The Wall Street Journal ran an article this past weekend on a golf course in Michigan that is experimenting with 5, 7, 9 and 12 hole formats in addition to the normal 18. It has generated a decent amount of discussion within golf circles already, including at the highest level within Southern California, and I wanted to add a few comments.
To read the article, please click here.
The reason why I think this concept has really opened eyes can perhaps be explained through my personal history with golf.
As a child, I was fortunate to have parents who were members of the local country club so I could play unlimited golf for no additional fee. And because of the course layout at Moraga Country Club, there were natural loops of 4, 5, 8 and 10 holes. I took advantage of this countless times when I simply wanted to enjoy the game and had limited time or sunlight to do so. Some of my best memories with my dad, my friends and even being alone came during these times when dusk was setting in, the shadows were long, sprinklers had to be dodged and the many majesties of golf were in full force.
Now, as an adult in the metropolis of Los Angeles where club memberships start at $100k+, I, like so many others, rely on public facilities for my golf. The problem is that these courses charge a minimum nine hole rate which is usually overpriced even for the nine holes, and often the pro shop / tee sheet is closed a few hours prior to dusk so there isn't an opportunity to jump on for a few holes at the end of the day. Given my responsibilities as a parent and the increasing demand of 24/7 availability in the professional world, this golfing reality doesn't work for me. I could go to a Par 3 course, but they are so populated that it's still a two hour experience to play the nine holes. (Plus, I want to hit the big dog!) As a result, I haven't played golf in 5+ months. I wonder how much potential revenue the industry is losing from folks like me. I want to play, but the game doesn't have a solution for someone in my shoes (yet), especially in an urban setting.
What Island Hills is trying to accomplish from my perspective is to provide the country club convenience at a public facility where you pay as you play. Therefore, that free hour you may have to play golf is accommodated with a viable and cost-effective solution to enjoy golf for that hour. Brilliant.
There are, of course, the issues of potential bottlenecks, the timing for alternative routings and so forth, which the course owner Bob Griffioen seems to recognize. It's promising to hear him have clear perspective that his model is a test needing study and likely iteration in the coming months/years.
An important thing to note about Mr. Griffioen is that he comes from an engineering background, not a golf one, and he applies that perspective to how he operates his facility. I can relate in the sense that I too am not a PGA Professional but rather come from more of a business background. I think the golf industry benefits when folks outside the inner circle take a crack at out-of-the-box solutions to some of golf's ailments. I reiterate this belief daily when folks who aren't PGA Professionals inquire about TGA's franchise opportunity and worry whether they can be successful in the golf industry coming from a background other than golf. The answer is absolutely yes.
Concepts like shorter loops, pay as you play models, free equipment and cheap lessons (similar to the Mini Prince at Princeville course I wrote about a few weeks ago) may not benefit the short term bottom line, but if they encourage new players to join the game then we all win financially and otherwise in the long run.
I applaud Mr. Griffioen for taking the risk to try this approach, I'm confident that the industry will be closely following (and aiding) his efforts, and I wish him all the best.