Beyond the sea par 3

Coastal bluffs, gorgeous views and a strategic sustainability effort make The Links at Terranea a special spot along the SoCal coast.

© Terranea Resort

Sporting a scorecard of playability and sustainability, The Links at Terranea proves worthy of its annual reference among the nation’s top par-3 courses since debuting in 2009.

Boldly situated on the Mediterranean-inspired, 102-acre Terranea Resort spread in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, the nine-hole design from Todd Eckenrode plays perched above the coastal bluffs, with panoramic views of the Pacific on nearly every hole.

Charting at nearly 1,300 yards from the tips (and about 700 yards from the forward tees), the course’s dozen year run to-date has done more than redefine the possibility and potential of short course play across golf-avid SoCal – it’s concurrently served as a seminal golf resort en vogue amenity for name architects creating shorter courses across the country.

“I won’t say we set the trend, but we were one of the first of this modern wave of walking-only, shorter courses,” says Mike Hill, director of golf operations at The Links at Terranea. “Out here, we see a huge mix of play; we’re not pegged into one demographic of golfer. Avid players, seniors, beginners, women, juniors – the course fits the need for all segment of player.”

© Terranea Resort

The golf grounds are far more than just a resort add-on.

“The course was designed with the entire master plan,” Hill says. “Sometimes, when you think about a par-3 course at a resort, you think ‘pitch-and-putt,’ or the design thinking was, ‘Hey, we had a little bit of land left, and we’re gonna add a little course.’ That’s not the case here.”

A modern consideration for family and generational vacation time also finds a sweet spot in nine holes.

“Being less than two hours, the course lends itself to being a resort amenity and activity; whether the day also includes, say, a kayaking tour or some off-site horseback riding,” Hill says. “Everything is kind of in that two-hour window.”

Open to the public and resort guests – and offering an on-site Golf Academy and swing studio – The Links will test both the sticks and nascent alike; to wit: Defending the dearth of distance, the grounds present continual challenge on sizeable, swaled putting surfaces and green complexes enjoy the ongoing surrounds of comely, fescue-capped rustic bunkering sure to test players of all levels.

“It’s a golfer’s par-3 course. And even though it’s a par 27, I think of it as a second shot course. You may not need the big stick here, but you’ll need to be sharp with everything else,” Hill says. “And it really is a links-style course, in that it incorporates many of those strategic design elements; our greens are really large, with lots of undulation and feeder-slopes throughout the course. They’re challenging, even for avid golfers. Once you get off the tee, you’ll find every kind of short game shot you can imagine around the putting complexes; lots of little swales and tight lies. You need to be able to chip and pitch to really score here.”


Nearly every hole presents personality across the 90-minutes play, and while the Big Blue backdrop offers the most fetching highlight, multiple holes contend for the marquee.

The top-handicapped No. 3 (“Captain’s Bluff”) plays uphill at 172 yards with ample trouble both long and left.

“It’s a great test, playing out to the bay on the far side of the course toward Pelican’s Cove and the Pt. Vicente Lighthouse,” Hill says. “Being on that green feels like you’re on an infinity pool, looking out toward Catalina Island; and when its super-clear, you can see all the way to tiny Santa Barbara Island way off the coast.”

A punchbowl green on No. 7 and a burly, 173-yard eighth set the stage for a challenging finisher. “There’s one tree on the course,” smiles Hill of the 121-yard, downhill ninth, playing over a ravine, “and it guards the right side of that green.”

Enhanced Links’ fame and frame comes via a laudable sustainability effort, which extends from resort to course. Prior to Terranea’s debut, the prime perch stood dormant for more than 20 years as the former site of the Marineland of the Pacific amusement park. A highly focused eco-friendly effort across all aspects of the property has been a core philosophy of Terranea’s operation since its inception.

Among the most visible on-course eco-aims are native plantings, ranging from Coastal Sage to California Sunflower Bush to Saltbush. Natural irrigation and water treatment via wet ponds and bioswales also play as elements of the Links’ routing.


“You play around them, over them,” Hill says. “So, it’s kind of cool that they’re environmental features, but they’re also unique features of the course strategy.”

A sizable investment in the property’s StormFilter systems both reduce and treat runoff.

“Beneath the property are seven different vaults; you can see the labeled manholes around, and if you were to look underneath, you’d see these huge filters which are filled with a product called PhosphoSorb,” says Lauren Bergloff, sustainability leader at Terranea Resort. “So, when it rains, all of the runoff – including any pesticides or oils from cars or any trash – instead of it going straight into the ocean like it once did, it gets filtered through either the bioswales, the holding ponds or the storm drain filters. And you can see the bioswales on the course. They’re basically creek beds, but they’re big rocks with plants within them and they lead to the holding ponds. So, they serve as a natural barrier.”

The Pacific below has reaped benefits, seeing the return of the Kelp forest and biodiversity, and with local divers long remarking on far clearer waters.

From sea to tee, the property’s commitment to sustainability and natural habitat generally finds some added members to one’s foursome.

“One of the founding values of Terranea, from the beginning, was giving back to nature. It’s all connected, and the golf course has a big part to do with it,” Bergloff says. “When you’re playing, you’ll see all of the animals that have come back; from bunny rabbits to foxes to lizards to hummingbirds, hawks, falcons and snakes. And they’ve all come back because of the native plantings.”

September 2021
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