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Inside the 17th Hole: Wanna Bet it's a Par-3?

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

Let's say you had to play a golf course with no yardage book, no scorecard, and generally no sense of what type hole was coming up next.

Could you make an educated guess as to what par the next hole would be?

Most good golf course architects mix up their hole lengths, sprinkling risk/reward par-5's and scenic par-3's amid long and short par-4's.

But when it comes to 17th holes, most course designers agree: par-3's are the way to go.

"I learned it from studying Pete Dye," says Hilton Head based architect Clyde Johnston. "Most of us learn that you want to finish the course (par) five, three, four. That is the most dramatic way to finish."

Johnston adds that it is also about leaving a positive mental picture in players' heads.

"Par-3's can be so scenic or dramatic, so you want one near the end," he says. "But you don't want one as a finishing hole. The finishing hole needs to be a bit of a grind for players. Funny thing is, a lot of courses talk about their finishing holes, but most players don't remember the finishing hole, they remember the par-3 17th."

The par-3 17th at the TPC of Sawgrass' stadium course is one of the most famous holes in the U.S. The hole's island green with little or no bailout area on any side and undulating putting surface have made for some of the most exciting finishes on the PGA Tour.

"That is certainly one of the great 17th holes in golf," Johnston says. "But it doesn't always have to be a par-3 to be great. Think about the Road Hole at St. Andrews, it is a par-4."

As Johnston points out, there are exceptions to any rule.

Yet, the 115-plus golf courses of the Grand Strand seem quite willing to adhere to Johnston and his colleagues' design principles. A random survey of courses from the course guide at MyrtleBeachGolf.com revealed a par-3 17th hole 80-percent of the time. A number of Myrtle Beach area courses are 27 or 36 hole facilities, in which case the 8th holes on the individual nines were counted as the 17th hole.

However, some local golf professionals point out that despite golf architects intentions, land constraints and course routing often dictate what par hole goes where.

"If you look at the routing of our golf course, I just think it kind of fit," says Blackmoor head professional Mac Hood of his course's par-3 17th hole. "I am not going to try to guess what Mr. Player had in mind. It is not a real easy par-3 either. It always plays one club longer than it measures. I don't think he is setting anything up. A lot of it has to do with routing."

Like its sister course down in Ponte Vedra, Fla., the TPC of Myrtle Beach is also home to a dramatic, par-3 17th hole. The green juts out into a small pond, and the tees boxes become more and more elevated as you make your way to the back tees. General Manager Skip Corn says that is was drama, more so than routing or land limitations, that led to the 17th hole being a one-shotter.

"We have some great par-3's out here and (course designer) Tom Fazio knows that a par-3 17th like this one provides the closing drama you need in a tournament," Corn says. "I would not say it's a policy of TPC courses to have par-3 17th holes, but a number of the layouts have them because they host professional tournaments."

The TPC of Myrtle Beach was originally intended to be the home of the Senior Tour Championship, and the Fazio designed layout actually hosted the event back in 2000. But the tournament lost its sponsor, and the Senior Tour packed up and moved to Oklahoma City for this year's playing.

"That hole is still going to provide the average player involved in a friendly match with plenty of things to think about," Corn says.

But one thing you, the golfer, may not have to think about is what is lurking just beyond that 16th hole. The smart money says it's a par-3.

CarolinaGolfTravel.com is your best choice for golf packages on the North and South Carolina Coast. Let us handle the arrangements for your next golf vacation. Choose Wilmington, N.C., or Myrtle Beach, S.C., or anywhere in between, including the Brunswick Isles. Call 1-866-409-2177. Updated online Seasonal Specials all year 'round.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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