LOS ANGELES — There are no absolutes in golf course design. Except, perhaps, the concept of finishing on a par 3.
They tried a one-shotter at East Lake for years and the PGA Tour now flips the nines to avoid the par-3 conclusion. Congressional’s once world-famous par-3 18th seemed like a good idea at the time but it’s gone now, replaced by a hole playing the opposite direction.
Take your pick of reasons, but a par 4 or par 5 to end a round just feels more cinematic, dramatic and appropriate. There’s something about piecing together shots that serves as one final affirmation of a what we admire in a successful golf championship performance.
But if you have to finish on a par 3, this week’s LPGA stop should serve up plenty of volatility and fun. Wilshire Country Club normally features a dynamite par-4 finishing hole for members. This week it’s playing as the 17th hole in the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open. In the old days, that difficult par 4 produced some of golf’s greatest scenes when the club hosted multiple men’s L.A. Opens. In what looks in old photos like something cooked up by set designers from one of the nearby studios, well-dressed spectators perched themselves atop a ridge overlooking a dry barranca-surrounded green, with the Hollywood sign and El Royale in the distance.
For logistical reasons — tents and grandstand space — this week’s L.A. Open will finish on the club’s 156-yard par-3 10th. Don’t fret though, this is one zany little par 3.
The setting is unlike anything else in golf, with an elevated tee set at the foot of the club’s stylish Spanish clubhouse. After players come off the 17th green just below, they will be greeted by a crowd eager to see the LPGA’s finest tackle one of the coolest par 3s in the game. The joined fairways of the 17th and 18th may even bring the longer LPGA players very close to the finishing green as they play the 17th. Everyone will know where they stand as the tournament winds down.
Thanks to the 18th’s massive and well-bunkered green, this little one-shot finisher is full of possibilities. The yardage can play from 100 to 175 yards depending on the tee and hole location placement, figure on something just below the max for the final round. The lightbulb-shaped green is 47 paces deep, with a remarkably narrow pinch point 18 paces in. A whopping six bunkers guard the surface, while a “Bear Trap” swale of tightly mown turf protects the back left and right.
The real genius, however, is the angle this glorious green complex sits at for players trying to play directly at center and back-right hole locations. Think of Augusta National’s 12th subtle left-to-right tilting and add at least more club. Maybe two. The extreme disparity between front and back of the putting surface is so great that players nearly always under-club here.
“I think one of the keys this week is just hitting a lot of greens,” Inbee Park said. “Even though they’re going in with a short iron, you have to kind of aim for the big part of the green.”
That is the secret to Wilshire’s 10th just as it is at Augusta National’s 12th. The “light” portion of the bulb is very ample and any shot finishing in the center to the rear hole locations will leave a makeable birdie putt.
Should there be a playoff in the first-ever Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open, the hole will be used in sudden death twice before players are sent to the 16th and 17th holes. If a fifth hole is needed — and since 2018 appears to be the year of the playoff in big-time golf don’t rule this out — the temporary 18th could see a fourth playing Sunday.
Yet as with all of the grand shots in golf, the combination of angles, setting and situation will undoubtedly tempt a player to bite off more than they can chew. And that’s why Wilshire’s par-3 finish will make for a fun final-round viewing.