Are Shorter Courses Golf’s Future?

Fairmont Southampton, Bermuda (Image: Fairmont Hotels and Resorts)

The Fairmont Southampton’s 2,692-yard, par-three golf course is leading the trend to shorter courses. (Image: Fairmont Hotels and Resorts)

Anthony Mocklow, the director of golf at Bermuda’s Fairmont Southampton, is convinced that the popularity of the resort’s gorgeous, palm tree-lined par-three course is a harbinger of a faster, cheaper and more fun future for the game.

“People are leaving golf because it’s too expensive or too difficult or takes too much of their time,” says Mocklow, whose top-rated 2,962-yard, 18-hole course, Turtle Hill, is home to the annual Grey Goose World Par 3 Championship. “If more golfers played shorter courses, the game would be in much better shape.”

Ideal for beginners, golfers with limited time and money, and those slowed by injury and age, par-three and executive courses (usually shorter than 5,200 yards, with a mix of par threes, fours and possibly a par-five) might prove to be the game’s salvation.

Best of all, shorter courses are fun to play, especially for high-handicappers, the golfers most likely to leave the game in frustration from their lack of improvement.

Golf Canada and the United States Golf Association agree that injecting more fun into golf is key to reversing the game’s declining numbers.  They’ve joined forces in the Tee It Forward campaign, which encourages high-handicappers to park their egos and move forward to the tees best suited to their abilities.

Unfortunately, many golfers still consider shorter layouts beneath their dignity, recalling the low-rent pitch-and-putt and par-three courses of their youth that used rubber mats for tees and posted NO HIGH HEELS signs.

But the best of today’s short courses often look and play like Augusta National or Pebble Beach in miniature.

Angel Park Cloud Nine Short Course (Image: Angel Park)

Angel Park Cloud Nine Short Course, Las Vegas, Nevada. (Image: Angel Park)

The Cloud Nine Short Course in Las Vegas, for instance, offers 12 holes inspired by the world’s most famous par-three holes and is floodlit for nighttime play. In Gaylord, Michigan, acclaimed golf architect Rick Smith artfully carved the nine-hole par-three Treetops course through towering hardwoods. And the nine-hole par-three course at Nova Scotia’s Fox Harb’r Resort and Spa is spectacularly situated on the Atlantic coastline’s Northumberland Strait.

A step up in length and most often in challenge, executive courses can rival the beauty of even the most famous championship layouts.

“An 18-hole executive-style design might be as much as 3,000 yards shorter than a full-length course,” says top Canadian golf architect Doug Carrick. “But there’s plenty of room to create something wonderful.”

Turnberry Golf Club, Brampton, Ontario Hole No. 16 (Image: Clive Barber)

Looking onto the 16th green at Turnberry Golf Club, Brampton, Ontario. (Image: Clive Barber)

Designed by Carrick and his associate Cam Tyers, the 3,408-yard Turnberry Golf Club in Brampton, Ontario, finished fourth in voting for SCOREGolf magazine’s best new Canadian course of 2010. Built over an abandoned quarry, Turnberry features 16 par-three holes and two par-fours that wend through massive dunes, recalling the links courses of Scotland and Ireland.

Also earning raves is the Ridge at Copper Point, a 5,072-yard, par-62 mountain valley beauty opened in 2008 in Invermere, British Columbia. The innovative Gary Browning design offers a blend of full-length par-three and par-four holes, together with sweeping views of both the Purcell and Rocky Mountains.

Just as pleasing as the scenery are the primetime green fees at both courses: $49.75 at Turnberry and $75 at the Ridge at Copper Point, a steal compared to the $150 or more charged by many of Canada’s marquee courses.

Not just cheaper to play, shorter courses are also a hit with environmentally aware golfers, requiring less water and pesticides to maintain than full-length courses. And they’re more economical to build, a potentially vital consideration at a time when the construction of new courses has ground almost to a halt across North America.

Fairmont Southampton Golf Course, Bermuda (Image: Fairmont Hotels and Resorts)

The Fairmont Southampton Golf Course is the home of the Grey Goose World Par-3 Championship. (Image: Fairmont Hotels and Resorts)

Along with floodlit nighttime play, the biggest innovation in short-course golf has been the introduction of hybrid golf balls that travel approximately 60 percent the distance of regular balls. These marvels, which are constantly being improved and can even float, perform the neat trick of turning par-three courses into executive layouts and executive layouts into full-length courses.

There are also hopeful signs that short-course golf might one day become a big-time tournament sport.

Since its inception in 2010, Bermuda’s Grey Goose World Par 3 Championship (formerly the Bacardi World Par 3 Championship), a 36-hole event hosted by the Fairmont Southampton, has attracted an increasingly prestigious field, including prominent Canadian golfers Ian Leggatt, Nick Taylor and Ian Doig, the winner of the 2012 tourney.

“This,” says Anthony Mocklow, surveying his rolling fairways and the aquamarine Atlantic beyond the palms, “is golf’s future.”

(Article last updated Jan.4, 2014)



  • Fairmont Southampton Golf Course, Bermuda. Dramatic elevation changes and constant ocean breezes test golfers at this 18-hole par-three island beauty edged by towering coconut palms and bougainvillea. Beware the 14th hole, a 198-yard uphill brute demanding a mighty wallop from the tee when the wind is in your face. Green fee: $45 to $86.
  • Cloud Nine Course, Las Vegas, Nevada. Sin City’s masterful Bob Cupp and John Fought design features 12 holes inspired by golf’s most famous par threes, including Royal Troon’s “Postage Stamp” and the island green hole at TPC Sawgrass. Floodlit and easily walkable, Cloud Nine offers a wholesome alternative to another lost night on the Strip. Green fee: $19 to $29.
  • Treetops Course, Treetops Resort, Gaylord, Michigan. Architect Rick Smith’s northern Michigan masterwork is rated among the top par-three courses in the world. Roller-coaster elevation changes and painstakingly detailed bunkering are the hallmarks of a nine-hole layout famous as the former site of the ESPN Par-3 Shootout. Green fee: $35 to $45.
  • Fox Harb’r Nine-Hole Course, Fox Harb’r Resort and Spa, Wallace, Nova Scotia. Though just 1,039 yards in length, the nine-hole par-three course at Fox Harb’r is a tough little brute set on a wind-buffeted peninsula between Pugwash and Tatamagouche. Steady your nerves for the 127-yard fourth hole, an oceanside jewel requiring as much as a 6-iron off the tee through the howling wind. Green fee: $30.
  • Turnberry Golf Club, Brampton, Ontario. Designed by Doug Carrick and Cam Tyers, this acclaimed 3,408-yard design built over an abandoned quarry features 16 par-three holes and two par-fours inspired by the world’s famous short holes, including the fabled sixth at National Golf Links. But most treacherous of all is the 165-yard 13th, where a three-foot dip gully runs through the middle of the green. Green fee: $39.75 to $49.75.
  • The Ridge at Copper Point, Windermere, British Columbia. Framed by panoramic views of the Purcell and Rocky Mountains, Gary Browning’s innovative design offers a blend of full-length par-three and par-four holes. The sternest test here is the par-four 14th, a 397-yard beast demanding a precision tee shot to a narrow landing area hugged by a pond. Green fee: $35 to $75.


What do you think?

Have you been tempted to give up golf because it’s too expensive, too difficult or it takes too much time?

Do you agree that short courses are the way of the future? 

Share your thoughts in the comments section below!


  1. tom lamont says

    No doubt about it. Many golf architects , including Nicklaus, have said that the problems with golf are 1. It is too expensive. 2. It takes too long to play. In China and India they recognize this, and are building shorter courses to encourage new and younger golfers to take up the game. It is working. In the US “clover leaf” designs, featuring 3 six hole layouts returning to the clubhouse are cropping up. This provides golfers with many time options. It is working. At our home club, we introduced a 9 hole dues rate for members, recognizing that with an aging membership, it would retain members considering dropping out.The response was great. It is working. Shorter courses answer the problem of golf costing too much, and taking too long to play. This is the future of golf. It will keep people in the game, and it will bring more people into the game.