Threetops golf course at Treetops Resort in Gaylord: A par 3 with bite

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

GAYLORD, Mich. -- Tired of slicing that driver and skulling those fairway woods? Leave the big sticks at home and go play "The Best Par-3 Course in the United States" -- Threetops at Treetops Resort.

Threetops Par 3 at the Treetops Resort - 1
The first hole on the Threetops golf course at Treetops Resort is a 143-yard par 3 to a perched green.
Threetops Par 3 at the Treetops Resort - 1Threetops golf course at Treetops Resort - hole 3
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Threetops Par-3 at Treetops Resort

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The nine-hole Threetops Par 3 is among five golf courses at Treetops Resort. Since opening in 1992, Threetops has received numerous honors. Golf Magazine, Golfweek and other publications have frequently ranked it the No. 1 par-3 course in America.

9 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 27 | 1435 yards | ... details »

Site of the Par 3 Shootout, which is broadcast on ESPN and offers $1 million dollars for each and every hole-in-one, Threetops is so tough that even the pros who play in the Shootout miss the greens and shoot double-bogeys. Yet it's so much fun because each and every tee shot could be an ace. Just ask Lee Trevino, who scored a one on the eighth in the first day of the 2001 Par 3 Shootout and pocketed a cool $1,000,000 for it.

Rick Smith, instructor to the pros, director of golf at Treetops, and course architect extraordinaire carved the nine saucy little holes out of the practically mountainous acreage behind the resort's North Clubhouse. This may be a par 3, but it is a par 3 with bite, as evidenced by the four tee boxes and the undulating greens, which are as slick as bowling alleys (11+ on the stimpmeter). Rick Smith, instructor of pros including Phil Mickelson and Lee Janzen, urges players: "Keep below the hole. Anything above the hole will most likely end up as a three-putt."

Even though the pros competing in the Par-3 Shootout made it look easy during ESPN's broadcast of the event, they too had trouble here. For example, on the first day of the 2001 Shootout, not one of the players (Lee Trevino, Ray Floyd, Paul Azinger, and Phil Mickelson) hit the green on the 205-yard 3rd. Apparently even the best players in the world were thrown off by the 145-foot elevation drop from tee to green and the swirling winds. Mickelson actually scored the only par, and won $60,000 in skin money.

So what, aside from the lightning-fast, potato-chip greens, elevation changes, deceptive yardages, and wind makes the nine-hole course so challenging? Well, that's about it -- and it's plenty! Some folks consider each one of these little holes -- which range from only 138-216 yards from the championship tees -- par 4s rather than par 3s. And after shooting bogey-golf (one par, seven bogeys, and one double bogey) here, I agree.

Key holes at Threetops

Each hole is named, and each is as memorable and picturesque as the next. However, a few stand out. No. 2, called Double Cross, features two teeing areas and two greens. From left tee to right green, the yardage is 161, but it's a much easier shot. From right tee to left green (147 yards), there is more of an elevation drop, more sand to contend with, and a smaller green. Either way, if you double-cross here, your ball is going into the woods or long fescue.

Devil's Drop, as the third hole is named, measures 216 yards from the absolute tips, with a 145-foot elevation change between tee and green. From the tee, this two-tiered, shallow green looks no bigger than a welcome mat -- or unwelcome mat, as the case may be. Just ask Paul Azinger, who, after three shots on the first day of the 2001 Par 3 Shootout, still wasn't on the putting surface.

The 166-yard sixth is a hole you could play all day long and never get tired of. Named Harry's Way, in memory of the late Harry Melling, owner of and visionary behind Treetops Resort, it features an idyllic pond and a blaze of flowers. Paul Azinger stepped on this tee and exclaimed, "This look s like Augusta!" If there are golf holes in Heaven, Harry is playing one that looks just like this.

No. 7 became the single richest hole in golf history at the 2001 Par 3 Shootout when Lee Trevino aced it and pocketed $1,000,000 for the hole-in-one and $10,000 for being closest to the pin. This was no mean feat, mind you: High Five, as this hole is called, offers a 90-foot elevation change and a deep, narrow green shaped somewhat like an upside-down light bulb. Trevino flew his ball just into the back fringe, and when it hopped out, it trickled back down the slope into the back-center cut hole. Simply astonishing, considering the average golfer will be lucky to be chipping for par here.

Threetops is the most unique par-3 you will ever see. If you haven't seen it on TV or in person, you may have trouble believing that any nine holes of par-3 golf could be so challenging -- and exhausting. Do not, I repeat do not even consider walking this course while carrying clubs, unless you have a sherpa to carry your clubs. Lance Armstrong wouldn't even enjoy biking these slopes.

Kiel ChristiansonKiel Christianson, Senior Writer

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.

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