For most golfers, a par-3 course usually means an open field with tee boxes and flagsticks cut into closely-mown areas, or a bare-bones operation for families with children or players working on their short game – not a destination for serious play.
But that concept is changing as professional designs and superior conditioning find their way to the par-3 world. Bandon, Ore.’s, golf destination recently added Bandon Preserve, a 13-hole par-3 layout as excellent as its full-size kin, but in a compact package. South Carolina also has layouts that offer challenging golf you can play with a handful of clubs, in less than two hours. In our “Short Course” series, we’ll explore some of the best.
It’s not often you get to play 18 holes where the golf course owner serves as your caddie. Then again, it’s not often – make that never anywhere else – that you play a course where each of the holes was designed by a different golf architect, including some of the biggest names in the business.
That’s part of the allure of CrossWinds Par-3 Golf Course
, but for most players, Sam Pate says, it’s probably not the biggest attraction. Many of his regular customers likely wouldn’t know Pete Dye or Tom Fazio from the local TV weatherman; they just know the course is a lot of fun, and playable in about two hours.
Pate, the 68-year-old course owner, insisted on hauling my clubs on a pull cart during a recent round. I felt guilty after learning he had a double lung transplant five years ago – “I’ve got 24-year-old lungs now,” he says – but it wound up being a chance to have him explain the course’s history, not to mention advising on club selection and putting.
“We tried to make a facility that would appeal to golfers of all levels,” Pate says. “We get a lot of First Tee players, but it’s plenty challenging that we have some pros come, too.” Occasional players include Champions Tour veteran Jay Haas and his wife, Jan, as well as PGA Tour standout (and Jay and Jan’s son) Bill Haas, Golf Channel regular Robbie Biershenk and ex-South Carolina player Kyle Thompson.
CrossWinds was conceived in the late 1990s when Pate approached Greenville golf architect John LaFoy about building a course on 29 acres adjacent to Interstate 385, near the Downtown Greenville Airport (hence the “CrossWinds” name). LaFoy, a past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, reached out to colleagues around the country, asking each to design a par-3 hole.
“I sent each the (topographic map) and they sent me a sketch with plans; I tried to be faithful to build the hole they sent,” LaFoy says. Sixteen plans came back, and Jay Haas (No. 17) and LaFoy (No. 18) added their own designs. Construction took about a year from concept to completion, LaFoy says.
So what happens when that many cooks team up for an 18-hole stew? “If you didn’t know each hole was a different architect, you’d think it’s sort of disjointed,” Pate says. “We advertise it as ’18 championship holes you can play in two hours.’”
Indeed, the variety of terrain, strategies, bunkers and mounds makes for a challenging test for all skill levels. Depending on which tees you play (the course ranges 2,460-1,481 yards), one can tour the course with a handful of wedges and short irons, or from the back tees (with holes up to 180 yards), long irons and perhaps a fairway wood are
Pate’s favorite hole, because he views it as the most difficult, is the 160-yard 13th, designed by Denis Griffiths of Braselton, Ga. A large bunker below the elevated green guards the front left, mounds guard the right, and a back slope can send too-long shots off the back left and down a steep bank.
The most obvious hole design, Pate says, is the uphill ninth hole (153 yards) by Pete Dye – or rather, his wife, Alice – with traditional Dye railroad ties fronting the green. The best story involves the Rees Jones-designed, 104-yard seventh, which plays downhill and has a right-side bunker hidden by a large mound.
“Rees said he’d do a hole only if it had water to carry,” Pate says. “(LaFoy) had a spot that would be good for a little pond and told Rees that. But then the city wouldn’t let us put a pond there.”
While seasoned players will appreciate the different concepts – and the quick bent-grass greens, which incorporate multiple tiers and ridges, and variously slope off front, sides and back – the average player can enjoy the course without feeling overwhelmed. That is, if that player is realistic about his abilities.
LaFoy once watched an obvious beginner who “whiffed” his ball 10 times (yes, LaFoy counted). “I told him he might enjoy the forward tees more, but he insisted on playing from the back,” he says, laughing. Another time, the architect discovered a couple pushing a baby stroller as they played. “I told them that probably wasn’t a good idea.”
And there was the day five years ago when Pate got a call at home saying “some guy from Golf Digest” was at CrossWinds. It was Ron Whitten, the magazine’s architecture expert and a friend of LaFoy’s. “I was amazed he knew about it,” Pate says.
Whitten later wrote about the course, calling the concept “a gimmick, but it’s a gimmick that works.” He noted that “most people play it because … they just like the fact they can get in a quick round in the evening under the floodlights,” and he called it “a really fun par-3 course with enough variety to hold everyone’s interest.” To read the entire Whitten article, go to the course’s website
Whether you want to see all those architects’ handiwork – among the more well-known are Tom Fazio, Arnold Palmer’s late lead designer Ed Seay, Bob Cupp, Jay Morrish and Dan Maples – or just want to polish your short game, CrossWinds is a special place: relaxed enough to feel welcoming, daunting enough to make you pay attention. Even without a caddie.
For information, call (864) 233-6336 or go to the website