Nine hole golf course are an endangered species, except in smaller towns where the quaint venues are the only game in the area.
Studies of golf operations suggest the most efficient set-ups cover 36 holes The additional maintenance equipment you need for 36 holes vs. 18 is negligible; a few additional workers is all you need. This assumes you can get enough green fees to keep both 18s busy. So, nine-hole operations fall on the wrong end of economies of scale.
Also, nine-hole tracks are often family operations. When the owners get ready to retire, the children often got enough of working at the course during high school and don’t want to take over. A 60-acre tract with rolling hills and trees can make a nice subdivision plot, and pave the way for nice retirement for the couple. Among municipal courses, most of the closures in southwest Illinois the past three years have been nine-hole operations. Too much work for too little revenue if larger venues exist in the area.
A number of nine hole courses survive, however, and those that do are quite interesting places to go play. So where you can find them, a decently maintained nine-hole setup can give you a pleasant afternoon.
Here are five reasons to seek out the nine-hole tracks.
You Feel Less Pressure
When the starter and the snack bar chef are the same person, it takes the pressure off. The greens crew person on midday shift often gets out the carts for you, and can tell you if any unusual pin placements got cut that day. Also, if the OB-line rough on number four hasn’t been cut in three days because of the rain, he’ll let you know before your ball drifts into the wavy ocean of green grass. It’s kinda like those small commuter airports where the woman who takes your bags for check-in later shows up on the runway with the orange flashlight and vest and uses hand signals to coordinate takeoff.
Someone Made Clever Holes
Nine-hole layouts don’t get to be grandiose. People who build them took 70 acres and got nine holes, sometimes with a chipping and putting area and a small driving range. So, the designer often had to seek out natural holes which didn’t require a lot of earth-moving. Here are some examples.
No. 8, 253 yd. Par 4, Elmwood G.C., Belleville, IL
Yes, you should be able to drive the green Ð but only if you’re swinging well. You tee off over a swale, hitting into an uphill landing area with a couple of mounds in critical places. Also, the small, crowned green has traps left and right. Blow your drive, and not even par is guaranteed.
No. 3, 501 yd. Par 5, Ruth Park G.C., University City, MO
When the course was build in the 1930s, it was a 455 yd. par five. During the 1970s, it was a 423 yd. par four. Now, it’s a par five again. Tree-lined dogleg right over a valley bends back to the OB on the right, with another valley in front of the steep banked, fairly level green. OB in back also. Missing an attempt to get home in two can bounce your ball to strange places. It’s a hole you never overpower, but also you’re rarely out of it.
No. 2, 208 or 230 Par 3, Hummingbird G.C., Lawton, OK
This public course built on the edge of a small housing development truly “shakes out” available holes from the rolling terrain, with two sets of tees for different looks on the second time around. This par three has a slight dogleg left. Tee shots kick to the left – short hitters can lay short for an up and down, while long hitters can try to curve it into the green. An up and down arguably offers a better chance for par than risking three-putt from 50 feet.
You Can Play Through
I have never had trouble with slow play at most of the nine-hole layouts. If three foursomes show up at the first tee together, everyone looks around, selects the likely speediest foursome, and lets them go first. Out on the course, slower groups encourage you to go through. And, the often act as forecaddies for you as you bypass them.
There’s A Story
Surviving nine-hole tracks, simply because they survived, often have a story behind them. Ruth Park graces the wall of its pro shop with the original 1930s pen-and-ink engineer drawings for the course. Land use changes are noticeable. A band stand and concert area have passed away, but a driving range has appeared on the south central portion of the course.
The driving range was opened in 2009, but only after a long battle with different factions within the city. Some residents objected to the night lights until 9 p.m. ruining the quaint quality of the surrounding neighborhood. Others feared that the giant oak trees in the center of the range would be destroyed by golf balls. These oaks are covered by protecting netting separate from the range boundary nets as a compromise. Two neighboring cities contribute to the Ruth Park Golf Center operations.
Elmwood has done well as a nine-hole course, surviving the Olde Lantern Estates venture just down the road. Circa 2001, developers started promoting Olde Lantern, an upscale private country club concept with a swanky housing development. The developers wanted to purchase Elmwood as an interim course for members to play until Olde Lantern’s course could be developed. Well, not many people would buy the lots and homes with only the promise of a future Winged Foot. Financing failed, and owners of a scattering of homes actually build in Olde Lantern sued the developers for allegedly leaving them in the wilderness. The Olde Lantern championship course never got beyond engineer’s drawings and a little dirt-moving, but Elmwood still thrives quite nicely with its nine holes.
Nine Holes Finds Happiness
Landlocked, small crew, good money now but can’t really afford to expand. That’s how most of your enduring nine-hole operations exist. They figure out what they have, and try to make the most of it. Even though land space is tight, these nine holes often have interesting short-game practice areas off to the side.
There’s added features Ð like a $2 bratwurst sandwich that really tastes great, or a barrel of old clubs where you stumble across a Wilson Staff 7-iron from the 1970s to replace the missing club in your dad’s keepsake set.
So, if you find a nine-hole layout or two that you really like, it can be a nice way to find a less pressure-packed style of golf. You may have to search a little to find a good one, but if you do connect, as Carl Spackler would say, it’s gunga gunga galunga!