We come to our first par three of the eclectic Rochester layout, and it’s a pretty emotional one for me. I grew up playing the West Course, which is, and probably always will be, my favorite golf course in the greater Rochester area. The West’s distinguishing holes are its long par fours, all of which have elevated, severe greens that make the course an indelible challenge for the stronger player. Holes like 2, 3, 7, 13, 15, and 18 are beasts in any era, and every single one is a high quality golf hole. Yet it is the short par three 4th that stands out to me as the most unique hole on the golf course.

The 4th original played at no more than 135 yards, maxing out at 150 yards for most of its tenure. A few years ago, the club decided to add a new back tee at 190 yards, changing the hole from a breather to a capper of one of the more interesting starts in Upstate New York. I have been a very vocal critic of the new back tee: it is only applicable for a very small percentage of those who play the hole, and it destroys some of the finesse of the shorter version. As a result, I’m going to analyze the hole from the 145-yard distance, where the hole plays at its best.

Many Ross experts won’t admit it, but the West Course’s 4th is a bit of template hole for the great architect. It is a short three to a green dominated by a horseshoe contour and surrounded by trouble. He built similar holes at two other upstate courses: Teugega (the 7th) and Brook Lea (the 12th). More broadly, the hole fits into the category of a traditional “Short” hole. The “Short” hole is a type of par three based loosely on the 4th hole at Brancaster, on the East Anglian coast of England. It was introduced to this country by Charles Blair MacDonald, most notably at the National Golf Links of America. Contrary to what some so-called golf architecture experts may think, a “Short” hole is not just a flip wedge par three to a green surrounded by trouble. If that were the case, nearly every golf course in the world would have a “Short” hole. No, a Short hole is more sophisticated than that . It is indeed a short par three, but it plays to a green that is overly large for a par three of its length. The challenge rests on the design of the green, which is subdivided into several small sections. Each of these sections contains one or two hole locations with very little margin for error.  While at first glance the “Short” appears to demand less precision than a short par three in the tradition of the Postage Stamp at Troon. In reality, a Short hole demands more precision. Rather than having to hit it anywhere on a green that is, say, 25 paces by 25 paces, the golfer has to hit to an area that is no more than 250 square feet. If he misses this area, he will still be on the putting surface, but he will face a very difficult task to make a par.

Whereas the trouble around most short par threes is penal in nature, the bunkering around a hole like the 4th on the West is strategic. Because the horseshoe contour in the green is so pronounced, the choices from the tee become more dramatic. Any hole not cut in the center of the green is place precariously on a tiny, elevated area. The golfer has a choice to either bail out into the gully in the center of the green, or fire at the flag and risk leaving himself short-sided with no chance at a three. The golfer flirts with the greenside bunkers to gain advantage, rather than trying to avoid them at all costs. Thus, every tee shot, even with just a wedge in hand, is a mental battle: am I confident enough in my swing to go at the pin? Or should I just take the easy route and trust my putter to make a three? Moreover, because the green is large and wildly contoured, the physical challenge will be different every time as well.

The “Short” hole is the ideal type of short par three because it produces a degree of variety and encourages analysis in a way that a more one-dimensional short par three (a Postage Stamp model) cannot. This is why MacDonald and Raynor used the “Short” on all of their golf courses, and it is also why Ross borrowed it for some of his. For my money, there is not a more intellectual or thrilling par three in Upstate New York than the 4th at Oak Hill’s West Course.