Golf’s administrators are keenly aware that one of the factors limiting participation is the time required to play a traditional ‘full’ round – 18 holes – of golf.
In a recent interview with BBC Radio, European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley highlighted that “people’s time is so precious,” and said “every golf course being built needs to be six holes, six holes, six holes,” allowing people to play a single loop before they go to work.
Pelley also spoke of the possible introduction of a new shorter format for the professional game: “We are looking to create a format that would be six holes. That could be an hour, an hour-and-a-half content programme.”
“Yes there would be a shot clock, yes there would be music being played, and PA announcements, and players would be dressed a little differently, and maybe they would only play with five or seven clubs,” he continued, indicating that a six-hole tournament could be rolled out by 2018.
So what do architects think, and what does this mean for their designs?
“In the Netherlands, 65 per cent of green fees sold are for nine-hole rounds,” says Frank Pont of Infinite Variety Golf Design. “Having the possibility to play six holes will, in my opinion, get more people to try the game and continue playing golf. Also you need less land to build six-hole courses on, so you could build them closer to metropolitan areas.”
“Six-hole golf is a great idea – not only for tournaments but for golf in general,” says Lassi Pekka Tilander of Tilander Golf Design. “The routing of my home club comes back after five holes. Many of my best golfing memories comes from these five-hole games.”
Tilander says he is always conscious of the need to appeal to golfers looking to play shorter rounds. “When designing a new course, I always try to get at least two nine-hole loops or, even better, three six-hole loops,” he says. “However, because of the form of the land, it’s not possible all of the time.”
Pont highlights that for many courses, a new format would be easily accommodated. “My home course at De Pan has a three, a six, and a nine-hole loop, all starting and finishing at the clubhouse, which works really well,” said Pont. “But from an architectural perspective, it’s important to make sure there is enough variety. Ideally there would be two or three par three holes, two or three par four holes and one or two par five holes – all with different lengths and playing strategies.”
Pont adds: “I believe six, nine and twelve hole courses will be built more and more, and especially in urban areas.”
Tilander questions whether a six-hole format is likely to be any more appealing than nine holes. “Most courses already have two nine-hole loops,” he says. “If people don’t play nine holes on their home course, why would they play only six holes? What makes traditional nine-hole golf so ‘unsexy’?”
Tilander does, however, acknowledge the potential impact of shorter formats. “Reducing the number of holes will be a big difference for the game,” he says. “Having top level professional six- or nine-hole tournaments would be a good start, but at the same time there should be more nine-hole club tournaments and social events.”
This article first appeared in Issue 46 of Golf Course Architecture