In October some friends and I made a pilgrimage to Bandon Dunes, the highly acclaimed resort in a remote southern corner of Oregon that Mike Keiser transformed into a golfing mecca. Among the five premier courses there is the newest addition – Bandon Preserve.
The Preserve is a 13-hole, par-3 course wedged between the original Bandon Dunes links-style course and the more parkland-like Bandon Trails. It is hardly the runt of the litter. In fact, it may be the prettiest little piece of real estate on the whole property, which is saying something.
“Mike Keiser had this idea, maybe we need a little short course,” said Ben Crenshaw, the two-time Masters Tournament champion who built the Trails and Preserve with his design partner Bill Coore. “This is an idea where some people who played 18 holes and maybe want to play a little bit more not quite so taxing. It’s a course, too, where people waiting for other groups gives them something to do that doesn’t take a long time.”
Crenshaw and Coore created a perfect little course with yardages ranging from 63 to 150 yards. The cost to play is $50 to $100 depending on the season, with ALL of the net proceeds benefitting a conservation program called The Wild Rivers Coast Alliance.
Since opening in June, the Preserve has quickly become one of the most popular attractions at Bandon. It takes less than two hours to play (more like 90 minutes) and the shot values are as entertaining as any of the neighboring big courses. Tees times every afternoon are typically booked solid, and the normal golf rules are greatly relaxed with 12-somes sometimes heading out for a friendly game with more beer in their carry bags than clubs.
“We had a ball doing it,” Crenshaw said. “There’s some fun holes there. It’s nice that people are playing it and enjoying it.”
Golf Digest recently ranked the Top 50 “most fun” golf courses, and Bandon Preserve ranked No. 3 on the list behind Pebble Beach and Bandon’s Old Macdonald, where the 2011 Public Links Championship was played.
Seven short courses ranked in Golf Digest’s fun poll including No. 9 Threetops (Michigan), No. 10 Praire’s Horse course (Nebraska) and No. 16 Palm Beach Par 3 (Florida) on the public list.
Augusta National Golf Club’s beguiling 11-hole Par 3 ranked No. 5 in most fun private courses, four spots higher than its more famous Masters venue. Also ranked for the exclusive set were The Olympic Club’s Cliffs course (No. 21) and Pine Valley’s Short 10 holes (No. 29).
Here’s where the inspiration came in. In 2008, Masters chairman Billy Payne invited tournament patrons and online followers to make suggestions for growing the game.
“We want to know, how can we capture the interest of children in this great game?” Payne said. “Can golf be made easier? Why did it take so long to play? What is the best way to get kids involved at an early age? We look forward to what we believe will be tens of thousands of responses that we receive and honestly expect to report to you at a later date that we have uncovered some really great concepts and ideas which can be incorporated into our own initiatives and efforts.”
Among the many suggestions made online, “short courses” were a popular concept.
“Put small courses in parks, schools, or lower cost subdivisions,” posted Stan S. from the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.
“Every club should build a 9-hole course, donate the parent’s green fee to local charities,” wrote George C. of Canada. “Kids under 12 play free.”
Now Augusta is searching for someone to manage or purchase The Patch, our local municipal course that has struggled to make a profit. One of the 35 recipients for a request for proposal was the Augusta National Golf Club, which could probably buy the Patch with its mad money if it wanted.
While The Patch is a sporty 18-hole layout with a small but devoted following, perhaps what it needs to grow interest and become financially stable is transform itself into a short course. Even without the panoramic views of the Pacific, a fun and challenging collection of par-3 holes would be inviting to newcomers to the game and give people a recreational option that doesn’t eat up four to five hours of the day.
Tie it in with the neighboring First Tee of Augusta and the historic Forest Hills Golf Club across Wrightsboro Road, The Pint-Sized Patch and friends could become the kind of three-stage golfing facility that grows the game for every level of golfer right here at home.
It certainly answers all the questions Payne was seeking – easier, captivating, less time intensive – in his growth initiative.