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,
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
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:
Some advantages to golf course developers and operators:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- More likely for families and couples to feel comfortable playing
- 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.
- 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.
- where walking is easier and so practical for more golfers who believe
golf should be a walking game and/or want that healthful exercise.
Additional benefits of smaller golf courses:
- Substantial participation by less-skilled, short hitters and learning
- 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
- A smaller area for the course, which on some sites can reduce the chance
of effect on nearby environmentally-sensitive areas.
- Less land in the course, meaning lower annual real estate taxes to pay.
- A smaller construction and future annual maintenance budgets.
- Lower costs so a course operator can charge lower fees, hence increasing
the size of the golfer market.
- Less water to irrigate the smaller area of turfgrass.
- More players per day can play, because golfers can tee off later and
still complete their round.
Where a smaller golf course might fit better than a conventional-sized
- Gives incentive for people to try golf and hopefully become avid players.
- By helping to create more golfers, this will increase sales by suppliers
of equipment and services to golfers. And so more jobs.
- Due to the lower total course cost, more developers will be able to
build new golf courses. This benefits course equipment and service
- Reduces need for non-renewable resources for maintenance per golf
- Anywhere to primarily serve the segments of the golfer market mentioned
- 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
- 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.
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.