The rise of high-quality short courses represents a trend and a revelation. Their presence provides a reprieve from the big-course boom and allows operators to unveil fresh products even during a global pandemic.
From the Monterey Bay to the Carolina Sandhills, operators believe less space will yield more revenue and customer enjoyment. Many of us learned the game on courses consisting entirely of par 3s and short par 4s. I hit some of my first shots on the 3-hole course owned by Upper St. Clair Township in suburban Pittsburgh. The second hole featured an elevated tee and novices fretted over blading a shot, because the third tee and a busy road flanked the green.
Behind the second tee lurked St. Clair Country Club’s Terrace Course, the most compact of the club’s three nines and the first glimpse of private club life for thousands of golfers. Last summer, I had a chance to visit St. Clair Country Club for a story about superintendent Eric Materkowski’s maintenance programs. After touring the championship course, we traversed the Terrace Course and walked to the second tee of the municipal layout. A memorable part of my childhood had remained intact — and the resident junior green fee is still $5.
I graduated to bigger courses and bullheadedly ignored short courses until a few years ago. A trio of Cleveland Metroparks-operated short courses rests within 15 minutes of our office. A day before completing this column, I stealthily scurried to the short course at Shawnee Hills for a quick nine. The walk in the park took just 39 minutes as I enjoyed greens, tees and approaches maintained to the same levels as the adjacent 18-hole course. Nary a co-worker realized I was gone.
Managing editor Matt LaWell and I played our first round together last fall at The Cradle, a cleverly designed 789-yard creation on the most visible piece of Pinehurst Resort real estate. Gil Hanse’s design is unique, but the course conditions and informal vibe left us dazzled. The Cradle is handled with the same care as the resort’s other nine courses, including famed No. 2 and recently renovated No. 4. Short courses are no longer afterthoughts. They fit the times. Customers want fast fun; operators want to maximize revenue per acre. Some private clubs and resorts devote a superintendent and crew solely to short course and practice area maintenance.
The Cradle is a rousing success, a note Henry DeLozier makes in his column about practice areas and the pandemic (page 32).
Our experiences close to home and on the road represent inspiration for a bimonthly series we are debuting this month titled “Short course stories.” Like the courses they honor, the stories will be short — no more than two pages — and packed with creative text and imagery. The stories will provide examples of superintendent and operator ingenuity.
Superintendent Tim Campbell and Palm Beach Par 3 are the subject of the first story (page 34). Matt and I visited the spectacular South Florida municipal golf setting in January. Perfect paspalum covers the 39-acre site featuring holes along the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway. Two pages of words and images don’t fully depict the majesty of the course. But Matt gives it a valiant effort!We will profile a variety of short courses, not just tracts at places with substantial operational and marketing budgets. The golf market possesses more facilities like Shawnee Hills, which attracts a diverse Northeast Ohio clientele, than a domestic and international golf destination like Pinehurst Resort.
For our purposes, a short course consists primarily of par 3 holes, although we’re not eliminating layouts with a few short 4s as profile subjects. Contact us if you know of a story-worthy short course. We’re adaptable. And we’re ready to pick up the content consumption pace.