh are at the aptly named Grandview, none better than watching your ball cozy up to the cup on number 5 with city backdrops all around.

17. Olde Stonewall Golf Club in Ellwood City, No. 14, 202 yards - Two of the best par 3s you'll ever play are back-to-back at Olde Stonewall north of Pittsburgh. Individually, each is a magnificently appealing challenge. Together, they are breathtaking. The elevated tees are stitched into the mountainside by row after row of multi-ton boulders. A series of boulder-bordered ponds descend in front of a green that is protected by three bunkers. This is one of the most severe greens on an outstanding golf course.

18. Olde Stonewall Golf Club in Ellwood City, No. 15, 217 yards - Another exhilarating test on a rousing back nine that seems to miraculously top itself with each succeeding hole. A slight bailout area to the right, but doom awaits those who go for a deep pin placement and miss. Golf Digest ranks Olde Stonewall the number one public course in America. These stunning, back-to-back par 3s, two of the best anywhere, are emphatic reasons why Olde Stonewall earns that lofty ranking.

Chris RodellChris Rodell, Contributor

Chris Rodell may not be the best golf writer, the most productive or the best informed, but he is the only golf writer who lives on Arnold Palmer Drive one half mile from Latrobe Country Club and The King himself.

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