Explaining the Par-3 Hole in Golf

Definition of the Term and Parameters of the Par 3

The 147 yards par 3, 17th hole at the Coombe Hill Golf Club in Kingston Upon Thames, England
Par-3 holes are the shortest ones on the golf course and very good golfers are expected to play them in three strokes. David Cannon/Getty Images

In golf, a "par-3 hole" is a hole on the golf course that has a par of three. Natch. OK, but what does that mean?

In the par rating of golf holes—par 3, par 4 and par 5 are the usual ratings—the number is an estimate of how many strokes an expert golfer is expected to need to play that hole. The number always includes two putts, so a par-3 hole is one where golfers are (in theory) able to reach the green on their first stroke and then take two putts to get the ball into the hole.

Of course, even for the best golfers, it doesn't always work out that way. But par-3 holes are, generally speaking, the holes on which even higher-handicap golfers have better odds of using lower numbers of strokes because par-3 holes are the shortest holes on golf courses.

Par-3 Holes Are the Shortest

The vast majority of holes-in-one happen on par-3 holes, for the very simple reason that par 3s are the shortest holes on a golf course.

There are no commandments about how long or short golf holes should be in the Official Rules of Golf. But in its Handicapping Manual, the United States Golf Association does offer these guidelines:

  • For men, a par-3 hole is up to 250 yards in length
  • For women, a par-3 hole is up to 210 yards long

Depending on which set of tees a golfer is playing, a par-3 hole might be less than 100 yards in length or more than 200.

(Important: Those yardages are not actual, measured yards, but, rather, a hole's "effective playing length." Think of it this way: Say a hole has been measured at 268 yards. But that hole is severely downhill from the tee to the green, so it plays shorter than its measured yardage. That hole's effective playing length might only be, say, 232 yards. This is why golfers occasionally see a par-3 hole that is measured longer than 250 yards.)

Shorter doesn't necessarily mean easier—par-3 holes can be very tough, depending on length, the slopes of the green, the hazards around the green. Still, because of their length they are the holes on which mid- and high-handicappers have the best chance of writing down numbers of five and below on the scorecard.

How Many Par-3 Holes Are There on a Golf Course?

That's entirely up to the designers who build the golf course. But on a regulation, par-72 golf course, the standard number of par 3s is four. A par-70 course might have only two par 3s. The typical range is from two to six holes on a golf course will be par 3s, with four being the standard. Whatever the number, those par-3 holes will most likely be evenly split between the nines (half of them on the front nine, half on the back).

A par-3 course, which is typically nine holes but might be 18 holes, is a golf course made up entirely of par-3 holes.

What to Call Your Scores on a Par-3 Hole

Golf has its own lexicon of scoring terms—birdies, bogeys, etc. What number of strokes results in those scores on a par-3 hole?

  • A score of 1 is called a hole-in-one or ace.
  • A score of 2 on a par 3 is a birdie.
  • A score of 3 on a par 3 is a par.
  • A score of 4 on a par 3 is a bogey.
  • A score of 5 on a par 3 is a double bogey.
  • A score of 6 on a par 3 is a triple bogey.