During my career I had a variety of experiences with short golf courses, what is commonly known worldwide as “pitch & putt” style. This kind of design is innovative in America, that's why the challenge nowadays is giving it a reinterpretation so it can meet the environmental demands and fulfill the expectations of our golfers as well.
The origins of this golf concept can be tracked down to Ireland and Scotland. This tradition has been growing for over 80 years and in recent time has been spreading quickly over the rest of the european continent. The hype for this version of golf is so high that surprisingly there has been “pitch & putt” official tournaments. As a matter of fact, in 2006 I was officially invited as an observer to the World Championship, played in the city of Barcelona, Spain.
In this event I witnessed the participation of 13 countries and regions with a high competitive level in this short game style, as is the case of Denmark, Itay, Switzerland, France, San Marino, Australia, Ireland, Netherlands, Andorra, Norway, Catalonia, Great Britain, and a participant that was a pleasant surprise: Chile. The fact that our continent was represented in this cup gives the event, formerly a Europe-only affair, an international character. This situation fills me with pride and gives me hope that soon other countries like Mexico and the United States will be participating in the international circuit as a host.
It’s worth mentioning that this “pitch & putt” style is sometimes mistakenly associated with the executive design. Also a short course, although in the latter there is no ruling as to the length of the course or the par variation, this can be an all par 3 or include some par 4 and 5 holes. It’s actually an arbitrary design in a limited space that aims to keep a fast game with the longest possible distance.
In the case of “pitch & putt” there are formally developed rules and federations like the FIPPA (International Pitch & Putt Federation Association ) that endorse this game modality.
The international rules point that in 9 or 18 holes, the minimum and maximum distance of holes must be between 40 and 120 yards respectively. The number of clubs allowed to play the course is limited to three, commonly a putter and two wedges are selected. The European Federation has an official handicap system that corresponds with the official one of the conventional courses.
These courses require less investment and less space. In general terms they can be built in a space of 7 to 50 acres with a budget of between 300 thousand and 2 million USD (a regular course requires around 150 hectares and 6 million USD).
Regarding the benefits that this game concept offers, there are many and of varied nature. In ecology: the reduced footprint can work as a recreational area and potential lung in urban areas, besides it requires less infrastructure to build and less water allocation. Besides this game modality is apt for all ages and genres due to the convenience of a reduced space that doesn't intimidate for its sheer size and so allows for the development of friendly playing traits. As a player you may relate to the impotence feeling sometimes beginners have when helplessly facing the enormous distances of a regular course, which can damage the swing or other equally important skills and, also prevent the development of a good playing style. For experienced and low handicap players the advantages are also meaningful, as this short distance makes it easier to practice finishing a hole and what is known as “up and down”, that is, going up to the green and then getting the ball down the hole in the next shot.
Case Study: Golf Course
There is an existing golf course which was named Costa Baja in 2011 when it first opened. It’s a fabulous 18 championship hole Gary Player Signature design with 16 holes that offer a view to the Sea of Cortez (Jack Cousteau called it the aquarium of the world).
Back then, Piza Golf assisted with project management and design coordination on the execution with Steve McFarlane as Senior Designer and Mr. Gary Player at the helm. Ten years and two ownerships later, with the golf course abandoned, we were brought back by the new ownership to consult on the new and refreshed (now named and rebranded) Puerta Cortes Resort. A high end destination with a Chable Resort to open in 2022. Here again we had the opportunity to work alongside The Player Group to bring back the golf course to the top quality it was intended for. This effort was conducted with up-and-coming superintendent Dency Baloyes who did a great job of executing.
There were three different things happening at once on the golf course: Gary Player Signature ocean hole number 9 relocation for new hotel development, recovering the course from 1 year of abandonment and, restructuring the abandoned driving range - that’s where we come in.
The client knew about our out-of-the-box design philosophy and tendency we are creating with multipurpose golf so he commissioned us to do something original and different for the driving range limits.
Driving ranges are usually overlooked in the design process and sometimes finish as a large 4 hectare (10 acres) piece of land to maintain with no excitement. In such cases, it’s always a unique opportunity to create something interesting, with less investment, that not only serves the purpose but is aesthetically beautiful, easier to maintain and fun for all categories of play.
We proposed to our client to design a space that could work as a golf academy, “pitch & putt” and a driving range whilst creating an aesthetic desert style area with less turf to irrigate and maintain.
At Puerta Cortes they now have a multipurpose range where families can gather and play 10 Pitch & Putt holes, serious players can use the academy and the best thing of all is we created a First Tee Mexico Chapter. This design helps #growthegame , reduces maintenance costs and produces extra income for our clients. Prior to this design, the use of the Driving Range was included with the green fee. Now the client charges a fee when used for Pitch & Putt and academy purposes. A win-win with better ROI. As I like to describe it: burning the candle from both ends.
We began the design project early 2019 with construction starting in the summer, finishing late 2019 with grassing and grow-in period included. It was a quick 6 month project.
The uniqueness about enjoying the Pitch & Putt course is the distinct holes and ambience you encounter during play. Players don’t notice until they walk the circuit. Holes vary in lengths between 30 and 130 yards with a distinct strategy of approach, heights and atmosphere. If you add there’s a 360 degree visual to the Sea of Cortez, this place is stunning and deserving of a visit sometime soon. El Cortes is a must play in Mexico and per Gary Player, one of his top golf courses as a designer.
“Pitch & putt” style can be an excellent complementary alternative to traditional golf courses since they share the same gameplay basics.
About Agustín Pizá
Agustín Pizá is an architect with a masters degree in Golf course architecture from the University of Edinburgh. Member of the American Society and European Institute of Golf Course Architects. Pizá Golf is an award- winning golf design firm.