The trend towards alternative length golf facilities has received a boost with the opening of the renovated Island Hills course in southwest Michigan.
Architect Ray Hearn, who designed Island Hills in the late nineties, returned to the course and has created a new, flexible routing that is intended to attract time-short players and beginners by offering fewer holes than the standard 18-hole option. These include a five-hole short course, two seven-hole routings – east and west – along with a 12-hole ‘premier’ routing that incorporates six holes from each side.
Hearn, who also created the original 1999 course, said: “There's a lot of rhetoric about growing the game and making it more attractive to people to bring them back to the game, but Island Hills is doing much more than talking about it.”
Club owner Bob Griffioen believes time, cost and difficulty of the game are challenges for prospective players and hopes to grow the club’s customer base by eliminating these, while recognising that round timings and communication with golfers will be essential. He said: “We are not going to put a group of golfers playing seven holes out in the middle of a weekend day in which the course is already filled with golfers playing 18 holes. We are going to get this right. We have new cart and walking paths being created, and signs will be posted to communicate to the golfer to lessen confusion. We're committed to it. We want feedback because we want to make it right.”
Working from the original 18 holes, Hearn has ensured golf in the new routings is comparable to the 18-hole experience in terms of shot quality, selection of holes to be played and views of Island Hills. Six sets of tees, including new positions that are part of the redesign, also give golfers multiple challenge options.
“Island Hills wants the golfer to feel it was a great 12-hole, seven-hole or even five-hole experience when they are finished, in really the same way they do an 18-hole round at the club,” said course superintendent Joe Jehnsen.
Special scorecards for each layout have been created with carefully designed mapping, measured yardages and colour photos. “The golfer will not have to take one of our 18-hole scorecards and try to figure out where to go," Griffioen said. "That would defeat the purpose. We are taking away the time element. Play the amount of time you have by picking the course you want to play, and know it will be a very organised and great round that will feel complete in the end.”