By Mike Jiggens
There is no rule which states a golf course must have 18 holes. Some have 27 holes, giving golfers the option of which 18-hole combination they would like to play. Others are nine holes which allow golfers to either continue around a second time for a full 18, or stop after nine if they figure they’ve had their golf fix for the day.
And then there are 12-hole golf courses. They are currently golf’s minority—at the present time, at least—but some will suggest these “two-thirds-length” golf courses are the way of the future.
One such advocate of the 12-hole structure is Jack Nicklaus, arguably the most celebrated golfer of all time.
“We should consider the possibility of making 12 holes the standard round,” he told Golf Digest in 2007. “Eventually it would be accepted because it makes sense in people’s lives.”
One such Canadian golf course to have recently embraced the 12-hole concept is Saskatoon’s Greenbryre Golf & Country Club. From its original opening in 1979 until the end of the 2011 season, Greenbryre played as an 18-hole facility and was the host venue in 1980 for a celebrity charity event that featured such luminaries as former NHLâ€ˆgreats Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky and former LPGA star Jan Stephenson.
Converted from a wheat field, Greenbryre’s original owners, the Semko family, eventually sold the golf course to a local man who wished to downsize the course to nine holes and develop the surrounding area as residential property. The proposal ultimately stalled, and Greenbryre was sold again in 2012 to the Greenbryre Joint Venture. It reconsidered the earlier nine-hole plan but, realizing there was sufficient space for a 12-hole facility, explored the possibility in addition to the originally-conceived housing development.
The new ownership conducted extensive research into existing 12-hole golf facilities, and discovered one located in Ontario and a number of others in the United States.
“They were intrigued by the idea,” said Greenbryre superintendent Kent Plumer, who was hired last season after having previously served as superintendent at Valley Regional Park in Rosthern, Sask. Nicklaus’ endorsement helped to solidify the decision to abandon the 18-hole facility in favour of a new 12-hole layout.
The move to 12 holes was not simply a matter of trimming six holes from the existing layout. The property was completely excavated and redesigned. Not a single hole resembles what had been there before.
Architect Garth Keayes of Golf Shape in Tisdale, Sask. was hired to come up with a 12-hole design—the first of its kind in Western Canada.
“He’s a good shaper…a really good shaper,” said Plumer, who arrived in time from Valley Regional Park to oversee the reconstructed course’s grow-in. Greenbryre marked the fourth grow-in project for Plumer in his 28-year career in the industry.
While Greenbryre’s original 18 holes featured pushup greens situated on a poorly-drained property, the new 12-hole layout was crafted to reflect modern necessities.
“They were pumping water all the time here,” Plumer said of the original 18-hole facility. Emphasis was placed on proper drainage to ensure the new course would not be plagued by its predecessor’s predicament.
The new greens were constructed to meet USGA specifications with a choker layer.
“They did a nice job,” Plumer said, adding the new course has also been outfitted with a “wall-to-wall” Rain Bird irrigation system.
The golf course opened for play late last season following its grow-in, but Plumer said a few areas remained a little thin. The 2015 season marks its first full year of operation.
Greenbryre, located at the south end of Saskatoon, is home to the surrounding Greenbryre Estates Community—a high-end housing development in which the lots range in size from one-half to three-quarters acres.
“Every lot is built for a walkout,” Plumer said, adding the homes are perhaps the most expensive in the city.
Among the golf course’s more notable features is a series of artificially-constructed ponds which capture water from the adjacent homes.
“The storage of our water out here is tremendous. We have enough water for a season.”
Although many might envy Plumer’s access to readily-available water, he sees its ongoing control as a challenge.
“I have to control the levels of all the water, and I think that’s the biggest challenge out here more than anything. If we get some severe storms, we could be in kind of a pickle.”
Water levels must be controlled to prevent potential flooding. Water is reclaimed as it builds up and is used for irrigation.
“There isn’t a square inch out here that doesn’t get irrigated.”
The course consists of one par 5 hole, six par 4s and five par 3s. The property is divided into a north six and south six set of holes. Golfers who wish to play a full 18-hole round can play one of the six-hole segments a second time.
“It’s pretty challenging. We have long par 3s, a short par 3—but it’s right on the lake—and our par 5 has got some length to it. It’s got lots of challenge.”
Plumer admitted the concept of a 12-hole golf course seemed foreign to many when it officially opened for play late last season, but it has since carved out a bit of a niche market for itself.
“It started out slow. People didn’t know how to take it, and then the last two months (of 2014) it was packed out here.”
He said female golfers have particularly embraced the 12-hole concept, understanding it’s not too long a course yet is comfortably longer than nine holes.
“Our ladies’ league filled up in a day and a half.”
Corporations have also found the 12-hole layout attractive. Plumer said the month of June is virtually booked solid with tournaments, including several corporate events. The attraction among corporations is that many employees play little or no golf in a season, and the shorter length of the course satisfies their golfing needs without contributing to fatigue.
“We have tons of companies wanting to have tournaments out here.”
There are several other golf courses in the Saskatoon area competing for golfers, but Greenbryre’s unique layout sets it apart from the others.
“We’re trying to fit ourselves in. We want something for people to come out and be strictly based on time.”
Plumer said there are golfers who will come out to play six holes in the early morning before leaving for work. Six holes can be completed in about 40 minutes.
The fact that the golf course is completely brand new and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the previous 18-hole facility has also proven to be an attractive selling point.
“There’s nothing familiar except for the location of some trees.”
About 100 trees were moved during the construction process.
The greens were seeded to Penn A-4 creeping bentgrass while the tees and fairways are a Kentucky bluegrass blend. The only sodding done was to some eroded spots.
Plumer said the grow-in went without a hitch for the most part. In some areas, however, sand sat too long, leading to some disease issues on a couple of greens. Some significant snow events last spring led to some erosion on the course. The wet snow melted quickly and some of the new turf wasn’t quite ready. Sodding was required in those affected areas to keep the soil in place.
The seventh and 12th fairways were still thin as of the middle of April. Both holes have tee-to-green cart paths, and golfers will be instructed to adhere to them early this season until the fairways come along.
“Those two holes are just not quite ready for cart traffic.”
Plumer said Greenbryre’s location in Saskatchewan is not particularly prone to disease, but he added he needs to watch out for snow mould and desiccation.
Conditioning of the golf course is a top priority of the ownership company, he said, because it is to reflect the aesthetics of the million-dollar that are part and parcel of the overall property.
“We have to be one of the top in this area for conditions. They’re willing to invest in it.”
In fact, Plumer has the same number of staff to maintain 12 holes as he did for 18 holes at Valley Regional Park.
Other features of the golf course include more than 20 large bunkers, all of which drain well, a 180-yard aquatic driving range designed for iron use only, and a teaching facility.
The golf season at Greenbryre typically runs from mid-April until early October.