Here's an interesting golf niche for the times - nine-hole courses. Buoyed by the beastly hot temperatures, economic crunch and a growing segment of retirees, the shorter round gains popularity. A nine-hole layout accommodates people's jammed schedules, but retains the 18-hole option for anyone who simply wants to go around again.

Hamilton Trails fits that mold as an enjoyable, fairly-priced course that can be walked. An unusually high percentage of players - about half - walk this Mays Landing-based course, owner Jack Bucceri says.

"Golf is about time and money now," Bucceri says. "You don't have to mortgage your house to play here. We feel that we charge a reasonable price ($16 to walk nine holes, $24 to walk 18 and $33 to ride a cart for 18 holes most of the time), but we don't try to be the cheapest. You can't compete with the government," meaning county courses, which are subsidized by taxpayers.

Hamilton Trails patterns a healthy slice of its menu to leagues and groups for nine-hole events. A Monday night scramble costs $26 for nine holes, cart, food and prizes. Tuesday is Senior Day, with nine holes and cart for $20. Ladies Day on Wednesdays offers the same deal. Thursdays mean nine holes, lunch and cart for $23.

The course is informal enough to encourage beginners, simple enough to boost the confidence of high-handicap players and long enough to make top players use all their clubs. The tee boxes can be 3,265 yards from the back or 3,095 from the middle. Multiplied by two for an 18-hole outing, the yardage is sufficient.

This course opens with a dogleg left, enabling players to hit straight and safe or hook it over a water hazard to chop off substantial yardage. The second is a straight, fairly long par 4, and the par-5 third is 520 yards from the back tees, but with enough wide open spaces to forgive misplaced drives.

An elevated green and a sharp dogleg left make the fourth hole challenging. Most players hit right or straight off the tee and face a long second shot to the elevated green.

The par-3 fifth plays downhill, but contains greenside bunkers, woods on the right and water. The downhill carry makes it difficult to keep a line-drive shot on the green.

The sixth is a short par 4 with a dogleg right and the seventh is a testy dogleg left with trees hugging the left side, near the tee box.

Another long, but straight, par 5, is the eighth hole. The ninth is an interesting par 3. It is 185 yards from the middle tees with water to the left and a bailout section to the right. The water comes into play, making this a good, tough hole with par an excellent achievement.

Hamilton Trails

Golf Club

620 Harbor Ave., Mays Landing

Rates: Walking - Monday through Friday, $16 for nine holes, $24 for 18 holes. Weekends: $18 for nine holes, $26 for 18. Carts - Monday through Friday, $23 for nine holes, $33 for 18 holes. Weekends: $25 for nine holes, $35 for 18. Weekend Special - $29 for 18 holes and cart after 1 p.m., Friday through Sunday.

Amenities: Driving range, putting green, chipping area, lessons, sand trap area. Reservations. Not needed.

Phone: 609-641-6824

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