12-hole golf gains global foothold

Brautarholt Golf Club

Study a list of some of golf’s top courses and Brautarholt Golf Club near Reykjavik stands out. 

The views from Iceland are certainly one thing, but perhaps just as eye-catching is that the layout consists of 12 holes. And this is nothing new – the first Open Championship in 1860 was contested over the same number of holes. 

Brautarholt general manager Gunnar Pálsson said that while the course cannot compete with the sheer numbers of rounds per year compared to 18-hole venues nearer the Icelandic capital, they have become the course in Iceland that receives the most foreign guests.

“Running a 12-hole golf course is very economical and easier to maintain,” he told Syngenta.

“You need only one set of machinery to maintain the course as well. With 18 holes, you need more or less two sets of mowers for the fairways and rough. It’s more economic.”

With a 10-20% increase per year in visitors and the club celebrating its 10th birthday next year, Pálsson said close to 90% of visitors to the course play 12 holes, with the remainder adding on nine holes to make 21. 

Brautarholt also have a 100% growth rate for a different membership subscription – launched three years ago – that will secure you a round of golf for approximately $27.

“We offer what we call ‘five-rounds membership’, you get your handicap registered and after five rounds you pay a lower fee per round,” said Pálsson, who added nearly 750 members have taken up the offer, the club’s biggest success.

More money, lesser product

Designer Edwin Roald is no newcomer to the concept of a shorter round of golf either, having started why18holes.com in 2008 after working on the theory for some time before that.

“At first, I worked mostly in rural Iceland, often with low budgets, but extraordinary land, with natural holes that could be made playable without doing a lot of work. However, when you connected them to form a good routing with reasonable walks between holes, you rarely ended up with exactly nine or 18 back at the clubhouse,” he told Syngenta.

“The convention of the fixed hole count forced me to constantly compromise, by replacing potentially great holes with sequences of more or fewer holes that were not as good. I felt I spent more money on a lesser product than what nature had already given me.”

Icelander Roald is an avid golf historian and knows all about how the standard hole count of 18 was never a planned move – he was also convinced the strategy to reduce course length could work well in this busy day and age where urban areas are spreading.

“Among leaders in golf’s governing bodies, it has generally been highly positive. After all, they must consider the big picture going forward and base their decisions on the wide range of information that is available to them.

“For example, The Golf Union of Iceland removed any stipulation on the need for 18 holes in their championship criteria and staged its 2017 national match play championship on 13 holes in Vestmannaeyjar.”

Twitter, Tinder – the modern, ‘fast’ way

Pelle Sättare knows how successful they can be having managed Troxhammar Golf Club on the outskirts of Stockholm – where they built they own version in 2007-2009. 

Now at Vasatorp Golf Club near Helsingborg in Sweden, Sättare is again helping the modern-day, often time-restricted golfer to get their 12-hole fix.

“This course (Troxhammar) was a huge success and increased the income a lot. Now we are doing the same at Vasatorp, hopefully with the same result,” Sättare told Syngenta.

Courses in the USA are trialling this outlook, the shorter Edgefield Golf Course near Portland and The Yards in Florida offering members and visitors a wholly different golf experience, while Tiger Woods’ design company added a 12-hole short course to the resort at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

“You look at everything from Twitter, which has abbreviated messaging, to Tinder which has abbreviated dating, to 12-holes. Everybody wants it fast, wants it now, and wants to check the box and get it done,” David Miller, the brain behind The Yards, told Forbes.

Nowadays in the USA you can even play seven holes competitively – Roald adding that in 2019 the USGA helped integrate responsive hole counts into the new World Handicap System, so that golfers worldwide can play between 9-18 holes to a handicap.

“This is not only inevitable, but also desirable and necessary for golf to thrive,” said Roald, citing pro golf examples like GolfSixes, last year’s ‘The Match’ between Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka and the Nordic League pro tour staging a 12-hole event in 2017.