Over the past few years, perhaps due to an increase in work and family commitments, there has been a noticeable rise in the number of golfers interested in playing nine-hole courses. Although there are close to eight-thousand such courses worldwide, how do golfers determine which are the best ones to play?
In The Finest Nines, golf writer and historian Anthony Pioppi highlights the twenty-five finest nine-hole courses in North America and details how to play each one. Among the courses selected include Whitinsville Golf Club in Massachusetts, Sweetens Cove GC in Tennessee and Birchwood CC in Connecticut.
THE PIOPPI STORY
Anthony Pioppi is a golf writer, historian and archaeologist. He is the author of three books and co-author of one. A senior writer for Superintendent Magazine, he has also contributed to the USGA Website and Golf Course Architecture magazine. Pioppi is the executive director of the Seth Raynor Society and a member of the St. Andrews Golf Club, Scotland. He resides in Middletown, CT and caddied on weekends.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
Since I’ve finished researching and writing The Finest Nines it depends on the day. Sometimes it’s a golf research rabbit hole I fell into, probably pertaining to Seth Raynor or Charles Blair Macdonald.Sometime it’s a round of golf I’m going to play that day. Sometimes it’s practicing or playing with the band I’m in, the Royal Swirlies.
What initiated your personal interest in 9-hole courses?
I grew upon Southbridge, a town in Central Massachusetts on the Connecticut border. Most of the courses around us were nine holes. I’ve always loved them. I never thought they were half a golf course or not a real golf course. All the layouts had tees and fairways and greens, with a mix of par-3s, par-4s and par-5s. That’s always counted as a golf course in my book.
Define quality design.
The answer, as the wonderful architect Brian Silva always says, is options and strategy. A quality design has holes that have options as to how they can be negotiated by players with a variety of golfing skills. For instance, th e best player might have one choice, the strategy being to carry or work a shot around a bunker off the tee, while the less-adept or shorter hitter has a way to play away from the bunker, but with a corresponding price to be paid for opting for the safe route.
Define poor design.
I can name that tune in eight words. “Everything is right out in front of you.” It’s a concept adored and fawned over by nearly every golf announcer — I’m not referring to Dottie Peper — but in reality it’s just boring, unimaginative and lazy architecture.
There’s been talk that the overall golf supply in America needs to be reduced by upwards of 20-25% to bring it in line with overall demand. What’s your take on that solution?
I don’t have enough of a handle on the situation nationally to be able to make an educated comment. In my area of Connecticut I can think of three courses that closed in the last 8 years or so and either poor management, or poor construction, or both were the reasons for the failures.
You can change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
Like a lot of people, I want the golf ball to be reigned in, not just for the pros. As I wrote in a recent column for Superintendent magazine, the bifurcation horse is out of the barn and down the lane.
The major golf organizations — USGA, R&A, PGA of America, PGA TOUR, LPGA — are all seeking way to attract more players to the game with Millennials, women and minorities the chief focal point. If you were counseling them what would you recommend be done?
To get people to the game, to the course, we have to prove to non-golfers that the game can be fun. That begins with making the game easier for the average person, On public layouts, especially one that are municipally owned, widen the fairways, reduce the height of the rough, slow down the greens. Let golfers know it’s ok to not adhere tightly to all the rules, for instance play all OBs as lateral hazards, if they are not going to have an official handicap.
What’s the incentive for developers to opt for 9-hole courses instead of traditional 18-hole courses?
I don’t want to speak for developers since I am not one, but I think the old adage that nine really good holes is far better than 18 mediocre ones is a stone cold fact.
The availability of time is a major impediment to many people when considering golf as a recreational outlet. No doubt 9-hole courses can be played more swiftly. What would you say needs to be done to speed up play generally?
It’s a difficult answer because in the U.S. most golfers play medal format and count all the strokes. Second, it is so ingrained in our psyches that nearly five hours to play 18 is acceptable that I’m not sure what can be done about it other than instituting severe corporal punishment for slow play.
Your most recent book lists the best 9-hole layouts and contains a number of private facilities. What would be your personal top five open to the public?
In no specific order, Hooper, Walpole, New Hampshire; Kahuku, Honolulu, Hawaii; Northwood, Monte Rio, Calif.; and Hotchkiss, Salisbury Conn.; are all in the book. Tied for fifth and not in the book is either Fenwick, Old Saybrook, Conn., or Marion in Marion, Mass. All of them are fun, fun, fun