PALM BEACH, Florida – I’ve always believed that the Nickol Knoll course in my former backyard is the best par-3 course in Illinois. As for the best par-3 in the entire United States I had given the nine-holer at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Mo., a slight edge over Three-tops, at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Mich.
Now, though, I’m not so sure. A visit to the Palm Beach Par-3 here has confused the situation for me.
The Palm Beach Par-3 opened in 1961 as a combination effort by designers Dick Wilson and Joe Lee, and Raymond Floyd did a complete remodeling job in 2009. Actually, Floyd did much more than that. A Palm Beach resident at the time, the world golf Hall of Famer offered to re-design the course and did his work gratis. He also helped raise the $7 million needed to get the job done.
Needless to say, Floyd’s name is on the welcoming sign and his 18 holes are marred by only the fact that you have to cross busy Ocean Boulevard twice on the front nine in the course of your round. Otherwise the course couldn’t have a better location. The Atlantic Ocean is on one side and the Interecoastal Waterway on the other.
This course has a lot of other things going for it, not the least of which is the clubhouse fare. On our visit – in the heart of the Florida tourist season – the golf operation ran smoothly and there were even more people around in early afternoon on a Sunday to enjoy the dining. The Palm Beach Par-3 isn’t your usual par-3 snack shop. It has a full-service dining at its Fresco restaurant that attracts plenty of non-golfers.
As for the course, Golf Digest has called it “one of the best par-3s you can play anywhere.’’ As most of you know, I’ve always been skeptical about the ratings systems used by the various golf publications, but I can’t quibble with Golf Digest listing the Palm Beach Par-3 in its “Top 50 Most Fun golf courses in America.’’
The course was in fine condition (especially the greens) when we visited. It also has a well-stocked pro shop and good practice range. The green fees don’t include use of a power cart, and that’s significant.
Walking has no negative stigma here. Pull carts are available and players walking with pull carts, those carrying their own bags and those riding on power carts shared the course comfortably on our visit. That’s not something you always find on par-3s that offers a bit of a challenge.
Holes range from 81 to 211 yards from the tips and three sets of tee options make it interesting for all level of players. Only four of the holes from the front tees are over 100 yars, the shortest being 49 at No. 9. Inevitably it’s the ocean views – all of them on the back nine – that most set this course apart from every other par-3, though.