Throughout golf’s history, course designers have copied hole designs, usually from the most famous, old courses in the British Isles and Europe. Often called Template Holes, architects C.B MacDonald and Seth Raynor made a career out of using these templates to build their courses. Often they used the templates as a way to create something interesting out of a rather bland piece of land. Perhaps the most famous template is the Redan, modelled after the 15th at North Berwick, and also used by many other architects.
The naturally hilly topography of Pennsylvania created our own local “template” hole design that is used in dozens of courses in the Pennsylvania. While talking with a random pairing about favorite courses, one player dubbed it the “Pocono Par-3,” since “it feels like every course up there has one.” So what is the Pocono Par-3? Simply, it’s a severe downhill hole, with the green situated roughly 50 to 150 feet below the tee. And it come in all lengths – as short as 77 yards (drop-kick) or stretching out to well over 200 yards. (There’s a reverse template of the Pocono Par-3 for severely uphill/blind holes. We’ll cover these another time.)
While the “drop-shot” par-3 is certainly not unique to Pennsylvania, there are a couple likely reasons this hole appears so often around the region. In much of the Eastern part of the state, the land is hilly (or mountainous) with streams cutting through, creating substantial changes in elevation over 100+ acres of property. As we head south and west, the ground flattens into much more of a rolling terrain, with southern New Jersey and Delaware being basically flat. The rugged nature of PA has always presented challenges with routing for golf course architects. As a result, the Pocono Par-3 is a great option to transition from high ground to low ground. This is particularly useful up in the mountainous regions where elevation changes can quickly exceed 100 feet or more.
For the golfer, it’s an exciting and challenging golf hole. As the ball is launched into the air, the elevation drop messes with your depth perception creating a chill and thrill as you watch the ball float towards the target below. Especially when wind is involved, it tests the golfer’s mental approach in deciding what club to hit with what amount of effort. Do I club down one or two? Full swing or 80%…
Golf course design is a copycat profession. As mentioned above, templates are most often copies of other holes, typically originating in Scotland. The Eden template comes from the Old Course at St. Andrews’ 11th. The Road Hole is, of course, the 17th at St. Andrews. While few are exact copies of the original, templates offer inspiration to architects as they map out a new property. I’m not sure we can pinpoint the original Pocono Par-3, but certainly as it showed up in a few spots in the early days of golf course design and was then brought to more and more courses throughout the region the following decades.
Up the Mountains
The quintessential example of this template is at Pocono Manor. I haven’t played many courses in the Poconos, but the few I have had some version of this hole. I’ll add more as I get out to visit more of the courses in the region.
Pocono Manor East – 7th Hole (77 yards, 160-foot drop)
At the “extremely short” end of the spectrum is the 7th hole on Pocono Manor’s East course. Once a 36-hole club, the East course started as a 9-hole layout designed by Herbert Barker. In about 1924, William Flynn added 10 holes, including the shortest version of the Pocono Par-3. Measuring just 77-yards with over 150 feet of elevation change, Flynn used this as a transition from the original routing to the new section of the course. While I haven’t player here yet, I’m sure I’ll love it.
Hideaway Hills Golf Club – 7th Hole (217 yards, 120-foot drop)
Located off 209 in Kresgeville, Hideaway Hills is a really fun mountain course. Designed by owner Joe Farda, it’s got a lot of elevation change. The Pocono Par-3 is the 7th hole, measuring 217 from the back with a 135-foot drop from tee to green, making it play 40-50 yards shorter than the card length. Additionally it’s got a great Pocono Par-5, with a 160-foot drop from tee to fairway on the 10th hole. While the bunkering and greens are fairly simple, the course has a solid routing and great views. With a peak rate of $55 on the weekend, it’s a great value.
Indian Mountain Golf Course – 8th Hole (147 yards, 70-foot drop)
You’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of Indian Mountain. It’s a nine-hole course at the base of the Poconos also in Kresgeville (around the corner from Hideaway Hills). Built in 1927 by Francis Warner, it’s a fun little course on the side of a mountain. The 8th plays from 142 yards or 147 yards. If you get the chance to stop by this quirky old course I recommend it.
Reading Country Club – 15th Hole (220 yards, 70-foot drop)
OK, Reading isn’t exactly up in the mountains, but it’s certainly a lot further away than DelCo! The 15th is a great edition of the Pocono Par-3 since it has a water hazard set right in front the of green. While the Antietam Creek is not in play for most, it presents an additional layer of stress and intimidation. On the longer side, at 220-yards from the back tee, it requires accuracy with a long-iron and any shot hit past the green brings the creek back in play on the chip.
Around the City
Thanks to the wonderful terrain in and around Philadelphia, there are some great Pocono Par-3s close to home. Interestingly, three of the examples are the 17th hole. Honorable mention goes to the Abington Club’s 7th hole, which will feature in another template hole discussion in the future.
Cobbs Creek Olde Course – 17th hole (193 yards, 65-foot drop)
From the main tee box, this hole would not quite qualify as a Pocono Par-3, but with the re-introduction of the original tee in recent years I have to include the 17th at Cobbs Creek. While this was not an original hole (added in the 1920s), it’s certainly one of the best on the course. The reclaimed tee brings back the correct angle into the green and a wonderful experience firing out of the trees, down about 65 feet to the green well below.
Paxon Hollow Golf Club – 17th hole (116 yards, 70-foot drop)
The back nine at Paxon Hollow is amongst the best in the region from a pure fun perspective. While not long by any stretch, the holes provide ample challenge in shot-making and visual appeal. The 17th falls perfectly right after a short par 4 and before the wonder closing hole. While just a little wedge off the tee, danger abounds with the creek directly behind the hole. This wasn’t in the original routing of the course, added in the 1930s, but it fits so well into a wonderful layout.
Inniscrone Golf Club – 5th hole (114 yards, 50-foot drop)
Gil Hanse, architect of Inniscrone, inherited a routing plan from Stephen Kay, so credit is likely shared between the two. The course property is very strange for golf, set amongst hills, housing and retention ponds in mushroom country. The 5th hole solves a problem, adding a golf hole into a small space to complete 18 while providing some interest. Like many other examples in this list, the green is wide and not deep, requiring excellent distance control. There is safety short of the green, but out-of-bounds looms long.
Broad Run Golfer’s Club – 17th hole (157 yards, 90-foot drop)
Located outside of West Chester, the penultimate hole of Broad Run is visually a stunner. While the shot isn’t overly difficult, the green is two-tiered with bunkers guarding the left and back right. Landing on the wrong part of the green brings a three-putt into play.
Perhaps the most important aspect of golf is overcoming challenges, along with having fun. The Pocono Par-3 is a golf hole that does both. I think of my many rounds at Cobbs Creek and no matter how the previous 16 holes went, that 17th tee shot was always something to look forward to (the ensuing chip or putt… not so much). Feel free to drop some other Pocono Par-3s in the comments that I need to check out, near or far.