The PGA Tour visited 57 venues in 2004, and many of those courses featured short par-4 holes measuring less than 375 yards. With improved technology in golf clubs pushing architects to lengthen golf holes (see Augusta National), some of these short par 4s represent the last bastion of design over length. And many have stood tall enough to buck any need for change.
St. Andrews isn’t the only place with testy short par 4s that challenge the world’s best players. Some of the best short holes in 2004 were at major venues. The 13th at Shinnecock Hills (370 yards) proved to be the seventh-hardest hole on the fateful final day, playing to a stroke average of 4.545.
Augusta National’s third hole may not be long (350 yards), but players averaged 4.029 strokes there in 2004 (the hole played under par this April). Nicknamed Flowering Peach, the third hole has turned the tide in more than one Masters in recent years.
In 2003, when Canadian Mike Weir won, the hole proved disastrous for Jeff Maggert, the early Sunday leader who had trouble negotiating a shot from the left fairway bunker (the shot bounded off the lip of the bunker and hit him in the chest) en route to a triple-bogey 7. Tiger Woods also watched his hopes for a Masters title become derailed at No. 3 when he chose the aggressive play off the tee, hit driver, blocked a tee shot into the right woods and made 6.
“That cost me a lot right there,” Woods said that day. “Looking back on it, I should have just played it back there (laid up) and trusted my wedge game.”
When he returned to Augusta a year later, Woods still questioned his strategy. “It was the first time I’ve ever hit driver when the pin has not been back right. I just got out of my game plan and it ended up costing me a chance to win the tournament.”
Such is the nature of the short par 4; seeing a green sitting so close can lure a player into temptation, then extract a high price for taking the risk. Many of these holes should not be overpowered, but dissected, and a game plan is imperative. It’s not quite like walking up to a 480-yard par 4 and mindlessly reaching for the driver.
The par-4 14th at Muirfield Village is a good example. At 363 yards, the hole can pack a wallop. Jack Nicklaus, who designed Muirfield Village, considers No. 14 one of the best holes on the golf course.
“I think our 14th hole here and our third hole here (401 yards), you put those two holes up against anybody, anyplace,” Nicklaus said midway through the recent Memorial Tournament. “Because they’re just . . . there’s no power, nothing else involved. It’s a 3-wood or a 2-iron, and a 9-iron or wedge. I want to tell you one thing: There’s going to be some high scores on 14.”
Which short holes rank as favorites among PGA Tour players? The 12th at the TPC at Sawgrass’ Stadium Course; the 10th at Riviera Country Club; the fourth at Spyglass Hill; the 15th at TPC River Highlands; the eighth and 10th at Westchester Country Club’s West Course; the 15th at TPC Summerlin; and the 17th at TPC Scottsdale are all examples of short par 4s that demand critical decisions on strategy off the tee.
In the past three decades, Jay Haas, 51, has played a lot of courses on the PGA Tour, and he enjoys the strategy involved in taking on a short, yet formidable par 4.
“No. 10 at Riviera, guys are starting to drive it more, or try to drive it more,” he said. “But if you don’t hit it just in the right spot, you’re not going to make a birdie. And the same with No. 9 at Harbour Town (MCI Heritage). Put a little wind into the factor at No. 9, and wow.
“You walk off there with a par, and you’re not too dissatisfied.”