William W. Amick

ASGCA Golf Course Architect 













Florida's Short Golf Course Treasures

ASGCA Golf Course Architect and Golf Course Designer
Looking down the third fairway at Hidden Lakes.  This is one of the outstanding short courses in Florida.


When you say Florida golf courses, the first thing that comes to mind is the TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach with its #17 island green, the Blue Monster at Doral in Miami, Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill near Orlando or a few other PGA Tour sites seen on TV. Other familiar Florida courses are those frequently advertised and on best-course lists, like Seminole.

The Sunshine State leads all other states in total number of golf courses by well over 200. According to the National Golf Foundation, there are 1,145 golf courses in Florida. However, few are famous courses and far from being considered "championship" or even "regulation" courses. The NGF says there are 164 "executive" courses and 68 "par-3" courses in this state.

They define a par-3 course as being less than 4,000 yards in length for 18 holes, with all of the holes par-3s. An executive course has a total par of less than 67 and a length under 5,200 yards. Together these two account for 20.2 percent of the golf courses in Florida. Nationwide, these combine for 11.3 percent.

As used here, "smaller" golf courses are those which occupy less land than does a conventional 18 hole course. Nine-hole regular-length golf courses certainly fit this definition and are an essential part of golf, but those courses will not be discussed in this write-up.

Here, smaller means executive courses and par-3 courses. A few have less than nine holes, like at some golf academies and along side the main course at European clubs, in Scotland and Ireland.

The players of smaller courses know the fun and enjoyment these provide. Should greater attention be given to smaller courses in Florida and elsewhere? The following are reasons for more recognition of the value of these courses, compared to conventional-sized courses.

Some advantages to smaller golf courses:

  1. Not likely to discourage short hitters. Short hitters can include beginners, young people, occasional golfers, many women, a lot of seniors, and some people with disabilities.

  2. More likely to encourage beginners to stick with the game because the holes are not so difficult and the general feeling at these courses is not occupied by good golfers "looking down" on learning golfers.

  3. Less discouraging to less-skilled golfers for the same reasons as for beginners and short hitters. These golfers have a better chance of feeling the excitement of shooting low scores, which can be a feeling similar to what good golfers get from their low scores.

  4. Usually offer significantly lower fees, so more people can afford to take up golf and play regularly. The cost of playing can be important to many juniors, families with several members who play golf, and anyone with a limited amount of discretionary income. With the high fees at a number of golf courses today, cost has become a problem for more golfers and potential golfers. There are other folks who are financially capable of paying higher green or membership fees, but just don't want to spend that much money on golf.

  5. More likely for families and couples to feel comfortable playing together.

  6. Where a round can be completed faster. This is critical to anyone with a limited amount of free time, those who don't want to spend most of their day on a golf course or working people who can only start their round late in the day.

  7. The pleasure of making more pars and birdies, a greater chance of an occasional eagle, and even the biggest thrill in golf: a hole-in-one.

  8. where walking is easier and so practical for more golfers who believe golf should be a walking game and/or want that healthful exercise.

Some advantages to golf course developers and operators:

  1. Substantial participation by less-skilled, short hitters and learning golfers.

  2. Less land, so a course developer doesn't have to buy or devote as much expensive or scarce land for a course. For a housing or other type of developer, this can mean more land available for non-golf course development.

  3. A smaller area for the course, which on some sites can reduce the chance of effect on nearby environmentally-sensitive areas.

  4. Less land in the course, meaning lower annual real estate taxes to pay.

  5. A smaller construction and future annual maintenance budgets.

  6. Lower costs so a course operator can charge lower fees, hence increasing the size of the golfer market.

  7. Less water to irrigate the smaller area of turfgrass.

  8. More players per day can play, because golfers can tee off later and still complete their round.

Additional benefits of smaller golf courses:

  1. Gives incentive for people to try golf and hopefully become avid players.

  2. By helping to create more golfers, this will increase sales by suppliers of equipment and services to golfers. And so more jobs.

  3. Due to the lower total course cost, more developers will be able to build new golf courses. This benefits course equipment and service suppliers.

  4. Reduces need for non-renewable resources for maintenance per golf course.

Where a smaller golf course might fit better than a conventional-sized course:

  • Anywhere to primarily serve the segments of the golfer market mentioned above.

  • Where land is expensive or limited.

  • As a second or additional course for a segment of the golfer market or if there is not enough land for another conventional-sized course. At European clubs these smaller courses are often called "compact" courses.

  • At a learning center, golf academy or family golf center. Also at a school or university.

  • With a commercial golf/driving range.

  • As an amenity and for fairway frontage within a residential or resort development. This could be with single-family homes, condominiums, apartments, a hotel, holiday villas, timeshares or other types of units. Including for play by families, seasonal visitors, tourists, occasional golfers, at conventions, seniors and others.

Some experienced golfers "put down" smaller courses, remarking that these are not real golf courses. One basis for this attitude is because of the low quality of some existing smaller courses. Good development planning, design, construction, maintenance and operation can be as important to the popularity and success of smaller golf courses, as to larger courses.

Another criticism by many skilled golfers is that these courses do not require the use of enough of their long clubs. A smaller course can be designed to make all golfers use all or nearly all of their clubs during a round. To accomplish this, a smaller course would have mostly par-3 holes with a full range from 250 yards to holes for the medium and lofted irons.

From the back set of tee markers long hitters would hit most of their clubs during each round. With a number of sets of tee markers spaced out properly, on each hole all golfers could use approximately the same club as other golfers for their tee shots, regardless of golfers' differences in hitting strength. That assumes each golfer would pick the markers appropriate for their game. A few holes could be par 4s, on which a driver and the most lofted numbered irons would be needed for the second shot.

Around greens which are missed, wedges could sometimes be used.

Examples of smaller courses in Florida and a few quotes about these courses:

  • Hidden Lakes Golf Course in New Smyrna Beach -- This 5,000 yard, par-64 public course is owned and operated by Craig Shankland. Craig said, "Although not as long as most neighboring courses, our golfers enjoy being able to reach the greens in regulation yet each hole is a good test. Some days the course seems to 'win' the battle, but our golfers keep coming back because they always feel they have a fair chance of shooting a good score."

  • Island Golf Center in Fort Walton Beach -- A commercial facility having a par-3 nine holes, a shorter pitch-and-putt nine and a miniature course, all lighted. Course Manager Kent Bennett makes several points about his facility and smaller courses in general. He says, "Our patrons appreciate our good maintenance and it really pays off. In the summer, our three types of courses are busy with family members of all ages. In the wintertime, northern 'snowbirds' fill the starting times of the par-3 course and another nine holes is badly needed."

  • Near Orlando, Marriott has recently opened the Nick Faldo Golf Institute -- Included there are a par32/31 nine holes, large teaching and practice range, a three-acre putting course and other teaching facilities.

  • Palm Beach Par-3 -- This is an 18-hole municipal course, located on Highway A1A, with some holes on the Atlantic Ocean.

  • LPGA International in Daytona Beach -- At the LPGA's headquarters course, with its academy are a regular-length par 5 hole, a par-4 hole and a par-3 hole around the double-ended range. Also at the academy, there are greens for putting, chipping, pitching and bunker shots.

  • Riverbend Country Club in Tequesta -- The club has a par-64 course within a residential development. The club's golf professional, Jerry DeRosa, reports that, "Members and their guests are constantly challenged by the smallish, well-contoured greens and strategically located trees on several of our par 4 holes."

  • Sarasota and Manatee Counties -- These adjacent counties have many smaller courses, including Bird Bay, Gulf Gate, Bobby Jones' Gillespie, Sorrento, Village Green in Sarasota, The Meadows' Grove, Heather Hills, Key Royale, Palm View Hills, Perida, River Isles, Timber Creek, Village Green in Bradenton and others.

Smaller golf courses make up more than one-fifth of the courses in the State of Florida. Along with the bigger layouts, these provide millions of hours of healthful, outdoor recreation each year for hundreds of thousands of golfing residents and visitors. These smaller courses don't require a succession of maximum-length shots, even for short hitters. The courses are easier to walk and a round can be completed faster.

Not-so-skilled and learning golfers often find a friendlier atmosphere, along with less intimidating holes, than at regular-sized courses. Fees are lower on the smaller courses. Of the golfers who start playing on smaller courses, many will eventually graduate to existing and additional conventional-sized golf courses which will be needed. With all of their advantages, Florida is likely to see more smaller courses opened and enjoyed in 21st century.


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Professional Golf Course Designer - Bill Amick
P.O. Box 1984
Daytona Beach, FL  32115
Telephone (386) 767-1449