The phrase “risk-reward” is thrown around rather haphazardly as it relates to course architecture. Strategically, though, there is no denying the greatness when risk-reward elements are incorporated successfully into a great par 4. As the great architect George C. Thomas wrote in his Anatomy of a Golf Course: “The great courses entice the golfer to outwit himself.” In designing the 10th hole at Riviera Country Club, Thomas took that approach and applied it to this drivable brute.
Within the confines of a drivable par 4, the challenge is adding enough interesting elements to engage the golfer and at the same time reward the most precise shots. To effectively challenge the tour player—when the leader in driving distance on the PGA Tour is above 318 yards this year—while still making a hole playable is the difficulty facing every golf architect. The par 4s below do just that.
10th hole, Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Often referred to as the best short par 4 in golf, and for good reason. The shot options on Riviera‘s 10th hole offer a variety of ways to play the hole. And even for the PGA Tour’s best, the precision required to drive the green, or even set yourself up for an easy birdie, is a great challenge, but at the same time a bunch of fun. That’s the sign of a great golf hole.
Third hole, Augusta National Golf Club
The yardage on Augusta National‘s third hole is the same as it was in 1934 for the first Masters. Though reconstructed multiple times over the decades, the basic green shape is unchanged from Dr. Alister MacKenzie’s and Bobby Jones’ initial plan. Perry Maxwell, the Midwestern associate of MacKenzie, removed a front tongue to the green in 1937, and reshaped the bunkers in the front of the green.
12th hole at Pine Valley Golf Club, Clementon, N.J.
As part of recent renovations at Pine Valley overseen by Tom Fazio, the club removed a large number of trees on the left side of the hole, and added extensive bunkering in its stead. The result entices the golfer to be heroic with their tee shot, with the penalty for coming up short on that angle quite severe. There are few other more daunting short par 4s in golf without water or out-of-bounds hazard.
12th hole, St. Andrews, Scotland
The short par-4 12th hole at the Old Course is 314 yards, with a minefield of hidden pot bunkers in the fairway, where even an iron off the tee can find trouble. The 18th hole is also essentially a drivable par 4, with the way technology has evolved.
__17th hole, Oakmont Country Club__
The 316-yard par 4, with a postage stamp-sized green, has caused fits during past U.S. Open, including in 2007 when Jim Furyk’s bogey 5 cost him a chance at the trophy.
12th hole at TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium), Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Before the 2017 Players Championship, PGA Tour design chief Steve Wenzloff consulted with course designer Pete Dye to turn the previous short, dogleg-left par 4 into the rare drivable par 4 on a Pete Dye layout. Previously, a large knob in the rough obscured the view on golfers’ second shots, but technology advancements meant players were blasting it over that area. A long strip bunker replaced it, and the green has been moved forward a bit, with a lagoon looming six feet below the putting surface—meant to catch errant shots similar to the 12th hole at Augusta National.
Seventh hole, Sand Hills Golf Club, Mullen, Neb.
Variety is a trademark of all great golf courses. Such is the case with Sand Hills, and the seventh hole offers amateur golfers the thrill of knocking it onto a par 4 in one. The front tee can play around 235 yards. Though not designed to be a drivable hole, the eighth hole at Sand Hills has become short enough for some players to knock it on. The 12th hole is also a short par 4.
17th hole at Double Eagle Club, Galena, Ohio
A double fairway at Double Eagle‘s 17th hole, split by a collection of trees and a large bunker complex, creates a true decision to be made for the golfer: Play for the green or lay up to either of the two fairways—creating different angles at which to approach the green.
17th hole at TPC Scottsdale (Stadium)
Tom Weiskopf, who also designed Double Eagle with his design partner Jay Morrish, created the 17th hole at TPC Scottsdale, one of the best short par 4s the tour plays every year—requiring a precise shot into a specific area to make up a shot late in your round. We’ve seen big numbers from players in the past—Rickie Fowler hitting into the water as he battled with Hideki Matsuyama in 2016—but we’ve also seen great shots rewarded. The hole location usually dictates what players do at the short par 4.
Ninth hole at Cypress Point Club, Pebble Beach
Most have seen photos of Cypress Point’s majestic finishing stretch, particularly the par-3 16th hole that juts out into the water. But the 295-yard par-4 ninth hole is every bit the equal to the 16th in strategic terms.
10th hole at Merion Golf Club (East), Ardmore, Pa.
Nearly every player went for the green at the short par-4 10th hole at Merion’s East course, except Phil Mickelson on the final day, when he laid up in the fairway, then holed out for eagle as he made a late surge for his elusive U.S. Open title.
__Sixth hole, Winged Foot Golf Club (West)__
During the 1959 U.S. Open, Ben Hogan laid up to 150 yards at this short par 4 every day—leaving himself with a 7-iron to allow him to spin and hold this treacherous green, surrounded by perilous bunkers. At the 2020 U.S. Open, players will be able to reach this green with long irons and 5-woods. But it will be no easy birdie.
__16th hole, Bandon Dunes__
Often regarded as one of the most distinguishable holes at David McLay Kidd’s Bandon Dunes, the 16th hole offers magnificent views of the Pacific Coast, with the coast beckoning just beyond the green.
__Seventh hole at Olympic Club (Lake)__
A 294-yard par 4 awaits hitters on the seventh tee. The green is well-protected by bunkers, and the multi-tiered green requires precision with one’s approach. The Lake course concludes with a short par 4, too, at the 348-yard finishing hole.
__First hole, Garden City Golf Club__
There are many unique aspects of this men-only enclave in Long Island—it’s one of a few par 73s on Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest. And an opening drivable par 4, followed by a short par 3, make for a fun to your round at this Devereux Emmitt/Walter Travis collaboration.
__15th hole at Medinah Country Club (No. 3)__
Rees Jones turned a less-distinct par 4 at Medinah No. 3’s 15th hole into a shorter, drivable par 4 ahead of the 2012 Ryder Cup. A small, shallow green is protected by bunkers around the front side and a shaved-off collection area to the back right.