Though sometimes viewed now as anachronisms, sub-18-hole golf courses played a critical role in the growth and development of the game throughout much of the 20th century. Something similar might be happening again. An unexpected recent architectural trend is the popularity of short courses: entertaining, quick-play accessory designs stuffed with ambitious architecture.
Miniaturised versions of their full-size siblings, they follow no formalised number of holes – there are 13 at Bandon Preserve at Bandon Dunes, 17 at The Sandbox at Sand Valley, and 10 each at The Nest at Cabot Cape Breton and the short course at Forest Dunes in northern Michigan, both of which opened last year.
Closer to home, two newcomers will be unveiled this month: the 14-hole Bougle Run layout adjoining the Lost Farm course at Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania and a nine-hole short course at Victoria’s Thirteenth Beach. That’s two separate cases of a pair of established, popular 18-hole offerings expanding to include a new and different option, which is a welcome trend in itself.
Why? Because short courses usually accompany one or more regulation layouts, their architecture is free to offer more radical contour and psychedelic short-game situations. Ideal for matches and light-hearted social play, golfers are encouraged to experiment, to carry just two or three clubs, to chase long bump-and-runs off slopes and backstops, and putt 80 metres tee to green.
The intrinsic non-conformity promotes an anything-goes spirit. Bougle Run will feature no hole indexes, requiring any strokes given or received to be negotiated before a shot is struck. At The Cradle at Pinehurst you can play barefoot and order snacks at a food truck while music streams through speakers. Goats are used as caddies at the seven-hole McVeigh’s Gauntlet at Silvies Valley Ranch in eastern Oregon (wearing cooler packs, they’ll also carry your refreshments). And quirky, severe hazards prompted The Bad Little Nine at Scottsdale National to bill itself as the world’s toughest – or at least strangest – par-3 course.
So far, most short courses have been at private clubs or destination resorts, places that cater to captive audiences of golfers already primed for fun. Often played as a kind of nightcap near dusk, in large groups with a beer or cocktail in tow, they are a kind of golf amuse-bouche, delectable bites between and after fuller plates, occasionally flavourful enough to steal the meal. And they can work almost anywhere: along an Ozark bluff (the Mountain Top course at Big Cedar Lodge), a crescent of Caribbean beach (Tiger Woods’ The Playground at Jack’s Bay Club in the Bahamas) or a few acres of idyllic farmland (The Sink Hole, an addition to The Club at Olde Stone in Kentucky, designed by Jerry Lemons).
More short courses are on the way: David McLay Kidd has built the frolicking new 14-hole Quicksands at Gamble Sands in central Washington. Woods is revamping the old nine-hole Peter Hay short course at Pebble Beach. And Australia keeps getting in on the act: Bill Coore and his shapers have extended their indelible fingerprint on Barnbougle, while in Brisbane, a short course would seem an ideal addition to Royal Queensland for that club’s spare land.
Unique settings and the natural bonhomie that short courses foster undoubtedly amplify their appeal. But enjoyment has largely been limited to club members and committed golf travellers. A better purpose might be as city-based stand-alone designs that promote a faster, more playful game with architecturally ambitious greens and no lost balls. Without rigid expectations of length or hole numbers, they can occupy small ecological footprints, even in urban settings.
We’re just beginning to see it. At Grand Oaks Reserve in Cleveland, Texas, Mike Nuzzo has built Three Grand, a 1,000-yard, nine-hole accompaniment to the regulation Nine Grand course. In Verona, Wisconsin, the architectural firm Lohmann Quitno is creating a 13-hole C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor template-themed course called Pioneer Pointe. Davis Love III and his brother, Mark, are directing an ambitious overhaul of the historic Belmont Golf Course eight kilometres north of downtown Richmond, Virginia, involving the restoration of 12 original A.W. Tillinghast holes plus a new six-hole, beginner-friendly short course. Likewise, the city of Chaska in Minnesota, has hired Benjamin Warren/Artisan Golf Design to build a bunkerless, par-30 design based on classic British and American holes emphasising affordability and accessibility for newcomers, seniors and golfers with disabilities (adaptive golfers will serve as consultants).
Towns and municipalities once eagerly pursued golf as a wholesome, worthwhile amenity for citizens. If golf hopes to revive its reputation as an integrated community asset and showcase the game as a brisk outdoor recreation that everyone can play quickly and in their own way, short courses would seem to be the perfect vehicle. The model is out there. We just need to bring it closer to home. – additional writing by Steve Keipert