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short golf courses

What will it take for short courses to take off in Britain and why are we so dismissive of them?

NCG’s Dan Murphy had the pleasure of visiting Chart Hills in Kent and more specifically The Loop which serves the fun of both avid golfers and beginners…

 

I had the pleasure of attending the opening of Chart Hills’ new six-hole short course – The Loop. It was constructed from what was a short-game area, essentially a miniature driving range. Gareth Williams, from Faldo Design, has led the conversion project at the Kent venue. 

The holes measure between 50 and 100 yards, but are played to greens of the same quality you would find on the main course. The inspiration for each one is a hole on a course that played a significant part in Sir Nick’s career. So we have one based on the 12th at Augusta, for example.  

It takes around 20 minutes to complete a loop of The Loop. You could play it with just a wedge and a putter; equally you could utilise just about every iron in your bag if you wanted to get creative. 

All golfers I know treat such courses as a bit of light relief but I have no idea why. At one point, I took a look around and saw that nobody from the fourball behind had found the green at the previous hole, which was 80 yards long, while only one of our four was safely on board at the 70-yarder we were tackling. 

Between us, our group made a grand total of three twos on our way round – and many more bogeys, plus a few ‘others’. It definitely wasn’t too easy for us. 

There is a feeling that these courses need to be made more difficult – the targets tiny and every conceivable hazard integrated into the design. 

But that, to me, is missing the point. 

A good short course is one that anyone can get round – from a young child to a nonagenarian. 

And this is why: We know from The PGA’s Golf For All research that there are millions of people who play golf in some form without ever having stepped foot on a course. 

That’s great – but what an opportunity the game has to draw at least some of them into the version of the game that we ‘proper golfers’ recognise. 

short golf courses
The 1st green at Chart Hills on the championship course

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Chart Hills Golf Club: The Loop is challenging, fun and done in 20 minutes

The problem is, there is a world of difference between a TopGolf and a golf course. The role of the short course could be transformational if it acted as a bridge between the two formats. 

There are a grand total of two bunkers on Chart Hills’ short course. (Although if I had my way, it would be two fewer, bunkers being almost impossible to escape from for novices). There is almost no rough, which is ideal. The greens are large, but with some interesting contours. You can run it in or fly it through the air – your choice. And that’s how it should be because you shouldn’t need to have to hit the ball through the air to get it around a short course. It should be inclusive. 

Once skills are honed and confidence gained, golfers are ready to continue their journey by experiencing courses like Chart Hills. 

Designed in the 1990s by Faldo as a tournament venue, it is fair to say it has had a chequered 30 years since. Now under the ownership of the McGuirk family, who have already transformed one Kent venue – on the coast at Prince’s – it is getting back on track. 

A huge amount has been invested already in the course, whose fairways were sand-capped and brought back from a state of disrepair during the pandemic. Now they are once again verdant carpets. It looks and feels like a 21st-century tournament venue. 

On-site accommodation is the next priority, which makes sense for a course situated in the midst of the Kent countryside, some six miles west of Ashford. The club are already well on with this, and The Barn is set to open before the end of the year. It will be an ideal dormy house-style facility. 

Chart Hills used to be the talk of the town – and it will be once again. When you call in, just make sure you leave yourself time for a scoot around The Loop beforehand. 

short golf courses
The greens on The Loop look, feel and play like those on the big course

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Dan Murphy

Dan Murphy

Dan loves links golf, which doesn't mean he is very good at it. He is a four-handicapper at Alwoodley. A qualified journalist and senior editor with 25 years’ experience, he was the long-time editor of NCG. His passion is golf courses and he is the founding editor of NCG Top 100s course rankings. He loves nothing more than discovering and highlighting courses that are worthy of greater recognition.

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