Small-scale golf courses can appeal to a variety of golfers and attract the next generation to the game.
Sometimes it pays to live large on a small scale. Just ask someone at a nine-hole golf venue. These properties are weighing in as viable alternatives to 18-hole courses to attract new players or to keep longtime players in the game.
Steeped in History
Not that small-scale golf courses are a new phenomenon, however. Some nine-hole properties such as Hooper Golf Club in Walpole, N.H., are steeped in history. The nine-hole course was built in 1927 in the quaint New England town.
|Summing It Up
“In the ’20s, nine holes were easier to afford and build,” says Ron Rosko, the PGA Professional at the property. “Space was limited as well, and it was more practical given the population of the town.”
While members can play an 18-hole round, Rosko says nine-hole outings outnumber 18-hole rounds by a ratio of five to one.
“Our course is a pure golf experience and family friendly. It’s more relaxed than most 18-hole golf courses are,” reveals Rosko.
The community-oriented golf course, which was named the 11th best nine-hole golf course in America by GolfWorld in 2010, enjoys strong league play on Wednesday mornings and Thursday evenings. Most golfers play nine holes during the week, such as a quick round after work, and 18 holes on the weekends. “If they make a double bogey on a hole in an 18-hole round, they get another shot to redeem themselves,” says Rosko.
Some players, including Rosko, grew up playing the course, and he says there is no need for anyone to think that a short course like the 3,000-yard Hooper GC course cannot challenge golfers.
“The course is relatively short compared to a lot of modern courses, but it still has some bite to it. The greens are challenging and undulated; the bunkers are well designed, and the greens have steep slopes from front to back.”
He also says that the smaller course has less property for the maintenance staff to keep up than 18-hole courses, and that it hasn’t changed since it first opened.
“The nine original holes are just as they were laid out in 1927. It’s a charming, quaint setting,” notes Rosko.
However, golf is not the only attraction at the small, intimate semi-private property, which has about 225 members. They have taken ownership of the property with true grassroots efforts. For instance, the members even help out at workdays once or twice a year. In April they painted the maintenance barn, and the next project will focus on the clubhouse, a mansion built in 1787 and one of the oldest taverns in the country.
“Our members take great pride in the place. It’s a huge part of their lives,” Rosko reports. “It’s a place where the community congregates.”
Two For One
Another nine-hole course that offers an intimate setting is Signal Point Club in Niles, Mich. Featuring two holes on each green, the golf course, built in 1964, has fewer than 100 members and no tee times are required.
“The course stays in great shape,” explains General Manager/Director of Golf Dale Campbell. “The clubhouse is quaint, and it’s close to the tees and the practice range. It’s a cozy arrangement.”
He says the golf course, ranked seventh on GolfWorld’s list of Top 25 Best Nine-Hole Courses in America in 2010, appeals to all segments of the membership.
“Even those that play 18 holes come out and play nine holes. Husbands and wives play together, or couples play with their kids,” Campbell adds. “A lot of people just want to play nine holes. It’s more convenient.”
He says the number of nine-hole versus 18-holes rounds is split evenly. The nine-hole layout appeals to families, women and seniors, Campbell says, and having a short course remains a large part of the property’s growth strategy.
“It’s a very unique niche to have a great nine-hole layout with the option to play 18 holes as well,” he reports.
The shorter length also lends itself to social events. Twilight mixers, which feature nine-hole golf rounds followed by dinner, are one of the property’s most popular activities.
With its changes in elevation, trees and doglegs, however, the course still challenges its players. When they play 18 holes, golfers aim at white flags on the front nine and at red flags on the back nine. However, Campbell adds with a laugh, “We have a game where you can call it in the air.”
Beginnings and Endings
Lincoln Park Golf Course, part of the Grand Forks (N.D.) Park District, was established as an 18-hole golf course in 1909. However, the need for flood protection from the adjacent Red River reduced the size of the course. In 2003, the historic par-71 course was converted into a par-35, nine-hole layout because a dyke encroached on nine holes. Many of the existing holes were used to develop the new nine-hole layout.
“It’s short and tight. It attracts primarily beginning golfers and seniors,” says PGA Golf Professional Dan Tannahill. “As players get started, they often prefer to play nine holes, especially with the time commitments that we all bump into these days. It’s a great place for us to develop new golfers and to get ladies and kids to play.”
Tannahill calls the Lincoln Park course “a perfect place to start and end your golf career.”
The park district also has accommodated the next generation even further by developing a six-hole Kid’s Course to encourage younger children to take up the game. “The longest hole is 84 yards,” notes Tannahill.
The Kid’s Course started out with three holes, and three more holes were added to the layout. Tannahill says an additional three holes are under construction, and they should be ready for play next year. A parent or guardian must accompany children on the Kid’s Course. However, the youngsters can play the course for free, and clubs are available for their use on the clubhouse.
The park district, which also includes the 18-hole King’s Walk Golf Course, offers season passes to golfers at affordable rates, and Tannahill says all of these strategies help grow the game.
“We want to encourage people to play golf here and elsewhere,” he adds.
A Course Within a Course
Members at MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary, N.C., have plenty of options when they want to play a round of golf.
In addition to playing from one of four sets of tees such as the championship tees that play at 6,860 yards, golfers also can tee off on one of four hybrid courses created within the course with the four sets of tees boxes.
“We take a combination of two tee boxes to create another yardage for our members to play,” says PGA Master Professional Ben Hynson.
The Thistle course measures 6,447 yards; Foxglove is 6,130 yards; Heather measures 5,646 yards, and Juniper totals 4,343 yards.
“With the hybrid golf courses, you’re trying to create different yardages for the members so they can still enjoy the game as they get older,” Hynson explains. “Once they stop enjoying the game, they lose the value of their club. The hybrid courses create more for the members without adding tee boxes.”
Hynson says MacGregor Downs created the hybrids in 2007 in a proactive approach to keep membership from declining. “Forty percent of our rounds are played from the hybrid courses,” he adds.
These courses have their own scorecards as well as their own course and slope ratings.
MacGregor Downs also is putting in Level 1 and Level 2 junior courses of 3,200 and 3,800 yards, respectively, according to U.S. Kids Golf and PGA of America specifications.
“We’re creating golf courses within the golf course for our junior players to play and not get frustrated by such a long golf course,” notes Hynson. “They can make pars or the occasional birdie, and it creates more of a family environment.”
According to Hynson, most of the property’s newest members are families with children. “The more we can offer for families, the more value they place in being a member or wanting to be a member,” he says.
Other innovative efforts to grow the game are evident at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, and The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla., Jack Nicklaus’ home courses, where he has created a 12-hole scorecard as an option for members. Muirfield Village held two 12-hole events during Labor Day weekend. Participants used an 8-inch cup, rather than the traditional 4.25-inch cup. In addition, they were required to complete their round in 2.5 hours or incur a one-stroke penalty for every five minutes past the allotted time to encourage faster play.