Jack Connelly’s Par-3 Heaven at the Highlands

by Clayton Bloemke, USGA P.J. Boatwright Intern

Nearly two years ago, Jack Connelly saved the Highlands Golf Course from would-be demolition, as the property, located in the prime growth area of Tacoma, was assigned to be developed for condominiums.

For him, the course had the potential, both as a continued community asset as well as a venue for competitive golf.

“Our idea is to make it a course for the community, and for everybody,” says Connelly, who cited that there was plenty of work done over the past two years to make the course a popular place amongst the community, particularly its facelift to McDuff’s, the café on the property.

Jack Connelly

And what kind of competitive golf? Given that the Highlands is a 9-hole par-3 layout, it would be a natural site for a par-3 tournament of some kind.

And that’s where we are now. After a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Connelly’s vision came to life when the course hosted the inaugural Washington State Par-3 Championship on Sept 10-11.

Creating a championship is no small task. However, Connelly was adamant that it should happen, and that it would be a great success not only for the golfers, but for reputation of the Highlands as well.

“We’d been talking about it for a while, and we have been working on upgrading the layout to be a strong course,” he said. “We thought it would be fun to have a competition to find out who the top par-3 golfers are in the state of Washington.”

A total of 66 golfers from all over the state signed up for the tournament, at which the winner would receive the coveted green and blue Tartan Vest, as well as the Angus Cup.

“The champion wins the Tartan Vest, which is akin to the Green Jacket at the Masters, as well the Angus Cup, the perpetual trophy which stays in the clubhouse and the winner gets their name engraved onto the trophy,” said Connelly.

The two-day event was comprised of 36 holes of stroke play, with the competitors playing the 9-hole course two times each day.

Brett Manke won the inaugural Washington State Par-3 Championship, and now wears the Tartan Vest, and will have his name engraved on the Angus Cup.

The inaugural contest did not disappoint anyone who attended, whether they were a spectator or a golfer. The second day became a photo-finish on the last hole.

“It was a really exciting second day,” Connelly said. “Sam Highsmith was 4-under making the turn on the second day. He went back and forth with Brett Manke over the last nine holes, and Manke pulled it out and won by a single shot.” Manke shot a combined 108 over the two days.

Manke, from Lakewood, Wash., is the brother of RJ Manke, who is a two-time winner of the Washington Men’s Amateur (2018, 2021), and PAC-12 Golfer of the Year this past year for the University of Washington.

And by coincidence, Highsmith is the brother of Joe Highsmith, who won the 2017 Washington Men’s Amateur and was WA Golf’s Men’s Player of the Year in 2021 and 2019.

Given that this was the inaugural year for this event, Connelly set the field to just under 70 golfers. This allowed him to get a sense of how many players the new and improved course could handle for future events.

“We will expand the field to 90 players in the upcoming years,” says Connelly, who plans to make the event more and more competitive each year.

Get your short game on.