In Depth: 12-hole golf courses

AS many Australian golf courses face impending closure perhaps it's time for a total rethink on the concept of a golf course.

WE have been stewing on the idea of 12-hole golf courses for some time. In the modern world, some golf courses are now attracting criticism for the amount space they consume and a 'lack of time' often listed as one of the primary reasons more people don't play more golf.

When Greg Norman raised the idea of a 12-hole golf course during a recent interview, we thought it was time to add a few more thoughts.

The 12-hole golf course idea has been discussed before; within the Australian golf industry, in clubhouses and on the fairways. But the conversation is often brought to an abrupt close, largely because a round of golf is traditionally considered to be 18 holes. No more discussion required.

It’s a shift in thinking some golfers are just too stubborn to make, despite the fact that an 18-hole round of golf isn’t going anywhere. One prominent golf writer once told me that he "likes to play 18-holes of golf, not 12-holes". I declined to point out he had actually just played 12-holes, it’s just that he played six more.

We do understand this thinking, though. The 18-hole golf course is entrenched as ‘a round of golf’, after all golf courses followed the lead of The Old Course at St Andrews when they went from 22 to 18 holes back in 1764. It’s not easy to push against over 250 years of tradition.

But the target audience for a 12-hole golf course wouldn’t be current or traditional golf club members who are so firmly besotted by 18 holes,  but social golfers who don't have the time, money or inclination to become a member of a golf club. 

I would also argue that several financially stricken Australian golf courses (estimated to be around 50%) would be wise to consider the 12-hole concept. Selling off some land and embracing a golf-first model may just be the ticket out of the hole many find themselves in.

Here is what I think the 12-hole golf course should look like. Some of these points may seem obvious, but I think they are imperative to its potential success:

  • Not surprisingly, the course needs to be divided into six-holes out and six-holes in to allow for golfers to choose whether they would like to play 6, 12 or 18 holes.
  • Ideally one of the 'sixes' should also return to the clubhouse after three holes to allow some golfers to play nine if they prefer (6-holes +3).
  • The course design should incorporate vastly different tees for many, if not all the holes. In fact, some par on some holes could change depending on a tee position. This would allow 18 holes to be played (or 24) without a repetitive feel. Some holes could benefit from a second green, rather than a second tee.
  • The course design should be a great one. I'd argue that the first club or entrepreneur willing to take the plunge on a 12-hole golf course needs to employ one of the best golf course designers to get it right. The complexities of multiple tees and course routing needs an experienced golf course design team.
  • The golf course facilities should be subtle. Remember we aren't trying to completely replicate an 18-hole golf course here as the course would be trying to capture a new generation of golfers, or retain disillusioned, time-poor old ones. The focus should be placed squarely on the golf.
  • The clubhouse, pro-shop etc, should be sleek but minimal and modest. Comfortable but without any hint of pretension - think Barnbougle Dunes. The same goes for the club culture without compromising on the etiquette of the game.
  • The membership and green fees model needs to be ambitious and flexible catering to all golfers in all seasons.

Social golfers who have limited time on their hands and have never held an official handicap are the most excited by the 12-hole golf course idea. And there are plenty of these people around with a recent study estimating that 750,000 golfers in Australia aren't club members.

Without doubt, this concept is a risk and one that will have its fair share of detractors - predominantly from the more traditional golf types, but we think it is one worth taking and perhaps is the future of golf.


Michael Green

Michael Green founded AussieGolfer.com.au - Australia's #1 golf blog - in 2007, is a member of The Australian Golf Writers Association and has covered some of Australia's biggest golf tournaments, including the Australian Open, the Presidents Cup and World Cup of Golf.

Michael began playing golf as a 10-year-old in Adelaide where his father introduced him to the game.

He has managed to maintain a single-figure handicap while studying, living and working abroad and keeping a close eye on his three children.

Michael has a PhD in Physics and when not writing about golf, he continues to work in medical research in Sydney.

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