Short golf courses with an unconventional number of holes are a recent innovation that offer a unique and efficient entry point into the game for beginners and a new experience for longtime players.
Short golf courses with an unconventional number of holes are a recent innovation that offer a unique and efficient entry point into the game for beginners and a new experience for longtime players. The Belmont Golf Course in Richmond, Va.—owned by First Tee Greater Richmond—has a 12-hole layout, a 6-hole, Par 3 course, and an 18-hole putting course that opened in May 2021. To the west of the Mississippi River, Mountain Top Golf Course at Big Cedar Lodge in Hollister, Mo. is a 13-hole, Par 3, walking-only site that opened in 2017.
Here’s a look at what each course has to offer.
Belmont Golf Course
Designed by renowned golf architect A.W. Tillinghast in 1917 and opened as Hermitage Country Club, Belmont Golf Course hosted two PGA Tour events — the 1945 Richmond Invitational (won by Ben Hogan) and the 1949 PGA Championship (won by Sam Snead). Another famous architect, Donald Ross, made design contributions to the course. Henrico County purchased Belmont in 1977 and converted it into a public golf course. During the last few years, the county started examining non-golf uses for the property, but community members said they wanted Belmont to remain a golf course.
In 2020, First Tee Greater Richmond partnered with Love Golf Design (owned by PGA Tour great Davis Love III and his brother Mark) to convert Belmont into a new facility that offered multiple playing options. Mark Lynch, Vice President of Operations for First Tee Greater Richmond, said his organization wanted to expand its reach in Richmond.
“It made sense for us to give ourselves an ability to host more kids from Henrico County, from the school system, [at] our normal weekly classes, camps,” says Lynch.
A 12-hole, Par 48 course, a 6-hole Par 3 course, an 18-hole putting course, a driving range, a wedge range, a chipping green and three practice greens were built to both provide instruction for youth in the First Tee program and to offer “all different kinds of entry points to the game” for players of all ages, Lynch says.The 12-hole set-up, known as the Belmont, has five sets of tees with total yardage ranging from 2,855 to 4,325. The 6-hole course, called Little Bell, has two sets of tees with total distances ranging from 595 to 705 yards and can be played by a single player in about 45 minutes. A third, shorter set of tees expected to measure about 330 yards was recently added to accommodate the youngest junior players.
“The 6-hole course provides another entry point for beginning golfers that isn’t as intimidating as playing an 18-hole round,” Lynch says.
Multiple generations play Little Bell and seasoned golfers can also use the course to practice their repertoire of wedge shots and perhaps a couple mid-iron shots.
The 18-hole putting course, known as The Ringer, also gives newcomers a chance to get their feet wet in the game.
“We saw [the putting course] as a really cool way for people to experience the property without having to spend multiple hours [playing],” Lynch says.
Players also tell Lynch they like the condition of the course and the atmosphere.
“We do not have a dress code,” he explains. “Our dress code is essentially, wear pants and a shirt…we’ve had people play music…people just feel comfortable here.”
If there is negative feedback, it usually centers on pace of play being slow, but that’s partly due to many golfing newbies using the course.
As people’s lives become busier, Lynch believes short courses, large putting layouts and other new concepts are needed to ensure golf will survive in the future.
“We have to have [those uses]…that aren’t traditional, so people can still stay engaged in golf and not feel like they have to play a full 18 holes or play 9 holes,” he says.
Mountain Top Golf CourseMountain Top is one of five golf courses at Big Cedar Lodge in Hollister, Mo. The 13-hole, Par 3 course was created through a collaboration between World Golf Hall of Fame legend Gary Player and Bass Pro Shop founder Johnny Morris.
“It started as a 9-hole [Par 3] layout, but there ended up being space for a few extra holes,” says Matt McQueary, Director of Golf Sales & Marketing at Big Cedar Lodge. “They added the extra holes …which I think most people appreciated. Nine never feels like enough and sometimes 18 …seems like too much, so 13 was kind of a serendipitous, good number to land on.”
Depending on where the golfer tees off from, the course plays at a total yardage ranging from 1,091 to 1,912 yards. The yardages for a front tee and a back tee are listed on the scorecard and between those listings is a column called “Player’s Choice.” No yardages are listed in that column because, McQueary says, it reflects the fact that golfers can tee off from anywhere between the front and back tees.
The reasons for the course being walking-only are two-fold: It is a Par 3 course, but it also reflects the vision of its creators. Morris wants people to go outside and connect with nature, while Player is very committed to physical fitness, according to McQueary.
“It was kind of a perfect marriage to make the course walking-only,” he says.
Since the mountains and hills of the Ozarks are made of limestone, golfers are surrounded by scenic geological features as they walk down the fairways.
“You go a couple feet under the soil and you have these limestone pillars…as [the builders] shaped the ground, they were just able to expose those limestone formations that were already there,” McQueary shares. “It’s a really pretty walk, especially in the fall…when the leaves start changing, you’ve got these rolling hills, [and] pops of orange and yellow and red everywhere.”
McQueary adds Mountain Top is very playable off the tee, and this quality makes it ideal for junior golfers and beginners.
The unique design of the greens gives players a chance to try creative approaches to putting.
“[The greens have] a lot more movement and swells and ridges…so putting is the more challenging part…which makes it really fun because there’s lots of ways to attack putts by playing it up the big swell and having it come down,” McQueary says.
A foursome can play Mountain Top in about two hours, while a single player or twosome on a quiet day could finish the course in about 90 minutes.
“A full 18-hole round is a big time commitment,” McQueary says. “So when you have these short courses, it’s easier to sneak it in if you’ve got work that day or a family or you go on a trip to Big Cedar and you’re traveling with a group of non-golfers and you just want to escape for an hour or two.”