Short courses continue to gain popularity as properties seek new ways to attract golfers who have less time to devote to the game. Even better, beginners are being drawn to these often-less-intimidating layouts as well.
Short courses can be long on fun for golfers and beneficial for the club and resort properties that offer them. After equipment advances and a focus on long hitters made golf come to be thought of in terms of 18-hole, par-72 courses that exceed 7,000 yards, that’s been counterbalanced in recent years by recognition of the need to make the sport more accessible and time-friendly, to attract new players. Short courses accomplish both of those objectives … and more.
In Branson, Mo., Big Cedar Lodge (“ Making a Splash at Big Cedar Lodge Resort,” C+RB, October 2014) has doubled down on its commitment to non-traditional golf options. The visually stunning Top of the Rock was the first ever par-3 course to be featured in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event (the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf on the Champions TOUR). It has since been joined by Mountain Top, a 13-hole, walking-only layout that winds through amazing rock formations with 360-degree views of the Ozarks.
Todd Bohn, Big Cedar Lodge’s Director of Agronomy, has seen the benefits of short courses firsthand.
“It has helped us drive more overall golf rounds and added additional revenue to our golf business,” Bohn says. “Additionally, it helps us reach a larger audience of new golfers and families who want an introduction to the game in a shorter, more customized experience that does not require 18 holes.”
Among other advantages, Bohn lists a quicker pace of play, the ability to attract more non-golfers, juniors and families, and price benefits.
Trilogy Golf Club at Ocala (Fla.) Preserve is a 50-acre course designed by Tripp Davis and PGA Tour professional Tom Lehman that gives players multiple options for their rounds, based on the amount of time they want to spend on the course, the type of experience they desire and what parts of their game they want to work on.
As detailed in C&RB’s cover story when the property first came on stream (“The Big Short,” May 2016), the “Skills Course” at Ocala is an 18-hole, par-54 layout, with holes varying in length from 63 to more than 200 yards. The “Gallery Loop” is a six-hole, par-18 course that can be played in less than an hour. The “Players’ Loop” is a six-hole, par-24 routing with one par 3, four par 4s and one par 5.
Holes on the Players Loop vary in length from 155 to 520 yards. The course can be played in any of four configurations and can be completed in approximately 90 minutes. Three trips around the Players Loop (referred to as the “Players Course”) equals a traditional round of golf and stretches to more than 6,600 yards.
Lastly, the “Horse Course” is a match-play option that allows players to select the tees and holes they wish to play in a golf version of the basketball shooting game of “H.O.R.S.E.”
Because of the unique nature of the courses, Trilogy at Ocala’s Director of Golf, Brian Woodruff, PGA, Director of Golf, says the property has had to learn to operate somewhat differently than traditional golf layouts.
“We have to alternate days on what is available,” Woodruff says. “We currently have the 18-hole par 3s Skills Course available Tuesday through Friday, and the Gallery Loop and Player’s Loop available on Saturday and Sunday.”
Davis was also charged with designing a short course for his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma (OU). The result was the Ransom Course.
“The focus at the Ransom Course was to give the men’s and women’s golf teams the ability to practice about every shot they can imagine in a realistic setting,” Davis says. “It is one thing to stand on a range and just hit ball after ball and work on technique, or do the same on a short- game green. It is another to be able to work on your game in a setting where you are having to hit shots. That is what the Ransom Course provides.”
Davis and his team worked closely with OU Men’s Coach Ryan Hybl for a couple of years in developing the plan for the Ransom Course. They then teamed with the University’s Architectural and Engineering Department, which has oversight of any building projects on campus.
The finished product, which is not open to the public but serves as a major recruiting tool for the teams, features 15 bunkers and four different green styles evoking famous course architects. The include a “Perry Maxwell green,” an “A.W. Tillinghast green” featuring Tillinghast’s signature bunker styles, a pushed-up “Donald Ross green” and a “Seth Raynor green.”
Veronique Drouin Luttrell, OU’s Head Women’s Golf Coach, says the course speaks for itself when marketing the school to prospective student-athletes.
“The Ransom Short Course is one of the best short-game facilities out there,” she says. “Having the facility on campus is a huge deal for us—not only are we able to maximize our time out on the short course, but there’s no time wasted driving back and forth to our practice facility.”
More than Golf
The short course at Mountain Shadows in Paradise Valley, Ariz., was originally designed by Arthur Jack Snyder and opened in 1961 as a par-56 layout. In 2017, the course was redesigned (“Changes in the Desert Wind,” C+RB, February 2017) by Phoenix-based golf architect Forrest Richardson, who worked with Snyder over many years.
Tom McCahan, Director of Golf at Mountain Shadows, refers to the concept as a “turn-of-the-century” type course.
“Not everybody has time to spend five hours playing golf, and a short course allows for the sport to be played in a manageable amount of time,” he says. “Short courses are now popping up all over the country. and with The Short Course at Mountain Shadows, our goal was to set a new standard for a par-3 course and change the way people experience a leisurely game of golf.”
And while having a packed tee sheet is nice, converting golfers to guests and opening up other areas of the property can provide even a faster and more profitable shot in the arm. At Mountain Shadows, golfers can choose from post-round food and drinks at Rusty’s, the golf-dining experience, or Hearth ’61, the signature restaurant.
“We also offer an array of activities such as tours of our art gallery, weekly Champagne saberings and toasts, and stargazing events, that encourage people to stay beyond their tee time,” McCahan says. “We have also found that many golfers convert to overnight resort guests after seeing the incredible setting and experiencing our genuine hospitality.”
The 18-hole, par-3 course makes for an excellent subject when promoting Mountain Shadows, he says. “The golf course is central to our public relations and marketing efforts, including media pitching, influencer marketing, digital and print advertising, partnerships, social media, and a twice-monthly e-newsletter,” he says. “We feature unique specials that incorporate food, drinks and even the option of having a professional golfer help you along the way. We also engage in fun social-media contests and encourage people to take a photo of their experience on the course, share it with their social network and have the opportunity to win some great prizes.”
Putting in the Work
When it comes to establishing and maintaining short courses, operators report, you can’t let the smaller acreage fool you—the layouts can still have their share of maintenance challenges, especially when they’re built in unique settings to enhance their appeal.
Top of the Rock is unique due to its compact size and grass types, according to Bohn.
“About 75 percent of the maintenance [on the course] is done by hand—such as with push mowers, hand rakes, and walk spreading—so we can work around all the different rock outcroppings and eliminate as much unwanted mechanical traffic as possible,” he says. “Also, being an all-cool-season golf course—bentgrass tees, greens, and fairways and fescue/bluegrass roughs—we have to manage [Top of the Rock] totally differently than our other courses.
Conversely, Mountain Top was built as an environmentally friendly course that utilizes warm-season grasses on tees, fairways, and roughs, and this helps to cut down on water usage and pesticide uses, Bohn notes. But the golf course sits on top of ridges, so wind can be a maintenance factor on certain days. Because of that, he says, the maintenance crew has to watch the weather and capitalize on non-windy days to do heavy watering or pesticide applications.
Just being smaller than the average course does have its clear advantages, though—especially in environmentally sensitive areas. Mountain Shadows, McCahan says, saves significant water and energy by having a short course, and less overall maintenance is required.
“With the redevelopment of the course, sustainability was top of mind,” he says. “We reduced the turf area from 33 acres to 14 acres, where most regulation courses have about 100 acres of turf to maintain.”
No Shortage of Uses
It’s not all daily play—or practice in the case of the Ransom Course. Clubs and resorts with short courses are also being creative in how they’re utilizing their special assets.
OU’s golf boosters—the Chip In Club—host a “Night with the Sooners” fundraiser on the Ransom Course, to coincide with the annual Sooner Open that is played at the Jimmy Austin Golf Club. Participants play the four holes on the Ransom Course during the event in addition to the 18 holes of the Jimmie Austin course, making the event a 22-hole tournament.
The evening of golf and music on the Ransom Course goes directly to the OU men’s golf program to “fund capital projects, scholarships and other ventures that allow the team to compete and win at the highest level,” says Jimmie Austin’s General Manager, Rodney Young, PGA.
At Trilogy Golf Club at Ocala Preserve, all residents are members—and membership has its privileges. A twilight wine tasting is held on the property every other month that allows members to mingle, play golf and enjoy wine—and these are “by far” the club’s best-attended events, reports General Manager Robert Parody, CCM.
And while not taking place on the actual course, a round of golf at Top of the Rock comes with access to Lost Canyon Cave & Nature Trail, a two-and-a-half-mile trek on an electric cart that weaves in and out of the cave system and along waterfalls, providing remarkable views of the Ozarks and Table Rock Lake.
Short courses, Davis believes, will play a vital role as the golf industry continues to adapt to meet an ever-shifting market.
“They really provide a couple of different roles,” he says. “One is to be an alternative course that can be played, especially by junior golfers who can learn the game in a more comfortable setting. The other role is as a practice facility where players can work on their game in a realistic setting, playing shots rather than just hitting balls. We have found that both juniors and adults love this option, and I believe it is a key part in growing the game.”
Mountain Shadows’ McCahan also sees short courses attracting a wider array of players than the average course, due to the approachability they provide.
“With every hole being a par-3, it’s much less intimidating than a championship course,” he notes. “We offer special rates for female players during Ladies Day on Thursday mornings, and also offer something called ‘The Feeling Rusty Package’ that includes a variety of offerings, including a 30-minute lesson with our PGA golf pro. It’s suited both to people looking to improve their game and to those who have never picked up a golf club, including kids and seniors.”
And while Top of the Rock can be as challenging as it is aesthetically pleasing (there’s a true island green), Mountain Top is beginner-friendly because there are no forced-carries, so juniors and those just starting to play can easily enjoy a round without getting too frustrated.
SUMMING IT UP
> Short courses continue to come on stream as a more effective alternative to lengthy layouts in attracting new golfers, while also accommodating the changing needs and preferences of many existing players.
> Short-course play is proving effective in helping to generate additional revenues from F&B, tie-in events, overnight stays and memberships.
> Short courses can have their own unique maintenance challenges, but they generally help to reduce operating costs and can also be more environmentally friendly.
> The more realistic practice and instructional opportunities offered by short courses can help to improve players’ games more readily than traditional driving ranges.