There’s been a lot of chatter recently about getting more people into golf by developing shorter courses - and by shorter I don’t mean not as long, but fewer holes. You hear talk of 12-hole courses, for instance. Jack Nicklaus is the biggest name to endorse a 12-hole course, arguing that it would help bring people into the game who don’t have the time to play a full 18-hole round.
Nicklaus obviously has his views in the right place. Golf has been such a big part of his life and he doesn’t want to see the game lose players and not find new ones. He’s organized 12-hole events at his Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, and has talked up the idea of shorter courses on numerous occasions. He’s developed 12-hole scorecards for Muirfield Village and for The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla., which he designed and where he plays - when he plays, which is rarely.
And yet, why does the game need 12-hole courses, or six-hole courses, or loops of six holes, say? Why can’t golfers who don’t have the time to play 18 holes restrict themselves to nine holes? That seems a natural, a no-brainer. In the restriction there might actually be expansion. Nine holes make sense. A golfer can input a nine-hole score for handicap purposes, for one thing. He will also have more time to do other things along the MTLTG spectrum: more to life than golf, that is.
I got to thinking about the matter this week when I went with my pal Ron Bala to play one of the finest nine-hole courses anywhere. That’s the Allandale Golf Course an hour north of Toronto and tucked away in the countryside - tranquility defined. Stanley Thompson designed the course in the 1930s. He started with six holes and later added three holes. The McCann family has run the course for 44 years, leasing it first and owning it for the last dozen years. Margaret, her husband Brian, and their daughter Michelle were at Allandale the morning I played. They couldn’t have been friendlier or more enthusiastic about the course.
Ron and I plunked down our $20 for nine holes and set out. We walked the course in late-summer heat and humidity, and later joined up with a few older gentlemen who were playing ahead of us. One of them, Stan Leibel, is a member of the Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto. He developed the Bathurst Manor community in north Toronto, where my parents moved when I was a teenager. Stan knew the late George Knudson and the late Moe Norman. He’s an avid golfer and he and his friends love Allandale.
Stan has a cottage in the region and he enjoys frequent games at Allandale - nine-hole games. One of his companions during the rounds is 92 - yes, 92. We had a great time talking golf and telling stories after our rounds. Stan’s grandson Luke, by the way, made it through last fall’s qualifying school for PGA Tour Canada. The former University of South Florida student has played eight events. He’s made only two cuts. Leibel, 23, withdrew from last week’s Cape Breton Celtic Classic. He’s not playing this week’s Tour Championship at the Sunningdale Golf and Country Club in London, Ont.
As for Allandale, well, it was just so much fun playing the course. The small greens were fast and smooth, and have that rumpled Thomson look that I love. Some fairways also have that wavy, even turbulent appearance that golfing ground at its best displays. Sure, things have changed somewhat over the years, and no doubt some bunkers have been lost and greens have shrunk. Architect Ian Andrew, a Thompson enthusiast, does a good job here of looking more deeply into Allandale’s design. The post is from 2006 but remains relevant.
Ron and I finished our round in an hour and 45 minutes - –perfect. We could have trimmed our time by another 20 minutes had we not needed to deke into shady areas to recover from the stifling heat. But the point is that we felt we had played golf - real golf - and on a real course. A nine-hole course.
I’ve played a fair number of nine-hole courses over the years, and often play nine holes - not “only” nine holes - at Maple Downs Golf and Country Club. Maple is my home course and I find that, more and more, nine holes is ideal. I can then go hang out at coffee shops and write.
Back in 1990, I wrote a book called Links: An Insider’s Tour Through the World of Golf. The first chapter is called The Soul of the Game. I started it with a visit to the nine-hole Royal Worlington and Newmarket Golf Club near Cambridge, England. My opening sentence was as follows. “The Royal Worlington and Newmarket Golf Club in England is the finest nine-hole course in the world.”
I went on to mention that some fellow writers in England, especially the wonderful Peter Dobereiner, had told me I must visit Worlington when I had the opportunity. I finally got there. There I found the soul of the game.
I found it on a nine-hole course. This week I found it again on Allandale’s nine holes. Golf doesn’t have to be 18 holes. Nine-hole courses and nine-hole rounds on 18-hole courses have an important role in the game. That’s especially true today, for the reasons that Nicklaus suggested. And so I make a modest proposal. Play nine holes more often. Play nine-hole courses more often.
Visit Allandale. And, should you have the opportunity, visit Worlington. I suggested to my friend and fellow Maple Downs member Stan White that he do just on his recent visit to the Cambridge area. He made a call to the club but couldn’t get out for a round on that visit. He promised me he’d play Worlington when he’s next in the area.
Seek out nine-hole courses. Play nine holes. You’ll be playing real golf. And you just might uncover the soul of the game in the more concentrated period it takes to play nine holes.
RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein