Size matters. 

Every golfer in the history of the game will tell you that. Whether it’s how long your putt rolled or how fast your swing was or the number of strokes you took on that pesky par-5 - there has never been a game that judges so fastidiously the space (and strokes) you take.

For that reason, short courses in particular carry a certain stigma -- shallow-end, short-end-of-the-yardage-stick, seat-at-the-kid’s-table vibes.

But the game of golf has changed dramatically over the last few years - new technology, new ideologies and new generations discovering the joy of golf. 

And demand for a more forgiving, fun atmosphere led to the rise of the short course, giving the little guy a chance to showcase how golf can be short and sweet and fun while still proving beneficial for your handicap. Now courses as short as 750 yards (9-holes) and 1,500 yards (18-holes) are eligible for ratings, which means raters are coming to a short course near you!

But before we get into the facts on that, here’s a piece of short course history: Tiger Woods made his first hole-in-one, at age 6, on the par-3 Heartwell Golf Park course in Long Beach.

Table of Contents

  1. “Can I post my score from a par-3 course now?”
  2. Jim's Gems 💎 Q&A with Jim Cowan, Chief Governance Officer
    1. “How can I benefit from posting rounds at short courses?”
    2. “How does it account for my now missing penalties, mishits, etc from longer holes?”
    3. “How do I post a score from a short course?”
    4. “Which short courses can I now post from?”
  3. List of Northern California Short Courses
  4. Interactive Map of Northern California Short Courses

“Can I post my score from a par-3 course now?” 

Depends, it’s complicated…

Before today, 9-hole scores were combined in the order posted to create an 18-hole Score Differential. Basically, your 9-hole score from The Cliffs today could be combined with a 9-hole score from days, weeks or even months before. 

But 2024 is the year of vindication, especially for the little guys. With the new reduced minimum course length, now when a player posts a 9-hole score, it will be combined with their expected Score Differential over 9-holes to create an 18-hole Score Differential for immediate use - with expected score based on player’s Handicap Index at the the time the round is played as well as a course of standard difficulty. 

“The game of golf continues to evolve and the WHS has embraced those changes in a dynamic way to help all golfers, everywhere they play," said Steve Edmondson, managing director of the USGA's handicapping effort. "It is a monumental time in golf, and improving both the accessibility of obtaining a Handicap Index and leveraging powerful data and technology to easily and accurately track performance is a great step forward.”

Course Rating and Shorter Courses InfographicGraphic Courtesy of USGA

While short courses can be more of a risk to build than the traditional 18 holes, they have accounted for more than 25 percent of new course development over the past decade, according to the National Golf Foundation. In fact, there are almost 700 par-3 courses from coast to coast. And in 2021, there was actually a net gain in par-3 courses (+4) for the first time in the past 20 years.

Jim’s Gems 💎

Jim Cowan Director of Handicapping

Want to know more about how this new rule really affects your handicap? Our very own Chief Governance Officer, Jim Cowan has got you covered. 

Below are a few of Jim’s Gems - helpful answers when it comes to understanding the relationship between short courses and your handicap.

Q: "How can I benefit from posting rounds at short courses?"

A: "Due to time constraints, lifestyle choices, etc., more and more golfers are playing rounds in 9-hole increments and short courses are a perfect match for such a trend. The new rule allows those golfers who play exclusively at short courses to enjoy the benefit of developing a Handicap Index.

Plus, with 9-hole scores now being "scaled" up (rather than waiting for the next nine posted to be paired with), such scores will be factored into the new Handicap Index issued the day after the score was posted. All in all, the more scores, the more accurate the handicap."

Q: "Will my handicap improve if my long game is bad, but my short game is good? How does it account for my now missing penalties, mishits, etc from longer holes?"

A: "There is a reason that the former USGA Handicap System had a minimum length requirement of 1,500 yards . . . the System broke down as courses got shorter. Course Rating is all about predicting the scores that various golfers (a Scratch and Bogey golfer) will record from a given set of tees. The shorter the course, the less reliability the USGA Handicap System saw in predicting such scores.

One of the benefits of having a World Handicap System is that a lot of ideas and experiences came together . . . and a lot of smart people came together. The World Handicap Research Team poured substantial effort and research into this undertaking and are confident in the correlation of scores between short and longer courses.

That being said, we all know of a golfer with a great short game that could give a far better player a run for their money on such a course. I will be curious to see what happens in such instances."

Q: “How do I post a score from a short course?”

A: "Same as any other round. Just perform a "search" to find the course and post away! Be certain to indicate if you only played 9 holes . . . trust me, you do not want to post a 9-hole score to an 18-hole rating."

GHIN posting

Q: "Which Northern California Golf Courses will be rated in the coming years so I can start posting my rounds?"

A: "In addition to the list below, there are a few courses that we have been unable to visit yet, and some that did not want such ratings. My biggest concern is that there are "longer" courses that have a set of so-called "Family" tees that have not yet been brought to our attention. As more golfers and courses become aware of the new policy, I expect to be hearing from them."

Have a course with a set of family tees that now qualify in length? Contact Jim Cowan to schedule a course and slope rating visit.

Short game will always be king, which is why abbreviated courses are the perfect place to hone your skills. Of course, we aren't advocating for only short course play because you still gotta be able to go the distance on a regulation 18-hole course. So, as Jim mentioned above, one thing we will have to watch unfold is how golfers who post most of their rounds on short courses see their handicaps affected - will the WHS thoroughly assess their performance? Only time will tell.

Ok, now that you’re a short course expert, time to pay it forward - share this with some friends in need of fun and go forth and golf!

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List of Northern California Short Courses

Want to play a rated short course near you? We’ve got you covered. And stay tuned for more courses joining the rated ranks soon!

City Golf Course
Cool Auburn Lake Trails
Sacramento Bing Maloney - Express 9
Sacramento Bradshaw Ranch Golf Course
Willits Brooktrails Golf Course
Hollister Casserly Par 3 Golf Course
Alameda Corica Park Golf Course - Mif Albright Nine
Cupertino Deep Cliff Golf Course
Oroville Dingerville USA Golf Club
Redwood City Emerald Hills Golf Course
Escalon Escalon Golf Course
Exeter Exeter Golf Course
Citrus Heights Foothill Golf Course
San Francisco Golden Gate Park Golf Course
Fresno Hank's Swank Golf Course
Crescent City Kings Valley Golf Course
Truckee Lahontan Golf Club - Par 3 Course
Oakland Lake Chabot Golf Course - Executive Course
Livermore Las Positas Golf Course - Links Nine
Foster City Mariners Point Golf Center
Daly City Olympic Club - Cliffs Course
Pleasanton Pleasanton Golf Center
San Jose Rancho Del Pueblo Golf
Ceres River Oaks Golf Course
San Jose Santa Teresa Golf Club - Short Course
Milpitas Spring Valley Golf Course - Friendly Tees
Stockton Swenson Park Golf Course - Executive Course
South Lake Tahoe Bijou Golf Course
Salinas Twin Creeks - First Tee — Monterey County
Fresno Valley Golf Center
San Jose The Villages Golf and Country Club - Par 3 Course
Visalia Visalia Country Club - Family Tees

Please note that courses like The Hay in Pebble Beach and Montclair GC in Oakland do not quality as they are less than 750 yards in length. Please also note that a course like River Oaks in Paso Robles does not currently qualify as the system is unable to accommodate 6-hole courses at this time but will in the not-too-distant-future.

Map of Northern California Short Courses