When my colleague first told me about this new kind of golf course, called Three Sticks Golf, I initially thought he had either mis-spoke, or that I had not heard him correctly. How in the world can a full-sized, 18-hole, Par-72, 6700-yard, real, green-grass golf course fit onto just 60 acres of land? Even though those numbers were verified, it did nothing to suppress my skepticism. I was just positive it would end up being some little cutesy, gimmick-laden variation of the game I love. I took it upon myself to find out more, expose the truth, and, in doing so, properly place the planets of the golf world back in alignment with one another.
Taking the direct approach, I decided to call the designer responsible so that I could ask my questions and get some answers. So, that’s what I did. It turns out that Three Sticks Golf is a proprietary product of a company called Visionary Golf Design, and their design studios are located in Mid-Michigan. When I called, a young man named Stan answered, who identified himself as the company spokesman.
Company spokesman, eh? So, what do you know about Three Sticks Golf?
I chuckled briefly–nothing like a kid who’s so confident and sure of himself. Undeterred, I dove right in: OK…So, I heard that a Three Sticks-style golf course features 18 full-sized golf holes on just 60 acres of land, is that true?
Yes, Mr. Weis, you heard correctly…55 to 60 acres is all we typically need to lay out the course properly. And that includes all the basic necessities to run the operation–such as a modest clubhouse, putting green, parking lot, maintenance area, and so on. This is significant because a conventional golf course requires about 150 acres of land.
60 acres as opposed to 150. That’s only 40% of the comparable land usage. Are you sure it isn’t some sort of Par-3 course…or an executive?
No. Normally, the Par will amount to 72, and the normal yardage will be in the neighborhood of 6500-6900 yards from the tips. And, it is our intention to create variety and interest from start to finish. There will be a mixture of Par-3s, Par-4s, AND Par-5s. There will be bunkers and water, elevational changes where possible, and awesome green complexes unlike anything ever seen before. Players will be able to hit the most exhilarating shot in golf–Drivers off the tee. And they will subsequently be hitting fairway woods, or longer irons and hybrids, and being challenged to properly strategize their way around the golf course…and then properly execute the shots chosen. In other words, they will be playing real golf! This approach is in direct contrast to the big trend these days to build very fancy, very high-end Par-3 courses and executives.
Do players have to use special balls or clubs?
No. They would just dig their clubs out of their trunk or locker,and use the golf balls they already have tucked into their bag.
Are the holes all crammed together? Is Safety a factor to worry about?
No. We utilize the most up-to-date design parameters when measuring appropriate distances between internal golf features, as well as between those golf elements found on the perimeter as they relate to surrounding properties.
Can you sense that I’m fishing around here–trying to figure out how it all works?
He laughed, as if he was waiting for me to finally ask the question. OK, here’s the scoop: A typical Three Sticks Golf Club has only six “golf holes” laid out on the ground…say two Par-3s, two Par-4s and two Par-5s. However, 18 actual cups are present because each one of those golf holes has what is essentially three greens. On each hole, each of those three greens will lie at different distances, have their own surrounding hazards, and will generally feature their own unique surfaces for the player to chip and putt upon. Because of the presence of these different green surfaces—and the varying challenges presented by each–we contend that we have actually created three different golf holes on each piece of the property.
My first reaction was “OK…sounds neat…”, but then–after about ten seconds–a number of questions began popping into my head. Are you supposed to play all three holes at the same time…with three different golf balls?
No. Each player plays only one ball at a time, and only one ball for each golf hole—just like at a conventional golf course.
Well, if there are three greens present, how do I know which hole to aim for?
Each of the three greens will have different flag colors…let’s say Red, White, and Blue…and although each player or group is allowed to play toward whatever flag they want, the intended set-up is to play toward the same flag color on each of the six golf holes. Be mindful, however, that the flag color does not necessarily correspond to the relative length OR difficulty of any particular cup. The challenge for each flag color changes from hole to hole when compared to the other two flags colors. In other words, sometimes the Red Flag will represent the easiest test, while at other times, the Red Flag will be the hardest.
Why mix it up? At my local course, it’s pretty straightforward…a red flag means a front pin position, and a blue flag indicates a back pin position.
By playing toward the same flag color as they make their way around, players will have a mixture of trials and tribulations as they proceed. The general idea is that one would play the course three times–playing toward a different set of flag colors each time around. By doing so, all the easy holes and harder holes will all be mixed in with each other–just like at a conventional golf course. After that third round of six holes, golfers will find that they just played 18 unique golf holes.
Won’t there be congestion on each hole–because one group is playing toward the red flag while at the same time another group plays toward the blue?
Great question. This always seems to be a point of confusion. There will be a standard system of tee times utilized, and groups will be sent out one after another–just like at a conventional golf course. While out on the course, your group will have to wait until the group in front of you finishes–regardless of which green they are on, or which green you are playing toward.
I just don’t know, Stan…I’m still a little skeptical. You make it sound all so normal, but I can’t get over the feeling that this whole thing is just some sort of gimmick.
Understandable. Being told about a new way to do something you’ve done your whole life can be discomforting, but I assure you this works. It may sound like a trick of some kind, but in fact, we are just utilizing a tried-and-true land conservation tactic that the golf industry has employed since the early days of golf. Let me ask you this question: How many sets of tees do you have at your local course?
Three…and by coincidence, they are red, white, and blue–with the red set in the forwardmost location, the white set in the middle, and the blue set back where the really good players tee off.
OK, so if you think about it, there are three different golf courses present on your property–a red course, a white course, and a blue course. I can confidently make this contention, because I assume that if you were to play from the red tees one day, and from the blue tees the next day, you would have two totally different experiences–am I right?
Yes, that would be correct because there is more than a 1500 yard difference between the red and the blue.
Essentially, what your local golf course has done is something that virtually every golf course in the country–if not the world–is doing. They are conserving land by putting your red course “on top of” your white course. Then, they put both your red and white courses are “on top of” your blue course. By doing this, they don’t have to develop three different courses for three different
skill levels. They just build one course and put them all on top of each other. And, if one group chooses to tee off from the red tee, while the following group chooses to tee off from the blue, it’s all very ordinary and there are no problems.
So, what’s your point?
My point is that at a Three Sticks-style golf course, we are conserving land in the same way. We are putting a red course, and a white course, and a blue course all on top of one another. The difference, of course, is that we are employing three greens per hole instead of three tees.
OK, so if you’re contending that somehow your six golf holes magically becomes an 18-hole golf course, then why doesn’t my local course advertise themselves as being a 54-hole property? I mean, by your own admission, there are three different courses there.
Yes, but if you were to go around and physically count, you would only find 18 holes–that’s why your local golf course is an 18-hole golf course. The six golf holes on a Three Sticks-style golf course also has 18 holes–that’s why it is also an 18-hole golf course.
I don’t know…I’m still not sure you aren’t just trying to pull some sort of slight-of-hand trick here.
OK, fair enough. Let me make the point in another way. If you were to play from the blue tees at your local course on one day, and you hit your drive into the first fairway, you might be looking at, say, a 160-yard approach shot to the green. Now, if you were to play from the red tees the next day, and you were to hit that same drive, now you would be looking at a 95-yard approach shot to that same green. In other words, those two approach shots are essentially the same challenge, with the only difference being what club is in your hand.
Conversely, if you were to play the first hole at a Three Sticks-style golf course, after your drive, you are now confronted with three vastly different challenges. Not only are the three greens at different distances…but you are playing toward three different greens that ‘test’ the player in different ways. For example, the green with the blue flag may be 120 yards away, while the green with the red flag is at 140 yards, and the green with the white flag comes in at 155. Upon taking a closer look, you’ll also discover that each of these greens has their own set of hazards to negotiate. On top of that, when you arrive at your destination after hitting your approach shot, you will soon find out that the surfaces of these three greens are completely different from one another, with one being noticeably more undulating, and another having two tiers.
Given this scenario, its easy to see that what we have created is a blue course golf hole on top of a red course golf hole, which are both on top of a white course golf hole. Not to belabor the point, but at your local course, playing the two different tee boxes one day after another only provides a variety of golf club selection. At Three Sticks, there is a variety in club selection AND a variety in the presence and location of hazards AND a variety in the fact that you will eventually have to deal with completely different green surfaces themselves once you are chipping and putting. That is why we contend to have created three different golf holes on each piece of the property.
Now wait a minute…my course can alter the way a particular hole plays simply by changing the pin position. For example, on our 8th hole, the green is very long and ‘stringy’, and different clubs are used depending on where the pin is placed…not only that, but the bunkers that come into play may be different based on that pin position.
That’s a good point, but you should recognize that in a scenario like what you’ve described, all the golfers who play on any particular day are all only given the one choice as to how that hole plays–toward the pin in the back over the bunker on the left, for example. At a Three Sticks-style property, there are always three flags present, meaning golfers have a choice of which one to play toward.
Struggling to collect my thoughts, I hesitate momentarily, then proceed: It all sounds so different, but, at the same time, so eerily the same as playing at a conventional course.
Exactly. We have absolutely no interest in changing anything about The Game, or how it is played. We are simply promoting a different kind of place to play–a golf course that we believe will be warmly welcomed by those individuals who struggle with all the demands placed on them as members of today’s society.
What do you mean by that?
We took a look at what is going on in the world today, and realized that people are much busier than in decades past. And today’s golfer lives a completely different life than my Dad did when he was part of a young family back in the day…back when it was perfectly acceptable to disappear for an entire Saturday afternoon.
So, your contention is that this kind of golf course solves the age-old “Golf takes too long” complaint?
Sort of. Now don’t get me wrong–the pace of play will be the same…you’ll still be able to stroll down the fairway talking and laughing with your friends, or spending some fun, quality time with your family. But what’s significant is that you can get in that six-hole round in just 80 or 90 minutes, all while having a high-quality, fulfilling golf experience. We anticipate there will be a high demand for six-hole rounds in the early morning and at lunch time. In fact, during the Summertime, you can even get a round of six holes in after dinner!
But if you just play six holes, won’t you feel like you’ve missed out on the other twelve?
Not really. If you stop and think about it, after playing that one six-hole round, you have been exposed to the course in its entirety. You’ve seen all the sights, smelled all the smells, and heard all the little birdies chirping in the trees. What you will be missing is the experience of playing your shots toward each hole’s other two green locations–something you’re just going to have to save until the next time you come out.
Another common criticism about The Game of Golf is that it is too expensive. Does a Three Sticks-style golf course address that problem?
Yes and No. The cost, on a per hole basis, is about the same–when compared with similar- quality golf courses. However, what will save people money is that there are six-hole and twelve-hole options available. Most golf courses don’t have a six-hole option, and some don’t even have a nine-hole option. Paying a dramatically reduced amount on green fees for these shorter rounds will be greatly appreciated by many individuals–especially by those members of today’s society who are watching their budgets a little more closely. It will also prove to be a boon for those who are newer to the game and still trying to figure out their level of financial commitment. In any case, it will be a comparatively low-cost way of getting some exposure to a high-end golf experience without breaking the bank.
OK, I get that it will be a high-quality golf course–but will it be playable?
Remember that there are three greens for each of the six golf holes, and golfers are free to play toward any of the greens as they see fit. As players consider their approach shots, they can conduct a simple comparison of distances to each flag, and can also analyze the hazards and other obstacles presented by each. Most of the time, it will become readily apparent which flag represents an easier–or a more difficult–challenge. We anticipate that players will naturally gravitate toward the one that fits their game. We believe this single, solitary attribute about Three Sticks will prove to be one of the biggest attractions for many players.
Because golfers can have a high-quality golf experience…and everything that comes with it…and play toward only the easier targets as they make their way around. And of course, more experienced players who don’t have the time or inclination to play all 18 holes can subsequently go for a more challenging experience by only playing toward the harder targets. Being able to pick and choose the difficulty of each hole as you play is not possible anywhere else. We sometimes refer to this feature as the ability to “retro-fit” the golf course according to the kind of experience a golfer wants to have on any particular day. This is revolutionary, and we are very proud of it.
Sadly, in the current state of the industry, it seems as though many who are at less-advanced skill levels–or, even for those who just aren’t in the mood to get beat up by the golf course all the time–these players are relegated to more ‘underwhelming’ golf courses. You know what I mean–golf courses that are unimaginative, don’t have a variety of shot values, feature boring fairways and green complexes, and aren’t maintained very well–that sort of thing. The problem is that as an industry, we are trying to Grow The Game. Now don’t get me wrong–there have been many notable Grow The Game successes. It just seems as though we’d be even more successful if this group of ‘less than advanced’ golfers had a viable option to play something besides very ‘ho-hum’ golf courses all the time.
What’s perplexing about this current state of affairs is that these golfers actually feel more ‘at-home’ at those more mid-level facilities. That’s because when these players go to a better course, they know they will eventually have to deal with that green that is over the water…or the one that is surrounded by bunkers. They aren’t comfortable at these kinds of courses because they fear they’ll take a 12 on those more difficult holes, making them feel like they are holding everybody up. At a Three Sticks installation, those less-experienced players could avoid the more difficult green locations by playing toward the greens that don’t have as many hazards. They still might get a 6 or 7, but at least that’s a more reasonable score, and they won’t feel like they were causing delays for others.
Interesting. So, we‘ve discussed many features that will attract players whose skills aren’t necessarily top-notch. But what does a Three Sticks-style golf course offer to avid players?
We think that after taking a look at the scorecard, and seeing that from the tips the course plays well over 6500 yards, that more experienced players will be willing to give it a try. Now consider that golfers will have to deal with 20 or more bunkers…Oops—did I say 20? I meant 60…because players will have to navigate around those same 20 bunkers when they play the Middle Six, and then again on the Back Six.
Another interesting phenomenon about Three Sticks as it relates to avid golfers is how the course grabs your attention right away. These days, many conventional courses take a few holes before they start showing their teeth. Well, at a Three Sticks–style golf course, WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THAT! Our goal is to design and create golf experiences that will grab the player’s attention from the very first fairway. This is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY because the Front Six for you and your group might be the Middle or Back Six for the group behind you.
The “Middle Six” and the “Back Six”? What, are you guys inventing new golf terminology now?
Stan laughed. I guess you could say that. If someone is playing 18 holes in the intended set-up, the first six holes–the Front Six–is all played toward the same-colored flag. Then, when they go back out again to play holes 7-12–the Middle Six–they would play toward a different set of flag colors. It follows that the Back Six–holes 13-18–would then all be played toward the set of flags they had not played toward yet.
But won’t better players be held up by all the average players they’ll be sharing the course with?
We don’t think that will happen. In fact, an argument can be made that the flow of play will be a little smoother and perhaps even slightly faster than what one would find at a conventional golf course. Why?…because average players and novices will naturally gravitate toward the easier green choices and avoid the more difficult ones. This translates into a reduction of groups that are out there posting big numbers–a scenario that slows the pace of play for everyone.
OK, so you’ve discussed many of the features that players will appreciate. But what will incentivize Owners to open a facility like this?
So, let’s talk apples-to-apples. Let’s say a potential owner is considering opening a new 18-hole golf course, and their choices are a conventional golf course or a Three Sticks-style golf course. In that scenario, a Three Sticks-style course has a lot of advantages for that new owner. There would be a dramatic savings in the money spent on Land Acquisition costs–because you are only buying 60 acres as opposed to 150. Also, because of the much smaller land mass involved, there would be significant savings on golf course construction costs. It stands to reason that the subsequent maintenance costs for the smaller property would also be quite a bit smaller. And, there are many other financial advantages, including the fact that a Three Sticks-style golf course would operate at a higher…and at times, a much higher…overall efficiency.
What do you mean by “overall efficiency”?
Overall efficiency is a comparison between the amount of players out on a particular course and that particular course’s capacity. We’ve studied it, and have found that at certain times, the efficiency of a Three Sticks Golf Course will be as much as three times as high…again, given an equivalency of demand for golf.
And what about the golf industry’s most important client…Mother Nature?
Conservation of Land is at the very heart of the Three Sticks Golf Course design concept. At the outset, our founder was trying to figure out how to provide 18 holes of regulation, full-sized golf on a much smaller parcel of land. He knew that success in his endeavors would translate to many environmental benefits. For starters, there would be dramatic reductions in the amount of spraying necessary for turfgrass health. And, even more importantly, the water savings will be enormous–some estimates put it at 200,00 gallons a day in water usage savings. Further, the development of only 60 acres as opposed to 150 means the other 90 acres would simply be left in a natural state. In another scenario, let’s say you own an existing 18-hole course and developers are putting on the pressure. You could sell off those extra 90 acres, a sale that would help pay for the conversion to a Three Sticks-style property…and the best part about it is that you still would have 18 holes of golf left! It’s a win-win-win!
I must admit that I was impressed overall. I decided to challenge Stan to describe Three Sticks Golf in one word. After a brief pause, Stan proposes the word “Versatility”.
Versatility?! I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard that word describe a golf course before.
Well, I think it applies in this case. Just think about it:
Do you want to play a golf course that takes up a smaller footprint?
Three Sticks Golf
Do you want to play a golf course that has a variety of shot values and challenges?
Three Sticks Golf
Do you want to play a golf course that is a true representation of the actual game?
Three Sticks Golf
Do you want to play a golf course that can be played in shorter time periods?
Three Sticks Golf
Do you want to play a golf course that has a much more reasonable cost of participation?
Three Sticks Golf
Do you want to play a golf course that won’t beat me up with its difficulty?
Three Sticks Golf
Do you want to play a golf course that is challenging for better players?
Three Sticks Golf
Do you want to play a golf course that is suitable for my spouse and/or young family members?
Three Sticks Golf
Do you want to play a golf course that is smiled upon by Mother Nature?
Three Sticks Golf
Do you want to play a golf course with reduced chemical spraying and water applications?
Three Sticks Golf
Do you want to own a golf course that won’t cost me an arm and a leg in development costs?
Three Sticks Golf
Do you want to own a golf course that can be maintained at a reasonable cost?
Three Sticks Golf
Do you want to own a golf course that will naturally maximize its operational efficiency?
Three Sticks Golf
Should I go on?
No, no, no…that’s enough! You’ve made your point that a Three Sticks Style golf course is versatile–in many, many ways. So, who will be involved in designing these courses?
Because Three Sticks Golf is our intellectual “baby”, we (Visionary Golf Design) hope to be intimately involved in just about every project at the outset. If and when Three Sticks becomes more popular, we are going to have to either expand our staff, or begin putting feelers out there regarding collaborations. Don’t forget that there are over 100 members of the ASGCA, and, since the overall design concepts are really not overly complicated, all of those folks should be able to design these kinds of golf courses in their sleep. In fact, there have already been several ASGCA members who have come forward to say they would like to be involved if assistance is needed.
When can I play one of these courses?
Not yet. We are still in the process of taking it from the drawing boards to a full-fledged marketing campaign. I can say that we have approached some people, and there has been a lot of interest from those who have been exposed to the general concepts. And there is every indication that the first Three Sticks installation will bring national–if not international–attention from the media…simply because it makes so much sense in so many ways. Will that first opening represent a watershed moment for the world of golf? That I can’t tell you–I don’t have a crystal ball. But in the years and decades to come, we foresee that these kinds of golf courses will be all over the place.
Speaking of marketing efforts, who do you plan on approaching?
We aren’t shy. We’ll talk to just about anyone regarding Three Sticks…given that its unique attributes will be such an enticement for so many current or prospective golf course operators. Right off the top of my head, I can see a lot of interest coming from any individual or entity that doesn’t have enough acreage for a conventional golf course. Converting to a Three Sticks-style golf course will also be appealing to current 9-hole golf operators who recognize that their current golf offering is getting old and tired…or, even 18-hole golf course operators who are beginning to entertain offers from developers–especially those who still want to operate 18 holes of golf. And Three Sticks would be a comparatively cheap way to add golf to any small or mid-sized town that doesn’t currently have a golf option for their residents. And let’s not forget about larger cities and urban areas that are trying to figure out what do with some of their unsightly brownfields. The overall small size of Three Sticks will also be very attractive to residential home builders who need to provide some sort of greenspace for their housing communities. Plus, a lot of resorts are investing in alternative golf offerings these days in an effort to attract players who have families travelling along. And I’m sure a case can be made that Three Sticks is a viable solution for small colleges and universities who don’t have golf on campus.
Wow…you’re right…there does seem to be many possible applications for Three Sticks. Stan, our talk this afternoon has been very informative and eye-opening. Where can I send my readers if they wanted to get more information?
For more information, visit their web site at www.threesticksgolf.com.