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Par for the Course: The short list

These popular Southern California par-3 courses remain fun and affordable options for all players.

By Eric Tracy

Reidy Creek is one of the Southland’s most challenging par-3 courses.
My newfound fascination with short courses was stoked in April when the Masters televised its par-3 championship for the first time.

It was heightened during a recent trip to Las Vegas when I wanted to play golf but didn’t have a lot of time. The lighted Cloud Nine course at Angel Park was just what the doctor ordered. The course consists of 12 par-3 holes that replicate some of the great par 3s from around the world, including the 17th hole at Sawgrass and No. 8 at Royal Troon. The facility also includes two 18-hole courses and an 18-hole putting course.

Luckily, I don’t have to visit Sin City every time I want to play a great par-3 course. There are plenty of options closer to home.

The lighted 18-hole Heartwell Golf Course in Long Beach is where a young Tiger Woods cut his baby teeth in the game. But that’s not the only reason Heartwell does 90,000 rounds a year.

“It is really neat,” said Dennis Wright, the PGA head professional. “We have everything on this 18-hole golf course: water hazards, difficult bunkering and challenging greens.”

And then he added with tongue firmly implanted in cheek: “It’s as if they took a big course and left it in the washing machine too long and it shrunk.”

Wright, who has been the pro at a number of Long Beach courses, also loves the teaching opportunities at Heartwell.
“I get to teach at every level, [from] the really young juniors getting their first golf course experience to the older golfers who just can’t play the long courses anymore,” he said. “I also get the really good players who come here to hone their short game.”

American Golf, which operates Heartwell, also operates Arcadia Golf Course, a lighted 18-hole facility with a nice practice area.
Neat nine-hole options include Debell in Burbank, Rancho Park in West Los Angeles and Armand Hammer in Holmby Park, where you can play for $2.

The Back Bay Golf Course at the Hyatt Regency in Newport Beach consists of nine holes with gorgeous views of the bay.

Eddie Meeks, this magazine’s photography editor, loves to squeeze in a round there whenever possible.
“It’s great for working on your short game,” he said. “I go over at lunch, play nine holes in 45 minutes, then eat my lunch on the picnic tables. It’s beautiful.”

Reidy Creek in Escondido has been rated a “10 out of 10” by the San Diego Union-Tribune, and, like Heartwell in Long Beach, it’s a terrific challenge. The 18-hole course plays through a natural valley providing golfers a rolling terrain that ensures no two holes are alike.

The Welk Resort in Escondido offers a 4,000-yard executive course (The Fountains) and a par-3 course lined with oak trees (The Oaks).
Sycuan Resort, home to two championship courses, also has a 2,500-yard course called Pine Glen that has a variety of intriguing holes.

But the course with the most interesting story is Sail Ho in San Diego. Originally part of the San Diego Naval Station, the course once had Sam Snead as its head professional when he was stationed there in the Navy. Phil Mickelson and Craig Stadler also played a lot of junior golf at Sail Ho. When the Navy base was closed, the city took it over, but ran out of funds to keep it open. Two years ago, it was sold and reopened, and is now hosting 35,000 rounds a year.

Lawrence St. Clair, the operations manager, put out this challenge: “I dare you to find better greens anywhere in San Diego.”

But make me king for a day (or a week) and I’d get the ball rolling on something I’ve always to do at Tarzana’s Braemar Country Club, a 36-hole facility with no driving range and a West Course that gets little play.

First, I’d put in a top-of-the-line practice and training facility the likes of David Leadbetter’s at ChampionsGate in Orlando, Fla. There, Leadbetter has a double-ended driving range, an incredible short-game practice area with bunkers and greens for pitching and chipping, and a putting green that must be 20,000 square feet.

I’d then turn the rest of what’s left of the West Course into a magnificent 18-hole, par-3 layout, on par with Augusta National. I think San Fernando Valley residents would eat it up and folks from the beach communities and the Westside could easily come over the hill. If done right, I’d bet my shirt it would draw golfers from all over Southern California.

When I presented the idea to Bob Linn, general manager at Braemar, he thought it was “very interesting” and said that putting in a driving range is one of his short-term goals.

Linn also promised to “pass on my ideas to the golf committee”

Of course, with that kind of answer, now you know why I’d have to be king to really make this idea fly.
Eric Tracy is also known as The Mulligan Man. He can be reached at

Readers Feedback:

Eric, I think you really missed the boat on this one. Arcadia & Little De Bell are poorly maintained & lack interest. Arroyo Seco is certainly one of the best in the state. Studio City & Los Feliz are also gems. I love to go out midweek & play these little courses when no one is around, play 2 or 3 balls per hole & work on my short game. I enjoyed the article, just thought that you left out the best ones. Thanks, Eric.
Comment at 7/14/2008
Thank You for the artile on Southland Par 3 courses, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts. As a proud, self-proclaimed par 3 afficianado, I had the fortune of playing many amazing courses over many years. I was certainly compelled to write a response to your "short list". Being the discerning critic, I do respect your list but I do have my own exceptions. I would put Rancho Park and Arcadia on my short list as well. I would put Los Feliz over De Bell. South Gate par 3, Whitsett and Verdugo Hills would be very high on my list for a "total golf experience" and Compton par 3 is definitely a finer golfer's course worth playing. I've assesed The Armand Hammer course. I believe along with other par 3 design snobs, that this course presents some danger to local pedestrians and probably needs to be "rethunk" in light of space constraints...wouldn't you agree? Thanks again for the article and the opportunity to express my opinion. David Romero par 3 fan
Comment at 8/9/2008
Listen, you don't know how good you have it in the S. Cal area. Either you haven't heard or are just ignoring the true potential of the shorter golf course since the new hi-performance "Hybrid" golf ball came on the scene. It simplifies the game down, heightens the enjoyment, while giving golfer's the big-course experience. If time, cost & difficulty & safety are an issue, suggest you try this ball.
Comment at 10/14/2008
For all par-3 players, please look up our course if you come to Portugal.
Comment at 7/24/2009
Are there any Par 3 golf course in San Bernandino Area*specifically Alta Loma or Rancho Cucamonga
Comment at 3/15/2010
Double your pleasure, double your fun! Try the new Hybrid golf ball, designed for a higher level of golfing enjoyment on shorter golf courses. Take the Hybrid "Less is More Approach" for better golf.
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