2021 has seen new approaches to course design, so try something new

Want to have fun? Perhaps the most you’ve had in a long time on a golf course? Try something completely different.

The whole point of the golf trip is to experience different things. Original routes, fresh landscapes, extreme challenges. As golf travel continued to reopen and then explode throughout 2021, more people took to the roads and got on planes to see something different. Many top resort courses and other acclaimed destinations have been crowded and will remain so through 2022, if industry bookings hold.

Of course, traveling to play new courses, in itself, is nothing new. What’s even better these days are entirely new types of golf experiences. When I look back at some of the best tracks I’ve played in 2021 – and there were plenty of them, over 85 courses – a lot of the highlights involve very different play of 7,000 yards with a par of 70, 71 or more. 72.

Course Par-3. Short courses. Crazy course. Big ideas and new ways to tackle three of golf’s biggest challenges: time, expense and natural resources.

The Bootlegger Par-3 Course at Forest Dunes, Michigan (Courtesy Forest Dunes)

I loved sharing stories and photos of the new QuickSands course at Gamble Sands in Washington and the recently opened Bootlegger in Forest Dunes, Michigan, both par-3 courses I first laid my eyes on. in 2021. These types of layouts offer fun and tackle these three aforementioned golf problems head-on, presenting quick loops at a lower cost for players and resort operators without using anywhere near land or water required for a traditional 18 hole course. The two provisions present a win-win-win situation.

Designers Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns built the Bootlegger on a small, hilly plot adjacent to the Forest Dunes clubhouse, offering the option to have a few drinks and stroll through the woods with some wedges, a putter and a smile on the face . There are bank shots, possible tee shots with a putter, extreme greens that wouldn’t work on a long par 4 but get a lot of eights on a par 3 course where the total score doesn’t. really matter. The resort offers two very well-ranked 18-hole courses – the Loop by Tom Doak and the eponymous Forest Dunes by Tom Weiskopf – but it would be a mistake to miss the Bootlegger.

A sign shows the way past Gamble Sands Beach to the new QuickSands par-3 course. (Jason Lusk / Golfweek)

It’s a similar story to Gamble Sands, where David McLay Kidd took a dollop of almost impossible-to-mine sandy slopes and fashioned QuickSands, certainly some of the most bouncy, erratic, and fascinating par-3 courses around. find. On many holes, it is best to aim far from the hole and then watch the dramatic relief send the ball back to the cup. The opening hole is named Plinko after a game “The Price is Right” in which small discs fall between the pins, and it’s the same at QuickSands as the balls bounce off a steep hill. behind the green, inevitably cascading onto the putting surface by funnel ground and possibly to a stop near the flagpole. It’s a radical example of playing golf on the course, and it’s amazingly fun.

It’s all part of a trend of recent years with stations introducing fun and quick par-3 alternatives. You don’t have the time or the energy of an 18 second during a stay in a resort? These little tracks are perfect to fill an afternoon, and chances are you enjoy small courses as much or more than large ones.

Architect Andy Staples’ Match Course opened on September 10 at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (Courtesy of PGA National / Evan Schiller)

Short is also in great supply at PGA National in Florida, where architect Andy Staples converted the old and traditional 18-hole Squire course to a new par 3 course and, on the rest of the course, the all-new The Short Course The Match. PGA National has many great golf courses, including The Champion, which hosts the Honda Classic each year. Staples took a whole different direction with The Match course, building track tees that allow holes to be played at different lengths. An example: golfers can choose to play the 17e at 404 yards or 244, or anywhere in between, and the station encourages players to mix it up. Don’t confuse it with just playing the traditional front start markers – there aren’t any.

The starting markers for The Match course are designed to mimic nautical channel markers, with the hole number in the red triangle and the playing distance range below in green. (Jason Lusk / Golfweek)

In place of those traditional starting markers, there are 18 opportunities to call your shot in a match-play format. There is a risk that some players will gravitate towards the back of the starting area to play the match to its full length and still keep score after the round, but that would be missing the point. It is so much more interesting to use the full range of meters on a route that stretches from 3,447 meters to 5,841 meters.

Each of these courses mentioned takes traditional golf, grabs the best parts and reshapes the game into something new. And such an approach is possible even on full-size courses, as evidenced by several of the courses I played in 2021.

Tobacco route

The tiny 13th green can be found in a bowl at Tobacco Road in North Carolina. (Jason Lusk / Golfweek)

Not all of the great ideas I saw were all new – some are creative enough to stay fresh for years to come. I’ve revisited Tobacco Road in North Carolina, and while this sometimes crazy layout has been around for decades, Mike Strantz’s teardown of traditionally shaped golf holes never fails to captivate. It was supposed to be different, entirely – the Sandhills area around Pinehurst already had enough classically beautiful golf when Strantz went to work. It’s another imaginative example of different being good, and not just for the sake of being different. Some people like the ends of Tobacco Road, others less, but it never fails to elicit a response. It’s impossible to imagine someone coming out of this golf course with a shrug and an “Eh”.

It’s pretty much the same on two other courses designed by Kidd, who experienced what he described as a return to Jesus moment a few years ago, where he reversed the course and decided to focus on the fun rather than the difficulty. Two perfect examples that I played in 2021: Mammoth Dunes in Sand Valley, Wisconsin and the aforementioned Gamble Sands. Both are relatively new and each offers plenty of insane rebounds, fast playing surfaces, wide fairways, and loads of angles. Neither did not score particularly well, demonstrating my own need to get out of traditional golf more often – these two 18-hole courses will make you forget about the only aerial approach to golf. It’s awesome.

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