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Don’t Sell ‘Em Short: Smaller Courses are Good for Your Game

Man, that Torrey Pines South Course is long.

How long is it, you ask?

It’s so long, Marco Polo once gave up after 13 holes.

But seriously, the primary host of the Farmers Insurance Open is indeed the longest track on the PGA Tour – 7,765 yards of needle-thin fairways and ball-burying rough.

The pros, of course, hit short irons into most par 4s and attacked Torrey’s mammoth par 5s with impunity. Mark Leishman won the 2020 Farmers at 14-under par.

We always enjoy watching them dismantle beastly layouts. As for playing courses of such absurd dimensions, well, let’s leave that to Tiger and friends.

In fact, let’s go the opposite route – let’s head to a short course and have some fun… while getting better at the same time.

We’re talking about par 3 and executive courses, which have gotten short shrift for too long by John Q. Golfer. Raise your hand if you generally shun any layout measuring less than 6,000 yards. Now go to your room and think about what you’ve done.

On second thought, stick around and read on. We’re here to convince you that the occasional short-course round can be good for your game, your wallet… and your soul.

Here’s a list of reasons to patronize your local short courses more often:

You’ll spend less time and money: Hey, who couldn’t use more of those? You can typically get in 18 executive holes in three hours or less. Knock another hour off that for a par-3 round. Fees run from $10 to $30 or so on most of these tracks, too, so the bang for your buck adds up in a hurry.

You’ll sharpen your iron play: Maybe you’re one of those lucky golfers whose regular practice area boasts real grass year-round, along with target greens and accurate yardages. Still, there’s no substitute for hitting into actual on-course greens under varying conditions.

On the range, you get the same wind on every shot, whereas the breeze changes hole by hole on a par 3 or executive course. You’ll also have to play between-clubs shots while dealing with hazards, hills and other stuff the range can’t supply. Greens are usually on the small side, too, putting a premium on accuracy and distance control.

Executive courses test your strategic skills: Most feature 10 to 12 par 3 holes, plus 4 – 6 par 4s and maybe a couple of par 5s. The two- and three-shotters are often pretty short – with par 4s around 280 to 350 yards – so you’ll have to think on the tee. Do you try to drive the green? Lay back with a “chicken stick”? Is there a preferred angle from the fairway to the flag? An ideal yardage for the approach?

Obviously, a full-sized course presents the same questions. But how often do you mindlessly pull the driver when it might not be the best play? Tee it up on an executive course, ditch the driver and give your strategic brain a workout.

Scoring well is good for your confidence: When a course’s par is between 54 and 62, odds are you’re gonna post a “low” score. Yes, low is relative. But go out and shoot that 59 or 73 and see if you don’t get a little ego boost.

It’s easier to walk: As much as we’d all like to walk more often, it’s just too easy to follow the crowd and grab a cart. Chop the yardage in half, however, and you might actually feel guilty about riding. Which is good, because regularly walking the course is much better for your health.

It’s genuinely relaxing: Admit it – you take golf a wee bit too seriously. You worry about your swing… about playing in front of others… about your score. Par-3 and executive courses draw a refreshingly laid-back crowd, which is not only a nice respite but might help you play better, too.

Don’t have a decent par-3 or executive track in your neck of the woods? No problem. Just play your usual, full-sized course from shorter tees. It might mean ditching your regular foursome every now and then, but when they hear how much fun you’re having, they may end up joining you.

There’s one more alternative to the intensity of a regulation 18-hole round – the nine-hole outing. Again, you’ll save time and money while enjoying benefits that translate to the big course. A couple of examples:

It’s a great time to experiment: Sticking with nine means you’ll likely worry less about your score. That frees you to try shots you wouldn’t otherwise consider – like the sky-scraping lob or the corner-cutting drive. These kinds of situations are tough to replicate in practice; give ‘em a go on the course, when it doesn’t really matter, and you’ll get a good gauge of your capabilities.

There’s this, too: If you sneak in nine in the evening, or any time the course isn’t crowded, you can hit two or more balls from the same spot. Use the extra swings wisely and you’ll add shots to your 18-hole arsenal.

It’s easier to bring the family: Spending four or five hours on the golf course is a lot to ask of younger kids. Cut that time in half and the wee ones are less likely to get bored – and with proper parental guidance, they may just fall in love with the game.

As a bonus to all the above, golf has seen a movement toward building super-fun, family-friendly short courses and community-centered nine-holers. Prime examples include The Cradle at Pinehurst, Sweetens Cove in Tennessee and Winter Park GC outside Orlando; they’ve earned absolute raves from golfers and writers.

Maybe your town will soon get on board the short-course bandwagon. In the meantime, seek out and play your nearby mini-tracks whenever possible – it’ll remind you of what this game is really about.

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