Ever since the housing crisis and the parallel (but not correlated) decline in Tigermania, the golf world as a whole has been on a relentless quest to #GrowTheGame. It has become such a tired mantra to the point of comedy. Like all good movements, there are opportunists and genuine believers along with initiatives and individuals that fall somewhere in between.
Some of the ideas include hard goods to make golf easier for beginner, as well targeted instruction seeking to bring newbies into the fold. Just off the top of my head there’s PGA Jr. League, Drive Chip & Putt, footgolf (get people onto the golf course to play something that barely resembles the sport), Topgolf (bowling x driving range), Play 9, While We’re Young, Tee It Forward, and it goes on. All are based on some perception about why people aren't playing golf, including that golf maybe isn't worth playing.
Look, growing the game isn’t easy. The sport is stereotyped (rightly or wrongly) for being incredibly difficult for beginners, too expensive, too stodgy, too exclusionary, and too clique-y, as well having too many rules, taking too long. (Enough already!) And I’m probably leaving out a few. However, none of the solutions mentioned so far here truly address the largest commonality across golf: the course itself.
Tee It Forward is meant to get golfers playing tees that are more conducive to fun and getting around a little quicker. This usually means the 12-20 handicapper probably should forgo the 6,500-yard-or-more tees and play something closer to 6,000 yards. Plenty of men in the 25-45 demographic feel this is emasculating. Most would rather lose $50 or more of balls than find more fairways while playing quicker.
But still, this is just altering the total distance from tee to green. And you’re basically stuck playing nine or 18 holes. But what if there was an alternative that was less scripted for those of us that don’t have or want to take 5-7 hours (this is, of course, unheard of overseas) out of our day getting to and from the course and playing an entire round?
Architecture is the answer. And I have a proposal.
I’ve been doodling a course routing [below] for a couple years. The basic premise is players would pay per 3-hole "loop" (e.g. Loops A, B, C, X, Y, and Z).
While writing and researching this piece I came across @CarrForTheCourse “clover” course idea. So, I recognize this general premise isn’t unique.
How would this design work?
- Cost. For the sake of argument, each loop would be $15, or $90 for 18 holes. Are you a beginner with an extremely tight budget? $15 for a loop is a little more than a large bucket of range balls. It also gives beginners the “big course” feel without committing to 2-5 hours of misery and the inevitable lost balls.
- Logistics. To avoid always starting on the same loop, the course would rotate what the starting loop would be each day or however often they wanted. This would avoid someone coming out for a three-hole loop and playing the same three holes every time. Additionally, the course would have the ability to change the direction of the routing or the order they should be played on a given day.
- Architecture/Routing. This ‘flower’ looping would allow for three-hole lunchtime loops taking approximately 45 minutes. And you’d literally get to use driver, wood(s), long irons and wedges. Whereas one of the “problems” with par-3 courses is you only use a few clubs in your bag. That's great for your short game, but let’s be honest, don’t most amateurs love ripping driver at every opportunity? Each loop returns to the clubhouse so that if you’re only playing three holes you’re not having to hoof-it or take a 2-mile cart ride back to your car. Or in case of severe weather, players wouldn’t be far from legitimate shelter. Admittedly, having a course with six par 3s, six par 4s and six par 5s would be funky and non-traditional. But you know what that adds up to? Par 72.
- Drawbacks. I’m not an architect, not a course construction worker, or even a land developer. I have no idea if this could be implemented anywhere other than brand new course developments. Which are few and far between right now. Are there courses that naturally have three-hole loops? Yes, most certainly. In fact, Streamsong Resort offers two six-hole loops (Blue and Red courses) after a certain time in the afternoon (once all the tee times have gone out). The biggest downside of this highfalutin idea is this could really only be implemented for new construction. Retrofitting isn’t likely given how most courses were originally routed. And finding places it could work would interrupt the normal course of play. Streamsong’s loops are more the exception than the rule.
The emergence of high profile par-3 courses (The Preserve, The Cradle, the new par 3 course at Sand Valley) are the right idea for getting in more, quick fun rounds while allowing youngsters to take their game from the driving range to the course. Let’s hope there are owners, developers and architects willing to think even more outside the box about how to get more people on and off the course for as much golf as they want and time allows. In the meantime, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few lesser courses get redeveloped (i.e. bulldozed) to see if a different routing and business model could jumpstart more partial rounds.