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PGN Feature: Our Photog’s Favorite Par 3s in Western Pennsylvania

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The downhill third at Cranberry Highlands kicks the adrenaline up a notch. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

If you’re anything like me, the visual aspect of golf plays a large part in what made me fall in love with the game — particularly in this case, the visuals of par 3 holes on a course.

Par 3s can be ever so dramatic.

Whether we’re talking about No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass, the 12th at Augusta National, or the seventh at Pebble Beach, these are the holes that everyone knows and people line up to watch the best in the world take their crack at them.

Sometimes they can can feature quite the intimidating view and sometimes a short hole, but still an immense challenge.

I’d like to not just compare some par 3s here in western Pennsylvania to the amazing holes I listed above, but just to share my love for the views and challenges that come with these type of designs.

Before getting into listing some of my favorite par 3 holes among courses I have played around here, I should note that I am a very average golfer, who more often than not plays from the white (or comparable set) tees at a course, and generally shoots in the low 90’s or mid-to-high 80’s on a good day.

I hope that this skill level will resonate with fellow average golfers and you will be able to relate with some of my struggles I face on these holes!

I admittedly have a tendency to enjoy shorter par 3s or those with a downhill aspect, as I am not a long hitter. Your better players and players with long iron skills probably appreciate the longer and more challenging ones with uphill shots into elevated greens.

I also have a tendency to enjoy those downhill sort of hole designs that also feature water elements sometimes protecting the front, sometimes one or more sides, and sometimes all of the above!

Being here in western Pennsylvania, where our landscape features so many rolling hills and valleys with courses built into that landscape, it’s not uncommon to see sweeping elevation changes on a lot of golf courses in the area.

With that said, let’s keep it movin’ and get right into it.

Note: These are in no particular order. I am partial to some more than others, but this is not a ranking.

#3 – Cranberry Highlands Golf Course (Cranberry Township)

After starting out with a short par 4 and a par 5 that is all of 500-plus yards, you make your way to the tee boxes at the par-3 third.

It’s a beautiful look with a downhill view to a green that is guarded by water on its front left and left sides.

(Photo Credit: Mike Darnay/PGN)

An approximate 75 feet in elevation drop from tee to green, in my experiences at Cranberry Highlands, allowed to take one or two clubs off, depending whether I wanted to try and go at it or play it safe and where the pin was placed.

  • Cranberry – 194 yards
  • Blue – 176 yards
  • Black – 167 yards
  • White – 124 yards

Out of fear of going long, I have a tendency to leave a shot here short in the front, making a par save or a two-putt bogey feasible with a nice chip onto the green.

#13 – Butler’s Golf Course – Woodside (Elizabeth)

From Cranberry Township, we head through the city and down towards the Mon Valley, to Butler’s Golf Course in Elizabeth, which was highlighted with one of our PGN Course Reviews back in the summer.

Butler’s offers two different 18-hole courses, each with their own specialties. If I was pressed to pick a par 3 hole among the eight available on the property, I would go with the 13th on the Woodside course. No. 12 is a Par 4 that curls up a hillside to an elevated green.

As you move to the 13th tee, you see a green that is at enough of a downhill to be significant, and at first it doesn’t appear to be all that daunting.

(Photo Credit: Mike Darnay/PGN)

If you had never played there or done any advance research, you may not realize that the back of the green features a significant drop-off, with anything long needing a very tough uphill save coming.

  • Blue – 161 yards
  • White – 153 yards
  • Gold – 148 yards
  • Red – 143 yards

In my experiences, a miss right or long has not resulted in anything better than a bogey 4 on the card, or in most cases, worse than that.

#9 – Grand View Golf Club (Braddock)

Grand View Golf Club is a special place. Some people might use more harsh language than that when describing what is dubbed the Monster on the Mon.

It’s a unique place, for sure, and one that I like to take people from out of town to who have never golfed in the Pittsburgh area.

If you want to talk sweeping elevation changes, Grand View, which was also highlighted in a PGN Course Review, is your place.

No. 9 at Grand View is the second par 3 on the front nine, the first being the fifth, which isn’t much different from No. 9, except a little longer and perhaps a little safer.

(Photo Credit: Mike Darnay/PGN)

The ninth is around 125 yards from what are traditionally the white tees, which are Silver at Grand View, with anything falling short of 120 yards being out of play, lost, and never even remotely having a chance of being findable without an excavator.

  • Black – 137 yards
  • Silver – 125 yards
  • Gold – 108 yards
  • Copper – 98 yards

The landing area is a bit below the tee, but to make matters more difficult, a nice retaining wall protects the front of the green. It’s truly do or die on the forced carry.

For me, I like to play this hole with the opposite strategy of the third at Cranberry Highlands. The safe play is long, and I have even had instances when conditions were dry when a long shot played off of the hillside like a backboard and made its way down to the fringe and the green.

If you don’t leave it short here, birdies and pars are in play.

#11 – Birdsfoot Golf Club (Freeport)

Perhaps one of the more beautiful looking Par 3’s, especially when seen from above, is the 11th at Birdsfoot, which was the most recent course to be featured in PGN’s course reviews section. 

(Photo Credit: Mike Darnay/PGN)

Accuracy is key on No. 11 at Birdsfoot, which goes without saying. As you can see from the above aerial photo, if your shot isn’t coming in high (which isn’t exactly the easiest thing for your average golfer like myself) from 160 or 175 yards, the chances of it catching the landing area are very low.

Bunker to the left, right, and all around the back make this quite the difficult green to find in regulation.

If you do find the bunker, it’s a deep one.

(Photo Credit: Mike Darnay/PGN)

  • Gold – 208 yards
  • Black – 168 yards
  • Blue – 145 yards
  • White – 132 yards
  • Red – 100 yards

In my case, finding the bunker on the right is exactly what happened, which led to a painful double-bogey 5, which all things considered, seems like it could’ve been worse,

#8 – Quicksilver Golf Club (Midway)

The eighth at Quicksilver reminds me of the third at Cranberry Highlands in a way, but more challenging. It’s a bit longer and the water protecting the entire front gives you no short bail-out.

(Photo Credit: Mike Darnay/PGN)

If that wasn’t bad enough, if you wanted to try and go long to take the water entirely out of play, a bunker lines the back of the entire green!

  • Blue – 200 yards
  • White – 165 yards
  • Gold – 145 yards
  • Red – 97 yards

Thankfully, the one bit of solace I found here was that the drop area is in a safe spot on the back left of the green.

My tee shot found the water, I chipped from the drop area and two-putted for a double bogey, but a par 3 that features a strong elevation change and water will always be a thumbs up in my book.

#14 – Olde Stonewall Golf Club (Ellwood City)

Perhaps one of the more ‘hyped’ courses in our area, Olde Stonewall is an absolute beauty. Several of my favorite golf holes I’ve played are on this course, including No. 14.

From the beautiful view to the downhill green and the bunkers guarding each side and the back, as well as the large stones in the front that are synonymous with the course’s name, it’s a hole where you can’t help but feel lost in the visuals.

(Photo Credit: Mike Darnay/PGN)

  • Epic – 202 yards
  • Medieval – 180 yards
  • Stonewall – 164 yards
  • Feudal – 137 yards
  • Rustic – 129 yards

It’s a long iron for players like me, and my downhill carry was left a little short, which might be your only ‘safe’ bail-out, unless you like playing from the sand.

I’ll be back at Olde Stonewall in a couple weeks. Perhaps we can make par out of is this time, unlike the bogey last time.

#17 – Birdsfoot Golf Club #17 (Freeport)

We’re back at Birdsfoot! Two gorgeous Par 3’s on the same back nine really make you work down the stretch.

(Photo Credit: Mike Darnay/PGN)

While 168 or 145 yards, depending on where you’re playing from with a downhill boost might not feel all that difficult, especially with a large green, the front bunkers really force you to make sure you get enough on your shot.

  • Gold – 176 yards
  • Black – 164 yards
  • Blue – 155 yards
  • White – 148 yards
  • Red – 118 yards

(Photo Credit: Mike Darnay/PGN)

Once again, in my case, I found the front bunker and managed to make an ugly double-bogey 5.

Side note: While golfing with a friend earlier this summer at a different course, he had a good one-liner that due to coronavirus, he skipped his annual beach vacation, so he made up for it that day by spending all his time in the sand.

#11 – Cedarbrook Golf Course – Gold (Belle Vernon)

Another downhill approach, another approach with a water theme. I’m guessing you’re starting to sense a theme here.

(Photo Credit: Mike Darnay/PGN)

The 11th at Cedarbrook (Gold) is perhaps a ‘cookie cutter’ of a downhill par 3 with water protecting the front, but these types of holes are always fun to me, especially when playing with a full foursome or even in a scramble.

Who can hit the shot when it counts?

  • Black – 187 yards
  • Blue – 164 yards
  • White – 140 yards
  • Gold – 114 yards
  • Red – 106 yards

In a way, it reminds me of No. 8 at Quicksilver, but without the bunker protecting the back of the green. If you’re concerned about leaving it short, playing it long is a safe bail-out.

#14 – Grand View Golf Club (Braddock)

Last, but certainly not least …

There’s no question that the par 3 holes at Grand View are signature elements of the course, and No. 14 may be its most distinctive.

(Photo Credit: Mike Darnay/PGN)

When looking at the scorecard, a 150ish-yard hole doesn’t appear to be anything special.

While making your way through the course and playing the first three Par 3’s, you might not really know what to expect with the 14th, until you get to that perched tee box.

  • Black – 161 yards
  • Silver – 154 yards
  • Gold – 143 yards
  • Copper – 139 yards

You look way down the hillside and barely see the back of the green and maybe a portion of the flagstick, if you’re lucky.

(Photo Credit: Mike Darnay/PGN)

There’s a sign to the left of the tee boxes that tells you to factor in the 90 foot elevation change down to the green and how it affects how the hole plays.

If memory serves correctly, it says that the hole that measures nearly 150 yards plays around 110 yards. It’s incredible taking someone who has never played a course like Grand View to this hole just to see their shock.

Anything that even gets a decent amount of loft has a good chance of clearing the ravine below, while even if left short of the green is still playable. The same can be said with anything that is hit long.

A few times I’ve played here, I’ve managed to put it on the green and in birdie range, and have come away with several pars. Although if playing here after a rain or during wet conditions, it’s common to see a ball plug when it hits the green.

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I hope this has been as enjoyable to read as it was for me to not only write, but replay some of these holes I’ve played in my head, recalling both the good and bad shots I made.

I’d love to hear about your favorite par 3s at courses you’ve played. You can reach me on Twitter here or leave a comment below!

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