The “Short Answer” to Golf’s Woes?

By | March 9th, 2017
Oaks CC took advantage of unused land identified during a redesign of its regulation course to create a six-hole, pitch-and-putt “Acorn Course” that is now used for its junior program.

Oaks CC took advantage of unused land identified during a redesign of its regulation course to create a six-hole, pitch-and-putt “Acorn Course” that is now used for its junior program.

Offering players a chance to discover and enjoy the game with less difficulty, cost and time can provide more choices, fun—and play.

After seeing repeatedly in survey after survey that golf takes too much time, costs too much and is too difficult to master, there are many indications that golf developers and operators are warming to the idea of a shorter alternative to the 7,000-yard, 18-hole format that was worshipped and felt to be inviolable for so many years.

SUMMING IT UP
• Short courses are proving to yield more net revenue and significantly reduce operating costs.
• In the end, the design and operation of a short course is limited only by a property’s available land, budget and imagination.

“Short courses” can take a variety of forms—from an 18-hole collection of par-three holes, to a series of three- or six-hole loops that can be played in a variety of combinations, to so-called “executive” courses consisting primarily of par-three holes, with a sprinkling of longer holes. However they are offered, short courses can fulfill a variety of roles: serving as golf’s version of a “bunny slope” to provide a gateway to a traditional regulation course; offering more realistic practice opportunities; and giving time-sensitive players a chance to get in a few holes when their schedules are too busy to accommodate playing nine or 18 on a full-length layout.

In the end, the design and operation of a short course is limited only by a club or course property’s available land, budget and the imagination of its operations and management team.

When Atlanta-based architect Bill Bergin was retained by Oaks Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., to do a redesign of the club’s A.W. Tillinghast-designed regulation course, he noticed some unused land near the clubhouse and came up with the idea of adding a six-hole, pitch-and-putt course and short-game practice area.

Rick Reed, Head Golf Pro, Oaks Country Club, Tulsa, Okla.

Rick Reed, Head Golf Pro, Oaks Country Club, Tulsa, Okla.

“We had a little bit of land near the swimming pool and tennis courts, so we built six holes ranging from 40 to 75 yards,” says Oaks’ Head Golf Pro, Rick Reed. “It lets kids run down there and grab a putter or a wedge and maybe get interested in golf.

“We use [the course] for our junior program as well as for the club’s scratch players,” Reed reports. “We also use it for couples tournaments and all kinds of club events. We allow our social members to use it during the summer, and hopefully that will lead to some new full golf memberships.”

There is no charge to play the small layout, which members have named the “Acorn Course.” Even guests can play it for no charge, creating another opportunity to attract new members. And as Reed points out, maintenance costs are minimal, because the area was mowed regularly anyway, and the small greens don’t take much time to manicure.

“It was money really well spent,” says Reed. “It’s been kind of a home run for all concerned.”

The cost of constructing Oaks’ Acorn Course was only around $60,000, says Bergin, with only two months required for construction, and another two months for grow-in.

Reshaping the Dream
At Mountain Shadows Resort in Paradise Valley, Ariz., a capital infusion from new ownership and residential developers finally enabled architect Forrest Richardson to realize a decade-plus dream of making what was old new again.

Mountain Shadows Resort is reopening this year with a new version of a short course originally designed in 1961. Director of Golf and Club Operations Tom McCahan plans to price rounds attractively in the high-end Scottsdale/Phoenix market, while also offering unique appeal to business groups.

Mountain Shadows Resort is reopening this year with a new version of a short course originally designed in 1961. Director of Golf and Club Operations Tom McCahan plans to price rounds attractively in the high-end Scottsdale/Phoenix market, while also offering unique appeal to business groups.

Original designer Jack Snyder had created a 40-acre short course for the resort, which opened in 1961 but then closed in the early 2000s, although the course stayed open. With a new 183-room resort scheduled to open this March, Richardson got the go-ahead to upgrade the original Snyder design. He eliminated the course’s two par-four holes to create 18 par-three holes, ranging in length from 70 to 200 yards. That decreased the golf footprint from 33 acres to what is now just 13.5 acres of maintained turf, including a par-two “bonus hole” that players can use to settle any lingering competitive “issues.”

“There are very few high-end par-threes in the area, and it’s not an easy course,” says Tom McCahan, who moved to become Mountain Shadows’ Director of Golf and Club Operations, after many years at the nearby Boulders Resort & Spa.

“There are a lot of humps, bumps and undulations on and around the greens, and it’s in a fantastic location up against the mountains,” says McCahan. As part of its reopening, rounds at Mountain Shadows will be priced in the $55-$65 range, significantly lower than high-season rates for regulation layouts in the Scottsdale/Phoenix market, with plans to offer even more dynamic pricing options for off-peak times.

In a resort setting, Richardson adds, a short course is ideal for encouraging business groups—which often include many who are new to golf—to take a short break during or after meetings to get in a few holes. And while the entire course redesign at Mountain Shadows cost approximately $3 million, Richardson says his research indicates that a layout of its type typically requires 65% less staff to operate and 50% less expense to maintain, while generating 65% of the revenue of a regulation-length course—in part because the shorter length can accommodate significantly more rounds.

Some of the country’s most famous golf destinations have also seen the wisdom of providing “alternate” golf experiences. In addition to its four revered regulation courses, Mike Keiser’s visionary golfing tableau at Bandon Dunes Resort now offers both the 13-hole, par-three Bandon Preserve course designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and “The Punchbowl,” an 18-hole putting course laid out by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina that is offered at no charge to resort guests.

At historic Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort, owner Robert Dedman, Jr. and architect Gil Hanse will be adding a short course of 8 to 12 holes on 10 acres that currently occupy portions of the first holes for courses #1 and #5.

Mountain Shadows Resort, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Mountain Shadows Resort, Scottsdale, Ariz.

The short-course surge has also extended to semi-private and public properties. The Arlington Heights (Ill.) Park District has capitalized on an opportunity to attract more league and juniors play while simultaneously adding a more economical option to the existing Arlington Lakes 18-hole course. The District engaged architect Mike Benkusky to renovate and reconfigure its shortish (5,400 yards, par-68) course to accommodate a 2,300-yard, par-three layout within the larger course. In the process, some holes were “flipped” to create three-, six- and nine-hole loops that all bring players back to the clubhouse. Simultaneously, Benkusky eliminated nearly 70 bunkers, to speed the pace and enhance playability.

The upgrades and the additional layout have shown promising signs since the changes were unveiled in July. “The new design addresses a lot of the issues that are hurting golf,” says Golf Operations Manager Tim Govern. “It’s a little more player-friendly, and people can play for less than the cost of a movie these days. It creates a unique niche in the marketplace for us, and the better player can play it, too.”

The new configurations, Govern reports, have already helped Arlington Lakes to net “significantly” more revenue per round while doing slightly fewer rounds and stretching tee times from 8- to 10-minute intervals for a net gain in revenue augmented by less wear and tear on the course.

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