Last year I attended the opening of the Jack Nicklaus Signature 12-hole Golf Park at Red Ledges, a private community in Heber City, Utah. The holes ranged from 85 to 180 yards, with full-sized greens, a few bunkers and slopes built to help funnel balls toward those greens.
But perhaps the best part, other than the stunning mountain views in every direction, was that each hole had two cups. One cup was regulation size and the other was eight inches in diameter (not the goofy 15-inch ones). That simple move gave a par-3 course, albeit one designed by Nicklaus, a whole new spin with multiple game options: call the hole you are playing from the tee, the worst tee shot has to play to the farthest hole, more points are awarded for going to the regulation-size hole, etc.
It was a blast, and my playing partner and I finished in about 90 minutes. That’s just what Nicklaus wanted to achieve
“Most sports today, except for a five-set tennis match, are all played in three hours or less,” the Golden Bear said that day. “Kids today, with the Internet and the instant gratification, they make it kind of difficult for the old traditional game of golf. They don’t want that. We have to keep traditions within the game but think outside the box to try to bring people into the game. That’s the idea.”
If the much-noted decrease in participation numbers has been an earthquake for the golf industry, then the aftershocks are coming in the form of new courses designed to both interest current golfers and attract new ones. And it’s not just happening in Utah.
Take the Trilogy Golf Club at Ocala Preserve, located within a Shea Homes residential community 90 minutes north of Orlando. A new hybrid course designed by Tom Lehman and Tripp Davis debuted there earlier this year. Built on 50 acres, it can be played in multiple loops: one is an 18-hole, par 54 routing with holes ranging from 63 to more than 200 yards; another is a six-hole, par 24 routing with one par 3, four par 4s, and one par 5, ranging in length from 168 to 532 yards. Three times around that loop provides a 6,732-yard, 18-hole layout.
“Everyone is always talking about doing something different with golf and making limited space work, but make sure it’s real golf,” said Lehman. “We really didn’t use anything else as a template for this — we kind of created our own template.”
In northern Michigan, Tom Doak has built an 18-hole reversible course at Forest Dunes. You can play to the same 18 greens in one direction one day and then play it the next day in the opposite direction from different tees. It can measure from 5,000 to 6,700 yards in either direction. Even better, it’s fully open to the public.
Those are just three examples of what you will likely be seeing more of in the near future. No one knows that better than Troon CEO Dana Garmany, who has watched the golf business evolve in many ways since he started that Scottsdale-based company back in 1990.
“I think people are going to, in some manner, end up with an easier-to-play product, whether it’s modifying what they have or something different,” he said at the opening of the 12-hole Golf Park at Red Ledges. “I think that will happen. We need a runway from Top Golf to golf. As good as Top Golf is, it’s still not the same as hitting from a tee out on the course. It may be something like this, where that move is not that traumatic.”
Nicklaus has said that the three hardest things facing the golf industry right now are the amount of time it takes to play, the difficulty and the cost factor. He’s right. And taking care of the first two should reduce the last one. Expect to see more projects like these three coming soon, because if golf needs anything right now, it’s new opportunities for first-timers to learn the game out on the course and fun new options for experienced players to enjoy the game even more.
– Tom Mackin is the managing editor of Troon Golf & Travel and lives in Scottsdale.