Small-scale courses are proving to be long on appeal for golfers who are pressed for time or space, those who are new to (or still a bit scare of) the game, and families looking for fun ways to “get a round.”
Time constraints imposed by increased work and family obligations have made squeezing in a regular round of golf more difficult for even the most avid players. To give devoted golfers a chance to play quicker rounds with greater frequency, a growing number of properties are creating and promoting smaller-scale “short” courses. The courses can either be of normal length but limited to 12, 9 or fewer holes, or still be 18-hole layouts, with reduced yardage that emphasizes short-game shotmaking throughout the track.
These courses are also proving to be a good way to get beginning or less-skilled golfers over the “intimidation hump” that can keep them from first wanting to learn the game and then from enjoying it more often. At the same time, properties are finding that short courses can be a great way to include the fun of golf in special events like “date nights” or other programs that fit well with clubs’ growing emphasis on family-oriented fun.
Rising to the Challenge
Just because a course is short doesn’t mean it has to be easy. Some properties, such as Landsdowne (Va.) Resort, have small-scale courses that mimic the conditions of their full-sized, championship layouts.
The Greg Norman-designed “Shark Bite 9” at The Golf Club at Lansdowne is a scaled-down version of the championship Norman Course that is one of two 18-hole courses on the property. The par-32 course is longer and more challenging than most traditional 9-hole offerings, measuring 2,319 yards from the back tees with five par 4s and four par 3s that range in length from 420 yards (No. 9) to 144 yards (No. 2).
“The shots, greens contours and bunkering are all exactly like the 18-hole Norman Course,” explains Scott Purpura, the resort’s PGA Director of Golf. “But because it is a scaled-down course, it’s more user-friendly for beginners, families and juniors.
“There’s no intimidation factor to play [the short] course,” he adds. “It’s a quick, nine-hole option that builds confidence and improves the short game.”
SUMMING IT UP
• Short courses can appeal to beginning golfers to help them learn the game, as well as to experienced golfers who want to squeeze in some holes after work, play a faster full round, or practice their short games.
Lansdowne also attracts members to the Shark Bite with “Nine and Dine,” an event held one Friday evening each month that allows couples to play stress-free, social golf, followed by a dining experience or an outdoor grill party.
At World Woods Golf Club in Brooksville, Fla., a nine-hole “short course” designed by Tom Fazio mixes design elements from both of the club’s full courses into an executive-style layout, measuring 1,800 yards, with seven par 3s and two par 4s. “It’s perfect for avid golfers who want to fine-tune their games before taking on the championship courses,” says the club’s Director of Maintenance, James Rawlings.
Ethan Pauxtis, Head Golf Professional at the nine-hole Woodbury (N.J.) Country Club, has found that time is of the essence for his members as well.
“In this day and age, it’s hard to take four or five or six hours out of your day to play golf. But you can squeeze in six hours a week if it’s spaced out over three days,” he notes.
Woodbury’s course, which features 13 different greens and 18 different tees, is known for its fast greens, Pauxtis says. “That’s what makes the golf course hard,” he notes. “Sometimes it’s very difficult for beginners, but it’s the personal preference of 99 percent of the members. That’s why they joined the club.”
Despite the difficulty of the course, he adds, the property and its amenities attract a good share of younger members with small children. The family-oriented facility also offers advanced and beginners’ leagues and clinics for ladies and children, as well as couples’ events.
|The Hickory Course at Hamilton Farm Golf Club, with a full 18 holes, is the only USGA-rated par 3 course in the United States and is designed to challenge every golfer’s favorite shot.|
“We want the whole family to be part of the club,” says Pauxtis. “You can’t just appeal to one member; you have to sell it to the whole family.”
In Gladstone, N.J., Hamilton Farm Golf Club (“Old World Charm Meets New-World Needs,” C&RB, June 2008) not only has its 18-hole championship Highlands Course, it also boasts the only USGA-rated par-3 short course in the world—the 18-hole, 3,100-yard Hickory Course.
“It’s not your typical par-three course,” says General Manager Tim Bakels. “It’s extremely challenging and is laid out magnificently. It truly is a reflection of our big course. For people who are working on their irons and their short games, there’s no better way to practice.”
Many couples play the par-3 course together, Bakels adds, as well as golfers who like to get in a round before or after work. “Once they play it, they’re hooked,” he says. “The key is to get them out there.”
Matt Freitag, the club’s Director of Golf, says Hamilton Farm sees about 12,000 combined rounds of golf annually. In 2008, the Hickory Course saw about 1,300 rounds. Freitag’s goal was to bring at least 1,500 rounds to the short course in 2009. But another reason why golfers enjoy the par-3 course, where rounds can be finished in less than three hours, is because it is less crowded than the Highlands Course, and thus offers more flexibility.
“Members play [Hickory] as a real golf course,” Freitag says. “They play it for scores, and they play it for competition. It’s not for lessons and it’s not a pitch-and-putt or an executive course. It’s a full-scale golf course.”
The Right Time and Place
Industry professionals find that the location of their facilities can also drive the appeal of short courses.
Lansdowne Resort’s Purpura reports that many young professionals with children live in Loudoun County, where Lansdowne is located, making it an ideal location for families to spend time together. The property, about 25 miles from Washington, D.C., is also the only facility in the area that offers a short course as an amenity, he adds.
Ansley Golf Club’s nine-hole facility in midtown Atlanta was built in 1912 and is surrounded by similar demographics. “Our location tends to be such an advantage for people,” notes Director of Golf Phil Taylor.
Ansley, which features two sets of tees on each hole, has enjoyed a “long-standing membership,” Taylor says—but a growing number of younger members are also joining the club. “With young members,” he notes, “the junior program just continues to get bigger.”
The two sets of tees change each of the holes, and when both are used by players who go around twice, it becomes the equivalent of playing a 6,800-yard, par-72 course. “It’s just like an 18-hole facility,” says Taylor, “but a growing number of people are more comfortable just playing nine holes.”
Because of the property’s proximity to members’ homes and work locations, he says, many people play a nine-hole round in the late afternoon or early evening after work.
The combination of World Woods’ short course and its location helps to attract a sizeable number of the retirees who live in the area. “They’ll play the nine-hole course twice because it’s a lot easier than the championship courses,” says Rawlings. They don’t have to hit the ball as far, he notes, and can get around the short course more quickly. In addition, the lower cart fees for the short course at the daily-fee property is an attraction for those on fixed incomes.
At Red Ledges, a private golf and four-seasons recreational community in Heber City, Utah, near Park City, the property has future plans to build a Jack Nicklaus-designed, nine-hole short course. Its 18-hole Nicklaus signature course opened in July 2009.
The surrounding community, which is in its first year of development, is slated to have about 1,200 homes on almost 2,000 acres when complete.
“Because of the size of our community, a nine-hole course is a nice complement,” notes Jennifer Hurst, Vice President of Sales & Marketing. “We’re planning the right amenity level for the number of homes [that will be built]; we want to make sure it’s an amenity-rich community where there are lots of different things to do.”
The short course will meet the needs of both beginning and experienced golfers who want to squeeze in a round after work, play a faster round or work on their short game, she says. The nine-hole layout will also appeal to those who want to play a round of golf in the morning and a tennis match in the afternoon, Hurst feels.
In addition, she says, “If you’re a serious golfer and you’re truly looking to work on your short game, there’s no better way than to play a collection of par threes and par fours.”
Start Here…Or There
By offering several different tee boxes on their small-scale courses, properties can challenge low handicappers as well.
Woodbury’s different tees broaden the appeal of the course to players of all abilities, from beginners to scratch golfers, adds Pauxtis.
Plans for the Red Ledges short course also include multiple tee boxes on each hole.
“With three or four tee boxes on every hole, you can play each one differently,” explains Hurst. “The way they’re positioned will affect the carry or flight of the ball. Some will require finesse shots. On forward tees, that touch isn’t as critical.”
The five sets of tees at Lansdowne’s Shark Bite include two sets for juniors. The red tees, at 870 yards, are designed for 5- to 7-year-olds, reports Purpura, while the yellow tees, at 1,216 yards, are set up for 8- to 11-year-olds.
Care and Feeding
A six-member crew, separate from the staff for the championship courses, maintains World Woods’ short course. Rawlings says he spends about 10 percent of his budget on the nine-hole course.
While the same maintenance standards apply to the short and championship courses, he adds, short-course upkeep is carried out on a smaller scale.
For example, he says, the crew does not overseed the tees and fairways on the short course, while the championship courses are overseeded.
Expanding World Woods’ short course into an 18-hole layout is under consideration, Rawlings reports. “We have a lot of additional land that’s undeveloped,” he says of the 2,100-acre property, which includes a three-hole practice course, a 23-acre practice range and a 36-hole, two-acre putting course.
The same crew that maintains the championship courses at The Golf Club at Lansdowne also maintains the Shark Bite. “It opens 90 minutes after our two 18-hole courses, so the crew just rotates over to the short course,” notes Purpura.
The short course gets the same care and attention as the championship courses, he reports. The Shark Bite has a full irrigation system and gets the same chemical and fertilizer applications, the same greens and fairway mowing schedules, and the same bunker maintenance.
The maintenance routines for Ansley’s midtown short course are the same as for the practice areas at the club’s property at Settindown Creek in nearby Roswell, Ga., where members can play an 18-hole championship course.
|World Woods Golf Club’s short course is especially attractive to the sizable number of retirees who live in the area, because members don’t have to hit the ball as far, and they can get around it more quickly.|
“It’s really not any different although obviously, you have less acreage,” Taylor says of how the nine-hole property is tended. He divides his time equally between the two courses.
Pauxtis believes that Woodbury CC, which has total property just shy of 100 acres and is one of three clubs with a nine-hole course in its area, likely would add nine more holes if it had the space. But since additional holes are not an option, he says, the course has built its reputation on its conditions.
“We keep the course in tip-top shape,” he explains. “That’s how we can compete with 18-hole golf courses that don’t offer those conditions.”
While his budget is half that of an 18-hole course, Pauxtis adds, this allows the property to invest more money in other parts of the facility, such as lockers and the clubhouse.
Freitag says he spends about 30 percent of his maintenance budget on the Hickory Course, but it receives the same daily care and attention as the Highlands Course.
“It’s in just as good shape as the regular championship course, if not better, due to the different number of rounds,” he says.