Bold innovations at Mays Landing Golf & Country Club prompt a question: Are we seeing the future of golf?
The McKee City facility offers dramatic new programs including a children's course, 25-yard holes, the enticement of hole-in-one propositions and steep family discounts. It also has leagues, instruction facilities and twilight rates that include a bucket of driving-range balls.
That's quite a change in the grand old "gentleman's game," once a haven for the wealthy and with roots in the 1700s.
"It's very important to be introducing younger people into the great game of golf," says Barbara Kraly, the general manager at Mays Landing. "Our baby boomers are up there in age and they are most of the ones who play golf. From a generational standpoint, if you don't get the younger ones, you are not going to have a business. You need to recruit the children, the juniors and the women if you want to have a future in it."
Children and families were the main targets of two new layouts. Mays Landing offers a four-hole short course of 25-50 yards per hole. A person can play three of them and shift to a nearby putting green for holes 4-9. After 3 p.m., you can play all four short holes and complete the nine-hole circuit by playing the first five holes of the standard course, with shorter distances.
A family of four can play the short and long course together for $20 - total. That's five bucks a head.
"With the shorter-hitting holes, you can incorporate those who are intimidated with the large game of golf into playing the short game, which is both enjoyable and challenging," Kraly says.
Kraly embodies the new golf trend, not only as a female executive in a male-dominated realm, but as a marketing specialist in a sport that rarely had to promote itself until the recession.
Now it must, and with some innovations that provide time options. The short-course idea helps people who can't devote four or five hours to a full round. One more promotion: ever hear of a Teeosk, a golf version of a traditional kiosk? Kraly says Mays Landing is one of only 12 facilities in the country with this unique hole-in-one betting station. It occurs on the par-3 8th hole. One bet. One shot. For a lucrative ace.
With research indicating one in four golfers gambles on the course, the Teeosk enables a one-shot proposition.
"You can place a wager in this Teeosk that you will get the hole-in-one," she says. "You can bet anywhere from $5 to $250 and you get a cash payout. It will be big. Even a $25 bet would return $100,000."
It's a no-lose proposition. Entrants obtain a free drink in the clubhouse just for playing. There has already been a winner. Mays landing resident Robert Lyons pulled the feat and obtained $5,000, for a $5 wager. He followed custom and bought the entire clubhouse a drink. (It is not known, but generally believed, he wished he had bet more.)
New programs appear even more revealing here because this course is rooted in traditional golf. It was designed a little more than 50 years ago by the late Leo Fraser, the president of the entire PGA tour. His family still owns this establishment.
Long-time players will still find many things they've liked here. Green fees remain reasonable and special pricing often pops up and the course provides its usual fair challenge: it is forgiving, but not a pushover. Solid, lengthy drives are required for positioning on most holes. The sixth is a long par 4 that demands a driver and fairway wood or long iron to reach the green in regulation. Fifteen from the back tees is a demanding par 3, reachable only with a precise low-iron or wood from the back tees. The shot must avoid a stream running across, trees and bunkers on the left, water on the right and a quagmire sitting behind the small, elevated green.
The 17th is a long, dogleg right par 5. It has dense trees on the right and the fairway slopes steeply from right to left. The green is elevated - as are many scores and maybe some blood pressure readings from the hole. Ten is deceivingly difficult from the right-side trap areas.
TAP-INS - The old first hole became a full driving range, enabling players to hit all clubs. The previous range did not allow for drivers and woods. The new first hole is a par 4 rather than a par 5.