The rise of the shorter golf course in 2020

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick December 24, 2020 12:05

There has been a growth in demand for shorter versions of golf recently – and this began before the pandemic did.

This summer, data from Ireland suggested that shorter and quicker versions of golf than what can be played on 18-hole full-length courses had been soaring.

According to Pitch and Putt Ireland, more than 2,000 people took up pitch and putt memberships between May and September, with numbers up by more than 200 percent at some golf clubs.

Pitch and putt is played on smaller courses with a maximum of three clubs, with holes no longer than 90 metres and a par of 54. The sport originated in Ireland in the 1930s where it is believed that there are at least 100 pitch and putt courses.

“Some clubs have had to turn people away and have seen their biggest rise in numbers in decades,” said Jason O’Connor of Pitch and Putt Ireland.

Bishopstown Pitch and Putt Club saw membership numbers jump from 65 in 2019 to 210 this year, up 210 percent. St Anne’s Shanakiel has seen its membership go from 87 to 233 — a rise of 167 percent.

Portmarnock Pitch and Putt has seen membership go from 251 to 412 (up 64 percent) while Castleisland Pitch & Putt has seen membership almost double from 39 to 72.

“A round of golf could be five hours now. You can get 36 holes of pitch and putt played in two-and-a-half to three hours,” he added.


Par three course Gualta Golf Club

The resurgence probably started before the pandemic did.

Research earlier this year found that short golf courses that utilise a forward-tee concept enable golf clubs to attract new players and help them to make the sometimes difficult transition into membership.

The Golf Access study, which was conducted with golf clubs in the UK, Ireland and Australia, reported that 51 percent of about 1,200 participants who had used a programme featuring shorter golf courses in 2019 had moved on to golf club membership.

The programme itself is based around a reward scheme and getting golfers onto small courses.

Golf Access creates a progression to club membership by offering nine different scoring levels for new golfers to work through. Once a participant achieves the required band-score or better, they are rewarded with a wristband or poker chip ball marker of the respective colour and can then move on to the next level.

China Fleet Country Club in Plymouth has been using the system since May 2019. As well as attracting new players to the venue, the club has converted nine juniors and four adults into full time members and seen more families taking up the game.

Ben Waters golf manager at China Fleet Golf Club, explains: “The programme is a great way of getting the whole family introduced to the game of golf, and with China Fleet Country Club always looking to encourage family activities this is a perfect way to get everyone involved. From my experience as a junior golfer and now working in the industry I believe people want to experience the real thing so getting them out onto the golf course is a great way to keep people enthusiastic and returning every session.”

Richard Jackson

The popularity of short courses has not been lost on Richard Jackson, originally from Bridlington, East Yorkshire, who moved to Spain in 2007 and is the head professional at Gualta Golf Club, an 18-hole par three course in which every hole is between 80 and 140 yards, and a full round takes about two hours to complete – a big attraction for those frustrated at a five-hour slog you can sometimes experience on the continent.

Jackson believes the continued boom in playing short-course golf will continue.

He said: “Time is a huge factor. Some rounds can take over five hours at some of the top championship courses and some people just don’t have that amount of spare time. Even on a tournament day, rounds take two-and-a-half-hours maximum. Mostly, you get round in two hours.

“The cost is another big part of it. Green fees are cheap.

“Perhaps other courses and golfers looked down on us a bit in the past. But I think we’re over that now.

“We are definitely a bit more relaxed about things like dress codes and there are no handicap restrictions to play. Everyone is very welcome. It just goes to show that it’s becoming increasingly popular and we look forward to the next 20 years!”

Shorter golf courses are growing in the USA as well.

Tiger Woods’ first foray into short course design occurred in 2019 with Bluejack, and the reigning Masters champion and his team were approached to redesign the famous Pebble Beach par-three layout. In spring 2021 the new-look short course will be unveiled.

“We loved the concept and Bluejack is a very family-orientated club,” a spokesman for Tiger Woods told CNN, “but we didn’t know if it would be empty and we were wondering: ‘Are we really building this for kids?’ and ‘Is anyone going to play it?’

“That whole experience made us very comfortable with the short course concept, to know it’s a worthwhile venture and there is a lot of interest there, plus it’s a great tool for golf courses to get more people involved in the game.

“The big complaints about golf right now are it takes too long and costs too much, which this short game concept helps to solve.

“Tiger definitely wants to create more playable and more fun golf courses. There’s always going to be a place for hard courses like at the US Open, but … how do we make golf more fun, more inviting and more playable for that player? That was his goal early on.

“If you’re having a tournament you can then speed up greens, firm up fairways and make the course harder, but it’s very difficult to make a hard course easier. I don’t think his goal is to change the whole industry — there’s a place for the more difficult course.”

“I think in Britain and Ireland, we’re a long way from pumping money into short courses. Our market is stuck in that traditional 18-hole space,” said golf course architect James Edwards.

“The club I’ve just come from, for example, has turned down a redesign option to include a short course and 300-yard range. They chose a much safer option so they’re stuck with a range of about 200 yards and no short course.

“You’ve got to see the future. All of the best golf facilities in the world have a short course. The reason being is the designers at the time saw that relevance for having a quick game of golf as well as the championship level test.”


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick December 24, 2020 12:05
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1 Comment

  1. Mr Couch-Potato January 23, 10:46

    The problem with pitch and putt courses is the amount of time it takes play. A round can easily take more than an hour. What we need is even shorter courses and larger cups. A round should take no more than 20 minutes.

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