I’d like to play the short course, please

Over the past few years, purpose-built short courses have become a hot topic. High-end resorts, such as Bandon Dunes (pictured above) and Pinehurst, recently opened their own short tracks and many in the golf industry speak about them as a possible solution for growing the game.

There’s nothing really new about short courses. We’ve had local and municipal pitch and putts and par-3 courses for decades. The pitch and putts were fun for beginners and ok for hits and giggles if you wanted to hit a few wedges. On most of the older layouts, the greens were nothing more than a circular area where the grass was marginally shorter than the fairways. Even the par-3 courses didn’t offer much challenge for putting.

The new short courses, however, are in a different category altogether. For starters, the green complexes rival those on championship layouts, with grand contours, multiple levels, real bunkers and chipping areas. The Cradle at Pinehurst Resort features nine greens that wouldn’t be out of place on their vaunted No.2 course.

Many of the newer short courses also feature multiple tee decks. On the Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama, several locations include a couple of championship layouts plus an 18-hole short course, complete with regulation green complexes and four sets of tees. Yardages range from 100 yards to more than 200 yards, and any one of the holes on the short course would fit equally well on the championship layouts. (Note: on our first trip to the RTJ Trail, one of the course marshals advised us to mix up the tees on the short courses by playing Purple on #1, Orange on #2, White on #3 and Teal on #4, then repeating throughout the round. That way you got to try lots of different yardages.)

These newer purpose-built short courses aren’t just an afterthought either – something to be squeezed in once the big course, clubhouse, practice area and driving range are all built. They’re part of an overall land use plan that gets as much attention as the lengthier layouts. On occasion, they’re the feature attraction. Mountain Shadows in Scottsdale, Arizona is often recognized as one of the Best Short Courses in America and is routed around a resort hotel and community housing. It offers everything from waterfalls to stunning views of Camelback Mountain.

There are umpteen reasons golfers want to avoid full-length courses, including the time it takes to play and the cost, two of the main reasons often cited for a decline in golf participation. Longer courses are often intimidating for beginner golfers and seniors, and at many courses, a nine-hole option isn’t available either, especially on weekends. The short course offers solutions for a lot of those issues.

Shortly after returning from visits to Pinehurst and the RTJ Trail last year, I began writing about the possibility of adding a short course to local properties, citing The Cradle at Pinehurst as an example. It only required 15 acres. One owner acknowledged that he had an extra 15 acres but was a little short on the million plus dollars he thought would be required to hire a designer, clear the land and build nine championship greens.

Well, that is a bit of a deterrent, but let’s not give up too easily. If building nine new greens is cost prohibitive, what about adding nine new tees?

In all seriousness, every championship layout already has the makings of a short course. All that’s really needed is an open mind and the willingness to break with tradition and try something different.

There doesn’t have to be a large capital expenditure to make it happen either. Pinehurst Resort, one of the premier golf destinations in the world, was using hitting mats as tee decks on The Cradle. The mats are moved a few feet each day to allow the grass underneath to recover, but there are no divots to repair.

Courses in Canada could easily do the same – set the mats in the left rough or right rough so they don’t interfere with regular play; vary the yardages between 50 and 120 yards so most golfers would only need a couple of irons and a putter; and voila! instant short course.

Course owners would have to make the call on when they allowed play on the short course. I’m not sure it would integrate well with players trying to play the championship layout, but I’d love to find out. More likely, players would play in the evening or designated times.

The concept isn’t really intended to replace “normal” golf, more to supplement it in non-peak times, add more players to the course and offer an alternative. Courses that have two 18-hole layouts could feature an 18-hole option, a 9-hole option and a short course option all at the same time. 27-hole courses could retain one nine for short course players.

Personally, I’d want to walk the short course, as I do on regulation length courses if permitted, but in this case, no bag required, just a couple of clubs in hand. You probably don’t even need extra balls unless there are a lot of water hazards.

As for green fees, it’s probably some percentage of the twilight fee, as most of the patrons will be out for an evening stroll and a little chipping and putting. $20 sounds about right. Reasonable cost for the golfer, nice bit of revenue for the course.

I’m excited to try it!

Note: I’d love to hear what you think of this idea. If you’re a golfer, leave a comment below and tell us if it’s something you’d support or not. If you’re a course owner or manager and want to add a short course, let me know; I’ll be your first customer.

Peter Mumford
Peter Mumford is the Editor of Fairways Magazine. He's played over 500 different courses in 21 countries and met some fascinating people along the way. He's also a long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs fan.

8 thoughts on “I’d like to play the short course, please

  1. Peter

    I have played some of these great short courses. Bandon dunes is one of the best. Also played one at opeleka on the RJT. They are great for an after lunch round. Less wear and tear than 36 champions ship holes. In Scotland they call them a wee course.

    I was in Florida until last week. We continued to play even after the clubhouse was shut. It’s a community course so walking isn’t practical. But we all took our own golf cart. Looked funny to see 4 carts on every tee but it was the safest place to be. Better than the grocery store for sure. Now we are home in in isolation for 14 days. I sure hope courses figure out how to make this happen. Walking only ? No pro shop? Home club members only?

    1. Thanks Jim. I think we can figure it out. Like this enforced shutdown, it will take some discipline and the golf won’t be exactly the same, but lots of things aren’t going to be the same after this.

  2. Great idea Peter. I just got back from a couple of months in Florida where my three games a week golf budget was only affordable on shortish 12hole course where preferred lies were often needed and taken. Unlike my home course, all but two greens were reachable in regulation which gave me a chance to tie or win a skin when up against the big boomers. Fun and affordable for sure. Cheers….Craig Eagleson

    1. You make a great point about course conditions Craig. We may all have to get used to preferred lies and less than perfectly manicured courses. In the long run, neither our budgets or the environment can afford “perfect”.

  3. Peter – great article that brings attention to a solution of the time crunch. Much closer to home, Hamilton Golf & CC has had a short course since its move to Ancaster in 1916. The current version features spectacular green sites that represent famous Harry Colt par 3’s from around the world. Designed as a tribute to Harry Colt, who designed Hamilton Golf and Country Club’s original 18 holes, the Short Course uses many of the legendary designer’s ideas and concepts.

    Opened in 2011, the nine-hole course was created on Hamilton’s old practice grounds. The first six holes are modelled after holes Colt designed, renovated or consulted on, including examples from Royal Liverpool, Royal Portrush’s “Calamity,” Pine Valley’s short 10th hole, and the 14th at Wentworth. The eighth hole is named after Charles Alison, Colt’s design partner, who made a visit to Hamilton in 1920, while the final hole is simply named after Colt himself.



    1. Thanks George. I remember seeing it on one of the media days at Hamilton. I look forward to giving it a try.

  4. Turnberry , northwest of Toronto, is one of the most challenging courses in the GTHA. The opening and closing holes are excellent par 4s. The other sixteen holes are par 3s, with no let up anywhere. Sounds easy but you will be drained after playing, and want to get out there again.
    It was designed by Doug Carrick. Here is a gallery of holes: https://www.turnberrygolf.ca/golf-course.html

    1. Hi Brian – thanks for your comment. I’ve played Turnberry several times and always enjoyed it. We could use more like it.

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