Thanks to better training and technology, golf is increasingly a game of long ball.
But not exclusively. Short ball golf will reign July 30 when the first Wisconsin State Par-3 Championship is held at Sand Valley’s new short course called the Sand Box. The 17-hole course — yes, 17 holes, because that’s what the land allowed for — was designed by notable architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore for golfers to unwind after playing the resort’s two heralded new courses, Sand Valley and Mammoth Dunes.
But the new event won’t just be a hit-and-giggle outing, even if the holes range from about 40 yards to 140. Greens at the Sand Box were designed to test both shot-making and putting and the par-3 championship will still demand good golf shots, said Rob Jansen, director of the Wisconsin State Golf Association, which will handle course set-up.
“It’s a pretty straight-forward course, but we will run it like a competition," Jansen said. "(And) don’t be fooled by the scorecard. It’s still going to be a good test of golf. It can be challenging if you get it in the wrong place. We’re excited.”
So, too, are many state golfers.
After Sand Valley approached the WSGA with the concept, Jansen said, the WSGA agreed it could be a novel and fun event. When they opened the tournament for sign-up, he said, “we got a bunch of entries the second the email went out and they just kept coming.”
The first event was limited to 72 players, all male amateurs with handicap indexes of no more than 9.4 (the same index requirement for the Wisconsin State Amateur tournament) and quickly sold out. Jansen said organizers were pleased to get a mix of the best amateurs in the state in recent years as well as players who have never competed in WSGA events in the past.
“Maybe they feel real strongly about this part of their game,” he said, or wanted to experience tournament play with a different level of pressure.
If the event succeeds as both Sand Valley and WSGA hope, it could lead to more par-3 tournaments in the future. Jansen said it would be nice to have a women’s event, or tournaments for professionals, higher handicap players and even juniors.
In the future, such tournaments could be held on other par-3 layouts.
“There’s other great short courses around the state as well,” Jansen said. “We’re certainly hoping this event brings some more attention to other great short courses.”
A couple that immediately come to mind include the Barn Hollow course at Hawk’s View GC in Lake Geneva, a par-3 layout that was recently rated the No. 2 short course in the country, according to Golf Advisor ratings and reviews. Barn Hollow’s 18 holes range from 67 to 222 yards and offer, the raters said, “a unique short game course.
“It is gentle enough for beginnings and even junior players, but it will still give low handicappers a good opportunity to sharpen their short game skills,” they wrote.
Another contender for a championship par-3 event would be Spring Creek Golf Center north of Whitewater. The course, which opened in 1988, has just nine holes but boasts three sets of tees on each hole. Those who play from the back tees (the longest hole is 234 yards) find hazards come more easily into play than those who play the more straightforward front tees, with holes ranging from 51 to 145 yards.
Owner Mike Majewski said the course is anything but the stereotypical pitch-and-putt par-3 layout, especially for those who challenge it from the tips. Since it opened, according to Spring Creek’s website, only three players have broken par from the championship tees.
Majewski embraced news of the Par-3 Championship as he might a busload of golfers with cash to burn.
Since he first opened, Majewski said he has dreamed of hosting a par-3 tournament for professional golfers from around the state but for various reasons, including the need to put up a purse attractive enough to draw the best players, it never happened. Now, he said, the WSGA event could boost interest in short-course golf and lead to similar events at other courses — including an event or two that he could host.
“In a heartbeat, I would do it,” he said. “I think it’s really good that they’re doing it. It’s an absolutely terrific idea.”
While his course has only nine holes, players could go around once in the morning, take a break so course workers could change the tees and pins and play a slightly different nine in the afternoon.
“They’re not just pitch-and-putt courses anymore,” Majewski said. “I’m real excited to hear this. I would love to host it.”
The July 30 event should provide good exposure for both Sand Valley, now with all three of its courses in full operation, as well as short-course golf in general. And it might be exciting for any spectators who show up, because there’s an obvious side-bet possibility in par-3 golf.
It’s not often that every shot from every tee has a chance to go in. With 72 skilled players, Jansen said, it will be fun to see how many aces are recorded.