BOWLING GREEN, Fla. — If golf has a superpower, it’s the ability to fill the cracks in your mind and feast on your anxieties. First-tee jitters. Overthinking a putt. New players worriedly trying to figure out where to stand, where to go, what to do. Experienced players exasperated by every mistake, seeing the score they hoped to post slip away. All the fretting over playing too slow or waiting too long.
Then there’s the scoring. An arbitrary number decided by someone you never met. You thought you played that hole well, but this little card says you took a bogey. The word is born from a Scottish term for a devil. So now your terrible play is an incarnation of a fallen angel, expelled from heaven, abusing free will with its evil. Beelzebul is playing through.
But now imagine being handed a scorecard with no criterion. Some tees at 50 and 56 yards. Others at 101 and 111. And 164. And 218. And as far back as 293. One hole that can be played from 89 or 187. And on this card, a glaring omission. No par. Just play. Have a match against a friend. Grab a couple of clubs, a few beverages, and go. Winner of each hole decides where to tee off on the next hole. You can play a six-hole loop that circles a lovely grove of oak trees. Or play a 13-hole loop. Or play all 19. Who cares?
“You know,” Ben Crenshaw, the legendary golfer-turned-course architect, recently said, “this game is allowed to be played differently.”
So why don’t we more often?
A new course opening in central Florida makes the question again hard to ignore. The Chain, a “short course” created by Crenshaw and long-time design partner Bill Coore, is opening this month at Streamsong Golf Resort. Guests can currently play 13 holes total for preview play. The hope is to open the course’s full 19 by December 1, as long as the land allows. Markers, which have roots to the property’s former days as a phosphate mine, give golfers a guide of where to tee off on every hole at The Chain. (Courtesy Tacy Briggs / Troncoso)
Streamsong is already well known for its eclectic three traditional 18-hole courses built by the current holy triumvirate of design firms — the Red (also a Coore/Crenshaw), the Blue (Tom Doak) and the Black (Gil Hanse/Jim Wagner). The property, a converted phosphate mine, was considered a wild risk when construction began on the first two courses in 2012. Bowling Green, Florida, is an hour southeast of Tampa and nearly two hours southwest of Orlando. Even if that sounds remote, it’s still an undersell. Who, in a state with more than 1,200 golf courses, would go to play golf all the way out here? The project plowed along, though, because the goal was larger than building a golf resort — it was to commercially develop reclaimed land that otherwise had little other use. It worked because Streamsong’s three courses are so good, and so different, that it secured a place among golf’s new generation of destination resorts like Bandon Dunes in Oregon, The Prairie Club in the Sand Hills of Nebraska, and Cabot Links in Nova Scotia.
Like The Cradle at Pinehurst and others, each of those resorts features a funky short course. Now, so too does Streamsong. The feature has become a prerequisite for resort life. For guests, playing (especially walking) 36 holes over multiple consecutive days can be easier said than done. It’s far more enjoyable to play 18, then hit the short course for a loop. For the resorts, a short course is a draw, an extra amenity for the portfolio, uses little land, and, most importantly, encourages additional nights of stay-and-play.
The Chain is a portrait of why this works. Guests at Streamsong walk over a footbridge from the hotel, stop by a new 2-acre putting course (The Bucket), grab a carry bag to tote a few clubs, and play a 3,000-yard walking layout of holes that are — here’s the key — good enough to match the quality of the property’s three primary courses. Like any good short course, its character comes from its green complexes. Some wild and huge. Others are scaled-down and delicate. A certain personality exists in the green, one born from architectural freedom.
“You can take more liberties, or risks, so to speak, to do greens and surrounds that you may not be able to do on a regulation course, where you’re trying to adapt to people of such varying degrees or both strength and skill,” Coore said.