Can golf really change? Streamsong’s New Short Course The Chain Is a Model Worth Watching | ET REALITY


BOWLING GREEN, Fla. — If golf has a superpower, it’s the ability to fill the crevices of your mind and revel in your anxieties. Nervousness on the first tee. Thinking too much about a putt. New players worryingly try to figure out where to stand, where to go, what to do. Experienced players, exasperated by every mistake, who saw the score they hoped to achieve slip away. All that worry about playing too slow or waiting too long.

Then there is the score. An arbitrary number decided by someone you’ve never met. You thought you played that hole well, but this little card says you made bogey. The word comes from a Scottish term for demon. So now your terrible work is the incarnation of a fallen angel, expelled from heaven, who abuses free will with its evil. Beelzebul is playing.

But now let’s imagine that you are given a scorecard without any criteria. Some tees at 50 and 56 yards. Others at 101 and 111. And 164. And 218. And as far back as 293. A hole that can be played from 89 or 187. And on this card, a glaring omission. Peerless. Just play. Have a match against a friend. Grab a couple of clubs, a few drinks and you’re done. The winner of each hole decides where to play the next hole. You can play on a six-hole course that surrounds a beautiful oak forest. Or play a 13-hole circuit. Or play all 19. Who cares?

“You know,” Ben Crenshaw, the legendary golfer turned course architect, said recently, “this game can be played differently.”

So why don’t we do it more often?

The opening of a new course in central Florida once again makes the question hard to ignore. The Chain, a “short course” created by Crenshaw and his design partner Bill Coore, will open this month at Streamsong Golf Resort. Currently, guests can play 13 holes total for pre-play. The hope is to open all 19 full fields by Dec. 1, as long as the terrain allows.

The markers, which have their roots in the property’s former days as a phosphate mine, give golfers a guide to where to play each hole at The Chain. (Courtesy Tacy Briggs/Troncoso)

Streamsong is already well known for its eclectic three 18-hole traditional courses built by the current sacred triumvirate of design firms: the Red (also Coore/Crenshaw), the Blue (Tom Doak) and the Black (Gil Hanse/Jim Wagner). . . The property, a converted phosphate mine, was considered a big risk when construction began on the first two courses in 2012. Bowling Green, Florida, is an hour southeast of Tampa and nearly two hours southwest of Orlando. Even if that sounds remote, it’s still an undersell. Who, in a state with more than 1,200 golf courses, would go here to play golf? However, the project moved forward because the goal was bigger than building a golf course: it was to commercially develop reclaimed land that would otherwise have little other use. It worked because Streamsong’s three courses are so good and so different that it secured a place among the new generation of golf resort destinations like Bandon Dunes in Oregon, The Prairie Club in Nebraska’s Sand Hills and Cabot Links in Nova Scotia.

Like The Cradle at Pinehurst and others, each of those resorts features an original short course. Now, Streamsong does it too. This feature has become a prerequisite for tourist life. For guests, playing (especially walking) 36 holes over several consecutive days may be easier said than done. It’s much more fun to play 18 and then go around the shortstop to make a circuit. For resorts, a short course is a draw, an added convenience to the wallet, uses little land and, most importantly, encourages additional nights of stay and play.

The Chain is a portrait of why this works. Streamsong guests walk over a pedestrian bridge from the hotel, pass a new 2-acre golf course (The Bucket), grab a carry bag to carry some clubs, and play a 3,000-yard course of holes that are: Here’s the key: good enough to match the quality of the property’s three main courses. Like any good short course, its character comes from its green complexes. Some wild and huge. Others are small and delicate. In green there is a certain personality that is born from architectural freedom.

“You can take more liberties or risks, so to speak, in making greens and surroundings that you might not be able to do on a regulation course, where you’re trying to accommodate people of such different degrees of strength and ability. ”Coore said.

Highlights include a bunker located in the middle of the sixth green, reminiscent of Riviera’s famous sixth, and the long 11th, a hole that can extend almost 200 yards over a lake on a gigantic green.

Ben Crenshaw, left, and Bill Coore walk around The Chain property and the adjacent golf course, The Bucket, during a visit to Streamsong. (Courtesy Tacy Briggs/Troncoso)

But the highlight is what The Chain, like many of these quirky short courses, offers players. Is different. In a sport so demanding in individual pursuit, you and some friends walk together, talk together, and drink together. In a sport so obsessed with numbers, there is no real scoring. In a sport that requires so much time, you finish in an hour. In a sport so dictated by strength and length, skill gaps even out.

It is, in many ways, a much more fun version of golf.

So why isn’t this version more available? Why aren’t publicly accessible copies of these courses emerging in metropolitan areas? Why can’t golf change?

Well, there’s a chance we’ll get there.

“I think now it’s just a matter of time,” said Andy Johnson, golf architecture writer and founder of The Fried Egg. “Resorts are innovators in the golf space because they are more incentivized to create. Municipalities and public facilities have more limitations and regulations, so there is less desire to adapt. But we often see a lot of golf course trends emerging in the private space and the resort space eventually moving into the public space. Public golf, and municipal golf in particular, is a follow-the-leader industry. So I think the short course boom will come to public golf.”

Short courses make a ton of sense in metropolitan areas stuck with hyper-exclusive courses and limited public options. You just have to build them there. Chicago, Washington DC, Boston, Philadelphia: cities that require an hour’s drive to the field, a five-and-a-half-hour round in a crowded field, and an hour’s drive home. One imagines these players thirsty for that option. The most densely populated areas have the most potential golfers. There’s a reason Callaway paid $2.66 billion for Top Golf in 2021: A lot of people go because hitting golf balls is fun. However, anyone who wants to transition from driving range-style Top Golf to learning the game on the golf course has to deal with the stress that comes with playing with 14 clubs on a crowded and daunting 18-hole course, bypassing all the worries. and the shame of golf’s excessive rules and customs. Imagine new players relaxing and understanding how golf courses can be experienced.

Based on Johnson’s explanation of the top-down composition of golf course architecture, perhaps we will see the success of courses like The Chain eventually prompt local municipalities and private developers to renovate nondescript public courses pre-existing fields and convert them into alternative short fields.

This, in turn, could create a whole new access point to the game. Yes, there are already par 3 tracks, but these resort-style short courses designed by top architects are nothing like what the average beginner has seen: short doesn’t have to mean simple. It’s a completely different experience. One that children and newcomers would probably be much more likely to want to revisit.

“You’re showing the most fun version of golf,” Johnson said. “Bold design features. Fresh greens. “People can see the ball rolling and moving.”

This is not implausible. Designer short fountains only require small parcels of real estate and can be built anywhere: flat terrain, rolling terrain, rougher terrain. All you need is a place for a tee and a place for a green.

Golfers on The Chain’s 11th hole can play a shot over the water to a punchbowl green, with the Streamsong Hotel in the shade. (Courtesy of Matt Hahn)

Some early examples are worth paying attention to. The Loop at Chaska, located just outside of Minneapolis and designed by Artisan Golf Design principal architect Benjamin Warren, will open in 2024 as a nine-hole, 1,200-yard hole with eight par 3s, one par 4 and is the first of its kind. Configured expressly for adaptive golfers. The park in West Palm Beach, Florida, is a Hanse/Wagner-designed course that is a public-private partnership between the city of West Palm Beach and the West Palm Golf Park Trust that resurrected a closed municipal course. In addition to an 18-hole course, there is a lighted nine-hole par 3 for evening play.

There’s others.

There should be more.

But golf, as is often the case, is moving forward slowly. The best opportunity for change is for mathematics to eventually add up to create inevitable change. If renovating an entire public course can cost between $5 million and $15 million, renovating or building a high-end par-3 course can probably cost less than a couple million dollars. What makes the most sense for that community?

“It’s a more acceptable expense for a parks department or a municipality, and they would create something that will generate revenue,” Johnson said. “These things make a lot of sense. “There just needs to be more momentum with them and more examples from them.”

Then we could see what so many are waiting for.

A different way of playing.

(Illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; Photos: Courtesy of Streamsong Resort, Matt Hahn)

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