Thursday, March 1, 2012

A 19th Hole - at the Beginning of the Round?

I made a quick jaunt to Northern California last week with a hectic work schedule but was fortuitously able to incorporate a little golf into the itinerary.  The golf was spectacular (see pictures below), my game was not.  Complicating matters was that we were pushing it by trying to fit two rounds into very limited time.  As such, we essentially pulled into the parking lots of each golf course, checked in, hit a few putts and teed off.  You can imagine what those first hole scores looked like.

My TGA colleague Nate Wright had a couple of intriguing thoughts about this process that I’ve been chewing on since and wanted to pass along.
As I was finishing up my double bogey putt on the first green of our second course, Pasatiempo, he said – “Wouldn’t it be great if golf courses were built with 19 holes and the first was a warm-up?”  I laughed it off but he persisted – “You could have a Marshal walk with each group and determine, based on the scores and what he or she saw, what tees the players needed to use for the rest of the round.”
I initially laughed it off again but the idea grew on me as I thought more about it.
There are obvious complications – incorporating a 19th hole into existing layouts, adding to the length of a round, disrupting the concept of an 18 hole course, adding another employee to payroll, potential subjectivity of the Marshal determining tees (and the corresponding displeasure/arguments), etc.
But there are also benefits – minimizing the need for practice time before the round, increasing enjoyment of the round by having a warm-up hole to minimize high first-hole scores, faster pace-of-play on the other 18 holes due to players playing from the appropriate tees, etc.
The first “practice” hole would need to be very easy, such as a wide open 350 yard par 4 with a flat green.  Maybe there would be rules regulating the maximum number of shots to get on the green at four and the number of putts at three.  Maybe players with handicaps below a certain number could bypass it altogether and play from any tees they wanted.  Maybe the practice hole could be added to the side of the driving range, where space is often more abundant and easier to carve out, as opposed to including it in the course layout.
With the USGA considering new rules and some golf courses starting to develop innovative ways to make the game more attractive, all options seem (thankfully) to be on the table.  I think this idea stands up with many of the others and merits a place in those conversations so I wanted to throw it out there. 
What do you think?
And, hat tip to Nate Wright for the ideas.
18th Hole at Pasatiempo - Me on the left, Nate Wright on the right
11th Hole at Monterey Peninsula Country Club's Shore Course


  1. Good thinking Golf Entrepreneur!!

    How about this idea. Take your handicap on the first tee and for the first hole take as many shots, play whatever club you wish? Report your score as your handicap for #1 and go on to #2.

    What I do.

    1. This is an interesting concept. Works well if you're playing the same course repeatedly or playing for recreation. Doesn't work if you're playing a course seriously for a score. The difficulty is that most people's handicap score would be a 7 or 8, which is still not a great way to start a round. Would certainly minimize the blow-up holes though. Thanks for sharing!

  2. i like the idea...there is one course in northern michigan that has this, although it's a par 3:

    1. Thanks for sharing this! I wonder if players like the 19th hole element of the course. Have you played there or heard feedback from others? The course sure uses the concept in their marketing materials a lot. I find it interesting that they make the practice hole a Par 3 as those are usually the holes that get backed-up the most. I wonder if/how it affects pace-of-play. Any ideas?