Mitch Savage has a fondness for par-3 courses. He’s worked at three different facilities that feature short layouts, including CommonGround Golf Course, a public facility in Aurora, Colorado, where he celebrates his first anniversary as the head superintendent this month.
Savage, who started working on golf courses when he was in high school before matriculating at the University of Minnesota, believes that short courses have an essential place in the golf industry. “I think they’re critical, especially when you look at the generations of younger folks who are hopefully going to be picking up golf clubs,” he says. “I think we certainly saw that in 2020more people were venturing out into golf courses. But I think the biggest thing with the younger generation is they aren’t going to be quite as apt to want to spend as much time on the golf course as some of the older generation or the golf purists.”
CommonGround serves as the headquarters for the Colorado Golf Association. Its championship course attracts an abundance of Denver-area golfers and visiting tourists. But its 9-hole short course is no less popular. Designed by Tom Doak, it was built roughly a decade ago in conjunction with a renovation of the championship course.
The layout measures 997 yards with holes ranging in length from 72 to 142 yards. It features just a single bunker and greens are that generally flat. “It’s definitely a welcoming course for someone who is either not experienced at golf or a higher handicapper,” Savage says.
The short course has a varied clientele to say the least. On a typical day, visitors might include groups of ladies or seniors looking to spend a relaxing morning on the course but who might only have a finite amount of time available.
Some low handicappers might turn up, seeking to work on their short games. And then there are those who are new to the game and experiencing golf for the first time in a comfortable setting.
“You definitely can tell when you have the low handicapper out using it as a practice facility,” Savage says. “They’ll tend to hit a few more balls into the greens and they’re working on specific shots and stuff, but overall, you just kind of get the person who wants to come out and play a quick nine holes in an hour or less and enjoy their time in a foursome with a group of friends.”
In 2020, rounds on the short course increased by 112 percent over the previous year. Many of those rounds were complimentary; CommonGround allows those 18-and-under to play the short course without charge.
During the golf season, Savage’s staff numbers approximately 15, including himself, an assistant and a mechanic, for 27 holes. He does not specifically assign a crew to the short course.
“It’s a team effort,” he says, “and we just incorporate the maintenance of that part of the property. It’s just part of our daily maintenance routine. That’s not to say that I don’t someday see myself possibly assigning an individual or two to kind of give them ownership of it, kind of have a foreman that runs the show down there for me, but at the moment we don’t. It’s a team effort.”
In terms of agronomy the two courses differ in that the par-3 course features push-up greens while the putting surfaces on the championship course are sand-based. But the two courses are maintained in similar fashion.
“We do treat those par-3 course greens,” Savage says. “We fertilize, we spray them, we aerate them. They basically are on a very similar, if not the exact same, management program as any other green out here on the golf course but they are a different soil makeup.”
Savage developed many of his philosophies about maintaining a par-3 course when he worked at Broken Tee Golf Course in Inglewood, Colorado, another Denver suburb.
“When I became superintendent at Broken Tee, I just felt it was important to place as much importance and priority on the par-3 course as I could,” Savage recalls. “Certainly, if something comes up, you have to tend to the championship course first. But from my days at Broken Tee and everything we’ve done here at CommonGround it’s certainly not just (a case of) ‘We’ll get to the par-3 course when we get to it.’ Some days, we will intentionally send somebody down to mow the par-3 course greens while somebody starts on the championship greens and then when they’re done on the par-3 greens, they jump in on the championship course.”
Like he did at Broken Tee, Savage strives for his team to complete work on the short course without interfering with play.
“I noticed (at Broken Tee) that the par-3 course would get busy in the mornings and I didn’t want to be up there getting in peoples’ way trying to mow a green when they’re trying to enjoy a nice, quiet morning on the par-3 course,” he says. “So, I’ve always tried to find a way and work with my crew to say, ‘Hey, this is going to be a busy morning on the par-3 course, potentially. Let’s make sure we get up there and get greens mowed and get some of the most important maintenance needs done so that if we have to go back at a later time, we’re not as intrusive.’”
Apart from daily play, the short course fills an essential role in CommonGround’s and the Colorado Golf Association’s efforts to grow the game. It is a venue for various junior clinics, Ronald McDonald Houses, Special Olympics and Big Brothers/Big Sisters events to name a few. Savage is also planning to host GCSAA First Green field trips. He sees short courses having a key role in the game’s future.
“Whether they be 6-hole courses or 9-hole courses, whatever they may be, they offer just a quick, fun in and out,” Savage says. “You still get fresh air, get exercise, and enjoy the game of golf, but you don’t have to make a four- or five-hour commitment to do it. I think that’s going to be critical to getting people to pick up clubs and keeping them interested in the game of golf.”