PLAY 9
Nine-Hole Leagues Stoke Players’ Passion for the Game June 4, 2015 By Scott Lipsky, USGA

Nels Peterson (right) credits his joining the Fred Meyer nine-hole league over 20 years ago as a big reason why he is now an avid golfer. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Regardless of the location or the format of the league, there is a common thread that runs through nine-hole golf leagues: a passion for having fun on the golf course. More than 20 years ago, the opportunity to participate in a nine-hole league helped Nels Peterson to discover that.

“I loved golf, but before the league you played when you got invited,” said Peterson, who continues to play in the Fred Meyer golf league even though he is retired after a long career with the Portland, Ore.-based supermarket chain. “Once I started [in] the league, it got me playing a lot more, and it was a structure where I really wanted to learn the game more.”

Peterson serves as a co-secretary of the league, and he appreciates the challenges of maintaining a full-time career while keeping golf in one’s life. That’s why of all the details that go into operating the league, which has been in existence since the mid-1960s, one is paramount.

“Our last tee time needs to be 5:30 because we need to allow people who are coming from work to get there,” said Peterson. “More and more of us are retired now and are getting to the course earlier, but it’s still a company-sponsored league. We start at 5:30 and go backward depending on how many players and teams we are anticipating.”

The notion of playing nine holes instead of 18 in order to fit golf into a work day or an otherwise busy schedule isn’t a new one; the National Golf Foundation reported in 2014 that 24 percent of all rounds played in the United States were of the nine-hole variety. In addition, following the launch of the USGA’s Play 9 campaign in June 2014, nine-hole scores posted for handicap purposes increased 13 percent from the previous year. But the shorter round is often considered to be reserved for casual play, with the common misperception that tournaments are contested over a minimum of 18 holes.

The Fred Meyer league is just one example of how golfers with limited time can engage in true competition on the links. The group, which fluctuates between 50 and 75 golfers each year, meets weekly from April through September at Eastmoreland Golf Course, just 3 miles from corporate headquarters. Participants are divided into teams at the beginning of each season; in 2015, the league is divided into eight six-player teams. In any week, four of each team’s players will compete, to allow for those who can’t make it every week.

Five points are up for grabs in each weekly team match: Four members of each team square off in individual nine-hole matches, but they complete every hole, because the fifth point goes to the team with the best three-out-of-four net score. There is a playoff at the end of each season to determine a league champion, but teams that don’t qualify have the opportunity to play in matches of their own, often in an alternate format. A portion of the league fee goes towards year-end prizes.

“We promote it as a fun league. It’s a place for people to work on their game in a semi-structured format where you will learn the Rules and have to play by the Rules, but we’re more geared toward fun,” Peterson explained. “It’s really getting together a group of people who want to learn the right way and play once a week and have a reason to go out and play.”

Photos: Nine-Hole Leagues in Oregon and Texas

The Austin, Texas chapter of the Executive Women’s Golf Association takes accommodating busy schedules to another level. The chapter, one of the EWGA’s 120 in the United States – it also has chapters in Canada, Bermuda, Italy and South Africa – has about 120 members in and around Austin. The chapter operates four nine-hole leagues in different areas of the city – three on weeknights and one on Saturday mornings at the Harvey Penick First Tee campus, which is designed for beginners.

Each league has 10-20 participants, said Sandy Wood, the chapter’s marketing director.

“We used to run much higher in the early 2000s, but our participation dropped during the recession; it’s gradually been increasing over the last couple of years,” said Wood, who estimated the age range of participants at early 30s to 60s. “We get a lot of women who are just starting out. We have a little younger base on our board this year and they’re coming in with some youthful ideas, and that’s what we want, to create more awareness among younger women.”

Similar to the Fred Meyer league, the EWGA’s Austin chapter provides a mix of competition and fun. Each league creates its own point system, which can include participation, closest-to-the-hole and long-drive contests. The competition is just one factor in why the leagues have lasted.

“I think it’s really about meeting other women who they feel comfortable with and playing golf [together], and it creates opportunities to network for business if you need to,” said Wood.

New nine-hole league concepts are joining more established formats, and the Idaho Golf Association is at the forefront. In 2014, it launched the IGA Members Tour, a series of twice-monthly, nine-hole competitions that take place at courses around Boise. The idea came about out of necessity, said Genger Fahleson, the IGA’s executive director.

“We started it because we had tried to do 18-hole, casual golf days for our membership, but we have such a small population base, we couldn’t get a field bigger than two or three signing up,” Fahleson said. “As more and more information came out about the time and financial constraints for golfers, we thought, let’s try some nine-hole [events].”

Points are awarded throughout the season, but there is no required minimum number of events. The concept was modestly successful in its inaugural season, with 18 participants, and it has drawn 18 players for the first two events of 2015. All events begin between 5:30 and 6 p.m. on either Friday or Saturday, and cost about $25, which reinforces another merit of nine-hole competition: affordability. Prizes are awarded for weekly low gross and low net, as well as at the conclusion of the league schedule in September. In 2014, every participant received some sort of prize.

Kevin Kramp, the head golf professional at Hidden Glen Golf Club in Cedarburg, Wis., has utilized nine-hole competition to get members on the course during otherwise off-peak times. The club’s nine-hole league runs for nine Wednesday evenings during the summer, using an unusual team format: low ball/high ball, in which two-person teams earn points based on low score and high score on each hole. Kramp said there were 96 participants in 2014, nearly half of the club’s 236-person membership, with similar numbers in 2015.

“It was a way to get play at a different time, and to get everyone involved,” said Kramp. “It was too hard to get people involved in a typical 18-hole league. This was a way to capture that guy, and have some competition, but not the entire day, so they can still work.”

And just as importantly, they can keep work from keeping them off the course.

Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.

The Austin, Texas chapter of the Executive Women’s Golf Association takes accommodating busy schedules to another level. The chapter, one of the EWGA’s 120 in the United States – it also has chapters in Canada, Bermuda, Italy and South Africa – has about 120 members in and around Austin. The chapter operates four nine-hole leagues in different areas of the city – three on weeknights and one on Saturday mornings at the Harvey Penick First Tee campus, which is designed for beginners.

Each league has 10-20 participants, said Sandy Wood, the chapter’s marketing director.

“We used to run much higher in the early 2000s, but our participation dropped during the recession; it’s gradually been increasing over the last couple of years,” said Wood, who estimated the age range of participants at early 30s to 60s. “We get a lot of women who are just starting out. We have a little younger base on our board this year and they’re coming in with some youthful ideas, and that’s what we want, to create more awareness among younger women.”

Similar to the Fred Meyer league, the EWGA’s Austin chapter provides a mix of competition and fun. Each league creates its own point system, which can include participation, closest-to-the-hole and long-drive contests. The competition is just one factor in why the leagues have lasted.

“I think it’s really about meeting other women who they feel comfortable with and playing golf [together], and it creates opportunities to network for business if you need to,” said Wood.

New nine-hole league concepts are joining more established formats, and the Idaho Golf Association is at the forefront. In 2014, it launched the IGA Members Tour, a series of twice-monthly, nine-hole competitions that take place at courses around Boise. The idea came about out of necessity, said Genger Fahleson, the IGA’s executive director.

“We started it because we had tried to do 18-hole, casual golf days for our membership, but we have such a small population base, we couldn’t get a field bigger than two or three signing up,” Fahleson said. “As more and more information came out about the time and financial constraints for golfers, we thought, let’s try some nine-hole [events].”

Points are awarded throughout the season, but there is no required minimum number of events. The concept was modestly successful in its inaugural season, with 18 participants, and it has drawn 18 players for the first two events of 2015. All events begin between 5:30 and 6 p.m. on either Friday or Saturday, and cost about $25, which reinforces another merit of nine-hole competition: affordability. Prizes are awarded for weekly low gross and low net, as well as at the conclusion of the league schedule in September. In 2014, every participant received some sort of prize.

Kevin Kramp, the head golf professional at Hidden Glen Golf Club in Cedarburg, Wis., has utilized nine-hole competition to get members on the course during otherwise off-peak times. The club’s nine-hole league runs for nine Wednesday evenings during the summer, using an unusual team format: low ball/high ball, in which two-person teams earn points based on low score and high score on each hole. Kramp said there were 96 participants in 2014, nearly half of the club’s 236-person membership, with similar numbers in 2015.

“It was a way to get play at a different time, and to get everyone involved,” said Kramp. “It was too hard to get people involved in a typical 18-hole league. This was a way to capture that guy, and have some competition, but not the entire day, so they can still work.”

And just as importantly, they can keep work from keeping them off the course.

Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.

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