The current trend among golf resorts to add expansive putting courses to their offerings has its roots in the Home of Golf, where the St. Andrews Ladies Putting Club was created in the 1860s to give respectable ladies a place of their own to enjoy the game. Better known as “The Himalayas,” the enormous, undulating green just a few steps from the St. Andrews Links Clubhouse still hosts annual member competitions and welcomes players from around the world to test their skill for the princely sum of £4. It’s mini golf on a grand scale—and its humps, hollows, and devilish slopes don’t need windmills to make it challenging. They offer all-out fun from beginning to end—and it’s that fun factor that today’s golf resorts are looking to capitalize on.
Guests of a growing number of golf resorts don’t have to be satisfied with a daily round (or two) of traditional golf anymore. Now, they can play their golf, enjoy a leisurely lunch or dinner, grab a cocktail in a go-cup, and challenge each other for flatstick bragging rights. Or put in some practice time on a seriously large practice green.
Here’s a list of just some of the resorts where you can add some time in putting heaven to your other, full-course (and short-course) experiences:
Pinehurst—Thistle Dhu Putting Course
With nine golf courses, including famed No. 2, Pinehurst attracts more than enough golf-mad guests to keep its 18-hole Thistle Dhu putting course busy. Located between the clubhouse and The Cradle short course, it’s a must-play for every visitor to this golf mecca in the pines.
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Bandon Dunes—The Punchbowl
“You will find every kind of putt you can imagine out there, and probably a few you’ve never dreamed of,” says Tom Doak of the 2.3-acre Punchbowl course at Bandon Dunes, which features a natural collection of humps and hollows.
Gamble Sands—Cascade Putting Course
David McLay Kidd’s design here offers 100,000 square feet of rockin’ and rollin’ amusement. Set on a high bluff above the Columbia River Gorge, it also offers amazing views of the river valley, along with ample opportunities to laugh at your three-putts.
Erin Hills—The Drumlin
The putting course at the 2017 U.S. Open venue is a wildly undulating, L-shaped layout that wraps around a low ridge, or drumlin. It’s lit for nighttime play, so it’s the ideal next stop after a baby back ribs dinner in the traditional Irish clubhouse.
Streamsong’s two-acre putting course, located behind the Black Course clubhouse, has its own bar, The Glove Bar, for any player whose putting game might benefit from a “wee sharpener.”
Big Cedar Lodge—Tom Watson Putting Course
You can grab a drink from the Mountain Top Grill when you play the 9-hole Tom Watson Putting Course at Missouri’s Big Cedar Lodge. When you finish, enjoy the views of the resort’s Mountain Top Course and the beautiful Ozark Mountains.
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Forest Dunes in Michigan offers 54 terrific holes—including Doak’s reversible 18, The Loop—and its 2-acre HillTop putting course is the prefect cherry on top.
Diamante—Dunes Putting Course
Rather than featuring just one height of grass throughout, the putting course at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, has two—a shorter cut that creates a continuous loop of 15 holes, and a longer cut that defines the putting corridors. The course can be played in reverse and offers a mix of par twos and threes that includes a 64-yarder.
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Other Putting Courses Coming Soon
Silvies Valley Ranch
An 18-hole reversible putting course from Dan Hixson, who designed the Oregon resort’s Craddock and Hankins courses, is expected to open in June 2021.
Along with Tiger Woods’s new short course, The Hay, will come a putting course with sections with names like Elephant’s Back, Speed Slot, and Whale’s Tail.
MORE—The Architects’ View
Doak has designed several putting courses in his time, beginning with the one at his very first course, High Pointe, and including the Punchbowl at Bandon Dunes.
Doak notes that the putting course concept doesn’t make sense for every course. “I think it’s great for getting families and young people into the game,” he says. “But there’s always the question of, does it really make sense for a particular project? In St. Andrews, there’s a million people around who golf. And everybody from town will go over there and play with their grandmother. But at a typical 18-hole golf course, you just don’t have the mass of people you need to make that work. It’s not like it’s free to maintain—it’s fairly expensive on the list of things that you could do.”
David McLay Kidd is another course designer who’s a putting-course fan—but with a caveat. “The Himalayas Putting Course at St. Andrews is a perfect example,” Kidd says. “Every one of those holes—and there are no precise holes, they move them every time they move the cups around—but the shapes are big enough that you can’t see somebody over a hump, and yet they’re not so big that you can’t putt over them. Every hole, I think I could probably hole it in one. I don’t have to putt for a position and then putt again, you can try and get the ball in the cup in a single putt. I think that’s important.
“Putting courses need to really accentuate the fun factor,” Kidd continues. “The one we did at Gamble Sands, it has music. The one we did down in L.A. at a course called Rolling Hills Country Club has music and a whole lighting system. We’re building one right now in Utah that will have the same—we’ll have the whole thing lit with music around it. It’s all about fun.
“What I’m not a fan of are the putting courses that are trying to pretend to be miniature 18-hole golf courses with fake bunkers, and a teeing area, and a little fairway. That seems so contrived to me. I hope I never build one that looks like that.”
What is your favorite putting course?