Back to basics with a fun and accessible form of golf

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    The simplistic green on the ninth hole at the Grovetown course

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    The tee on the fifth hole at the Nature Trail Golf course

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    Bill Boswell has designed full scale courses on both sides of the Atlantic

Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

Bill Boswell has his fair share of big project experience.

His career in golf design began in the 1980s, at the European office of Robert Trent Jones Sr. in Spain. He returned to the United States in the early 1990s, having spells with Dr Mike Hurdzan and Willard Byrd, before setting up his own golf design business in his home state of Georgia in 1996.

An impressive portfolio of golf course designs includes Santo da Serra in Madeira, Portugal, Blackthorn in South Bend, Indiana with Hurdzan and Valley Brook in River Vale, New Jersey, plus prestigious renovation work at Valderrama during his time with Trent Jones. 

Recently though, it’s golf on a much smaller scale that has captivated Boswell, as he finds himself dedicating more of his time and energy to a scaled-down version of the game that is quick to play and easy to maintain. 

“Nature Trail Golf is a casual form of golf played on a nature trail,” says Boswell. “I’ve always wanted to do a scaled down version of golf, but there were never any good golf balls to use. They were always unbalanced, and weren’t very good for that scaled-down concept. But there’s now a ball called ‘Almost Golf’, which has been promoted for practice by short course gurus in the US. It’s so balanced you can putt with it on the green, and it goes about a third of the distance of a normal ball.”

To experiment with this ball, Boswell borrowed a site – which he described as a ‘horse pasture’ – from his local church, cut the grass and designed a simple golf hole.

“I found that the lighter ball sat up on the grass very well,” says Boswell. “I quickly realised that you didn’t need pristine grass for this, and could basically play in nature. So my scaled-down version of golf became Nature Trail Golf.”

Wanting to expand on his idea, two and half years ago Boswell found a 50-acre plot of land near Grovetown, Georgia, and set about developing a nine-hole course. “I tried oversize holes and a six foot ‘gimme’ circle around the hole, which helped speed up the round,” he explains.  

It takes 45 minutes to play. When the grass is growing strongly, Boswell says maintenance – using a zero turn rotary mower, and a simple push reel mower for greens – takes about six hours a week, but in the spring and autumn months, this can be as little as four hours.

“I brought people from the golf industry – including superintendents and representatives from Parks and Recreation departments – and they thought it had merit,” explains Boswell. “Now we’re trying to get it into parks, and develop it beyond the US south-east. I’m even travelling to Portugal and Madeira next month to see if we could develop it there.”

“It brings people into the game that might have dismissed it, or maybe played when they were younger and wanted to get back into it,” he adds. “It’s not intimidating at all – you don’t have to go to a pro shop, you don’t have to play in front of golfers or anything like that. You’re just walking a nature trail and playing golf very quickly. It’s also a great way to introduce kids into the game.”

This article first appeared in issue 45 of Golf Course Architecture.

For more information on Nature Trail Golf visit www.naturetrailgolf.com or visit ‘Nature Trail Golf’ on Facebook or YouTube

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