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December 2019

Breaking with Tradition

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Truncated Course Provides Perfect Gateway To Golf

By Steve Eubanks 

Portlanders pride themselves on doing things a little different. So, when Karen and Keith Keiser saw one high school kid after another going to birthday parties and Saturday night dates at the local TopGolf, they decided it was time to make a change at their nine-hole course in Wilsonville, Oregon, 20 minutes outside Portland.

The Keisers own two courses – Sandelie Golf Course, an 18-hole facility, and Kohl Creek Golf Course, which, until recently, was nine holes but has just reopened as a six-hole, family-friendly facility. The Keisers hope Kohl Creek will be a gateway that transitions nightlife golfers – those who don’t actually play, but love to hit balls with friends at TopGolf – onto the course and into the game for life. 

By shortening and widening the holes, and turning the formerly tight nine-hole facility into three par-3s and three par-4s (with an option to replay an addition three to make a nine-hole round), the Keisers want to entice young people and families out for a quick round. Foot golf is also available and they have eliminated the traditional clubhouse, going with a barn-type building that has outdoor seating and draft beer. 

“I think that what we’re doing is filling a niche,” Karen Keiser said. “You go to Top Golf and it piques your interest but where do you go from there? If you go out to a traditional 18-hole course you’re going to get yelled at by the marshal to speed up. We want to give them a place to get comfortable with golf, to learn the concept of it. It’s super family-friendly.”

 During the golf construction boom of the 90s and early 2000s, many of the old nine-hole facilities built from the 1920s through the 1960s vanished. They didn’t make economic sense. Maintaining a nine-hole course is fractionally less expensive than operating a regulation 18-hole facility but the revenue is cut in half. So, the game’s introductory courses – our bunny slopes and bumper lanes – became Walmarts or condos.

That is changing. Short courses and less-than-regulation-18 facilities are experiencing a resurgence. Places like The Cradle at Pinehurst; Sweetens Cove, a nine-hole facility in the mountains outside Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Goat Hill Park, John Ashworth’s nine-hole course on the wrong side of the tracks in Oceanside, California; have gained cult-like followings. Not only are they fun and relatively inexpensive, golfers can get around them in between 45 minutes and, at most, two hours.
 
The Keisers are hoping for some of that same magic at Kohl Creek. They have built the place for fun. The only things banned are dogs. As the notice on the website says, “As much as we love them we can’t have them on the golf course.”

“I hope to have the support of the community,” Karen Keiser said. “I hope we are successful like any new business launch. We hope people love the product.”

Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

 

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