Designing for the short game

  • Huxley
    Huxley Golf

    Frilford Heath turned an underutilised area of woodland into a six-hole par-three course with artificial greens and tees from Huxley Golf

  • Huxley
    Huxley Golf

    Professional golfer Eddie Pepperell tests Frilford Heath’s short layout

Paul Chester
By Paul Chester

One hundred yards. That is all that stands between playing a round to be proud of or a mediocre one. Golfers know how critical mastering the short game is.

Although incorporating all-weather areas has become relatively common as clubs realise the benefits of relieving natural grass in adverse weather, the provision of dedicated facilities for focused short game practice is still an opportunity overlooked by many.

Accessible, versatile and hugely addictive – short courses and short game areas give experienced players the opportunity to fit golf into their busy lifestyles as well as encouraging inclusivity by offering juniors and novices a foundation on which to build their skills.

However, short game areas are inherently high wear, high risk areas for greenkeepers and course managers to deal with: perhaps this is why resource-strapped courses shy away from investing in them, but they needn’t do so if they consider using suitable artificial surfaces. Those forward-thinking golf venues that have dedicated focus and time on their short game offering have reaped rewards.

When we are approached about creating a short game area, we work with customers to clearly define their objectives and conduct a full site survey before designing a bespoke solution.

Commercial goals and the potential for return on investment are obviously important influences but so too are considerations such as club ethos, membership profile aspirations, and of course the existing course layout and natural landscape. Only by taking all of these into consideration can we deliver a solution that will deliver against all goals.

It’s important to state that the beneficial impacts of a short course or short game area can be realised in numerous ways. Creating a new facility doesn’t have to mean compromising existing tees and greens; in most cases it means creatively using a variety of techniques and surfaces that work in harmony with their surroundings. It’s often beneficial to position a short game area close to the first tee but this is not always an option, especially when working with historic courses that simply weren’t designed for practice zones. However, with some creative thinking and practical experience, we can get around such issues.

A good example of this is Houghton-le-Spring Golf Club in northern England. Following a successful funding application to Sport England, the club set about creating a five-green short course using Huxley Golf premier all-weather surfaces. Each green is unique, yet together reflect the characteristics of the natural terrain.

Our challenge in designing the area was to both counteract and utilise the natural slopes. Moving over 500 tonnes of soil, substrate and hardcore – and working with a 1:6 gradient – this installation was quite a challenge, but one that we all relished because we knew we were creating something quite brilliant.

Frilford Heath Golf Club in Oxfordshire worked with artificial surfaces too, with the specific aim of enhancing its membership proposition. There, an underutilised area of woodland was turned into a new par-three course.

The Yellow course perfectly complements the club’s three existing championship courses and was designed at the outset to cater for all standards of golfer. All six greens measure 1,350 square feet but all are unique in shape and undulations. There are 12 Huxley Golf Premier Nylon Tee Mats, two for each hole, creating a variety of approach shots from differing angles and length with increasing difficulty.

Many natural grass advocates dislike the idea of converting to artificial surfaces, perhaps because some tried early-to-market or sub-standard products and, quite understandably, were put off. However, I’m extremely proud to say that our range is vastly different. As golfers ourselves, we understand the importance of being able to practice regularly, even when time is short. This is why we have developed unique surfaces that receive the ball just like natural grass. It’s an incredibly realistic experience – but without pitch marks and drainage issues. Once people have visited our demonstration area in Hampshire and tried Huxley Golf surfaces themselves, they understand the quality and the potential benefits that they offer both individual golfers and the clubs and courses they frequent.

Paul Chester is director of Huxley Golf

This article first appeared in the October 2020 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page.