Big-Hole Golf is a recreational version of regular golf that helps beginners and disheartened casual golfers enjoy a good game. As the name suggests, the golf holes are 15-inch in diameter, instead of the regular 4.25 inches. Golf purists may scoff at the thought of this, but big-hole golf is gaining popularity, even among seasoned golfers. They call this big-hole version ‘fast and fun’, which they say is quite nice for a change.
The concept of big-hole golf is very similar to that of regular golf. You hit the same number of full shots as in normal golf, which is the heart of the game for most players. The bliss and frustrations of the game are still the same, it’s just that you’re a bit farther from the hole. While the traditional format of golf tends to be slow and difficult for newbies, big-hole golf is a lot more exciting. The idea is quite simple: faster rounds, less putts, more fun.
Big-hole golf is said to be the brain-child of Mark King, chief executive at TaylorMade Golf Company. When asked why he chose to make the holes 15 inches, he shrugged and said, “It seemed about the right size.” To put the idea into action, TaylorMade paid another Minnesota-based company called Par Aide to manufacture 15-inch hole-cutters, coordinated tee markers and shorter flags to distinguish from other regular flags that might be on the green. The company then held an event as a part of the Hack Golf initiative – to solicit fresh ideas for bringing more players into the game and retaining the current ones.
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“Hack Golf was born of the idea from a few of us in the industry that we need new ideas,” said King. “Because if we have the same people that have been around the industry like myself, thinking about the same challenges, you pretty much have the same solutions. And it’s just not working. You don’t have new people coming into the game. So we’ve got to find a new experience that brings people into the game. And the 15-inch golf is just one idea that was born from that, which makes putting easier, makes it less intimidating, cuts the time down by about a third and you have a lot more fun.”
The event was attended by some well-known names on the golfing scene – Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, and Wall Street Journal Golfing columnist John Paul Newport. “On Monday I played a round in which our time on the greens was slashed in half. It was fast, fun and liberating,” Newport wrote. “In carts, we zoomed around the course, playing tee-to-green as quickly as in a regular round. But we dispensed with the lion’s share of the short-game choreography that not only slows down the game, but can intimidate newcomers.”
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Rose was quite taken by the game’s format as well. “My mind-set changed completely,” he said. “If I hit a poor drive in normal golf, I’m trying to figure out how I can best save par. Here I’m thinking if I can just get the ball up near the green somewhere, I can still make a birdie.” In this and a handful of other experimental 15-inch golf events, the scores were found to be typically 10 strokes lower than in regular play. 18-hole rounds were found to be 30 to 45 minutes shorter.
Over the next few weeks, TaylorMade will be shipping complementary big-hole kits to 100 courses. Then Par Aide plans to sell the kits starting at $700 for the cutter and cups. Par Aide President Mike Hilliard believes that 15-inch holes shouldn’t take much longer to cut than regular holes, and the wear and tear on the greens would be similar. King is quite optimistic about the future of 15-inch golf. He predicts that hundreds of courses will buy into the new version by the end of the year. He plans to schedule four 15-inch-hole events a year at his California club.
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PGA of America president Ted Bishop is all for big-hole golf. “Call it whatever you want, but we’ve got to get past this notion that unless you’re playing nine or 18 holes, with 4.25-inch holes, it’s not golf,” he said. “This is a form of the sport, just like playing H-O-R-S-E on the backyard hoop is a form of basketball.” At his own club in Indiana, Bishop plans to maintain 15-inch holes on his par-three course. He also plans to add 15-inch holes to one nine on his championship course every Sunday afternoon to encourage family play.
Participation in golf has been dwindling – in the past 10 years it is down 20 percent in the United States alone. So enlarging the hole is aimed at newbies, would-be golfers and others who steer clear of the game because they think it’s too stuffy, too difficult and too boring. “If people want to work at getting better and become sophisticated players, that’s great,” said Bishop. “But if they don’t, and just want to play for fun, we need to find room for them. Traditionally this game has driven those people away.”
The big-hole game is said to be great for easy-going tournaments and company outings. And needless to say, there’s big money behind this trend.