A Wall Street Journal profile highlighted Bob Griffioen and his efforts to make golf shorter, more affordable and more fun through a flexible greens fee and multiple “loop” setup at the Island Hills course in Centreville, Mich.
An August 2nd profile in The Wall Street Journal that highlighted the efforts of a golf course owner in Centreville, Mich., to create a workable model for courses with fewer than 18 holes has created considerable buzz.
Bob Griffioen, a 67-year-old former engineer who bought the Island Hills course in 2010, is keen to emulate his idol, Jack Nicklaus, by giving golfers the opportunity to play shorter versions of the full 7,074-yard layout.
At Island Hills, visitors can play five, seven, nine, 12, or 18 holes, and the green fee determined by how many holes they play. Each of the “loops” has its own scorecard.
“Jack [Nicklaus] says, and all the experts agrees, that the three ‘big uglies’ in golf are that it takes too long to play, it costs too much money, and it’s too difficult and intimidating for newcomers,” said Griffioen, whose original plan had been to build a separate ‘kiddie course’ after buying Island Hills.
But after determining that plan wouldn’t be cost-effective, Griffioen told the Journal, he contacted the designer of the original course, Ray Hearn, to renovate the bunkers and create the internal loops. “It wouldn’t work everywhere,” Hearn said, “but we’re fortunate here that the course returns to the clubhouse or parking lot area at multiple points.”
To prevent bottlenecks on the course, short rounds are offered only during the week when the course isn’t as crowded, Griffioen said. He added that he relies on good judgment from the club’s pro staff and starters to avoid trouble.
The shorter loops were unveiled in the spring, with Griffioen hoping they might attract golfers to the course during the quiet part of the week. “But remember,” he said, “everything about this is a work in progress.”
The numbers have hardly been earth-shattering so far, the Journal reported, with only 100 people paying to play mini-versions of the course. “Overall our play is up dramatically, but a lot of our customers drive in from Grand Rapids or Battle Creek or Elkhart [Indiana],” said Andy Mears, Island Hills’ Chief Operating Officer. “They’re all curious about the short loops, and think they’re a great idea, but when you drive 30 minutes or an hour to get here, you want to play 18 holes.”
Still, the Journal reported, the early returns have not turned Griffioen off to the idea. “Honestly, we don’t have enough data yet to know where we stand,” he said. “Golf is slow to change. Long term, I’m still hoping the short loops will catch on.”
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