Short course emphasizes fun, socializing
The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail was an innovator when it came to creating short courses at its properties.
The initial construction phase of what has become an iconic golf destination in Alabama included short, albeit difficult, par-3 courses at its seven original sites. Some of the courses were 18 holes; the others were nine-holers.
They all had one thing in common, though, none were of the pitch-and-putt variety. They all featured four sets of tees, and playing from the tips meant that par 3s could stretch more than 200 yards to well-guarded, undulating greens.
Today, more and more golf destinations are adding short courses that truly are just that – short, fun to play, yet still challenging. Pinehurst added the Cradle and Pebble Beach added The Hay. The emphasis in creating these courses is to add a social aspect to the overall experience. They are designed to be walked using only three or four clubs and be played quickly.
In the second half of 2022, the RTJ Golf Trail at Oxmoor Valley Golf Course unveiled its entry into the short-course fray – The Back Yard.
Its new walking-only nine-hole course replaced the site’s former 18-hole par 3 course. Now, it plays only 911 yards from the back tees and 810 yards from front tees. One trip around The Back Yard and it is evident Oxmoor Valley has built a winner.
Short holes’ greens accessible to novices
The Back Yard’s longest hole is 132 yards. Its shortest it a mere 59 yards. The green complexes somewhat mimic those of the Ridge and Valley courses at Oxmoor Valley. No water is in play, but there are several strategic bunkers. Adding to the fun factor is that a variety of shots can be played into the greens, so players of all skill levels can attack them.
In a December 2022 interview with Alabama Golf News, Chief Operating Officer Mike Beverly said the time was right to try something different with Oxmoor Valley’s short course. The original short course covered 147 acres.
“It was bigger than a lot of 18-hole championship courses,” Beverly said. “There are some decent championship courses that are 80-to-85 acres.”
The current setup covers a scant, low-maintenance 14 acres. That gives the maintenance crew more time to maintain the Ridge and Valley courses.
Beverly said the original short course was due for a greens renovation, so it was a good time to take a look at a concept for the site’s par 3 course.
“Every time you have to do greens work, you have to do tree work,” he said. “Those trees had grown up a lot over 30 years, so you start looking at the scope of the project and you realize you are going to spend a lot of money on a par 3 course. Obviously, you don’t get the dollar per round there that you do on the championship courses.”
Beverly said a visit to Sage Valley, a Tom Fazio-designed par 3 course in South Carolina, reinforced the idea that a course like The Back Yard would prove popular.
“We had already started working on our concept, but it just kind of reinforced that we were doing the right thing there,” Beverly said.
A goal of The Back Yard: socializing
The Back Yard can be played in an hour or less.
“It’s a mix of fun and I think it is going to be good for the game of golf,” Beverly said. “It’s nothing like anyone from a public perspective has in the state of Alabama. It’s a different product than anything we have ever had on the Trail.”
Beverly said the course appeals to all skill levels in that The Back Yard is not easy but novices or young players can bounce shots onto the greens. There also is a stack-wall bunker reminiscent of a Scottish links course.
“It’s a very social setting,” Beverly said. “Guys who have played 18 holes and want to play another round or an emergency nine, you can go over there and walk it in an hour and carry three or four clubs with a cocktail in your hand.”
Beverly said The Back Yard is a good place for beginners to learn the game and for skilled players to work on their short game.
“For a good player, there’s nothing harder than a 70- or 80-yard wedge shot,” he said. “This will help you refine your short game, which is where everybody really needs work.”
Beverly doesn’t expect the walking-only aspect of the course to be a deterrent for players who normally use a cart.
“It’s less walking than if it is cart-path only,” he said. “I’m very proud of way we routed the golf course. We went through several routing plans to make sure it was walkable. You don’t walk uphill until you leave the ninth green.”
With a firepit surrounded by rocking chairs with views of the first, second and ninth holes, The Back Yard brings the social aspect full circle.
“I think it will be a hit,” Beverly said. “It’s a different product than anything we have had on the Trail.”
Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News
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Featured image courtesy of Oxmoor Valley Golf Course