A plea for more kid-friendly golf courses

Bob Bolduc, who built and founded the golf course/park.

GILFORD, N.H. - In my ongoing quest to develop a private junior golf program, I think I have found the right place. Now, if we only had more of them.

Welcome to Bolduc Park Par-3 Golf Course just south of Laconia, a welcoming, down-to-earth little nine-hole tract in the Lake District of New Hampshire. It proved the perfect place to take our two grandkids during a recent weeklong vacation. For years, I have been taking them to various golf ranges and courses in an effort to develop their interest. It’s as much a chance for us to spend fun time together as for them to learn a sport that could last a lifetime. I don’t press them; I merely offer them the opportunity. After our latest venture together, I can see their interest has reached a new level.

The hard thing all along has been finding a place on a golf course where they could relax long enough to play in their own incipient manner. There’s no chance they could fit into the routine of a slotted tee time on a regulation golf course. Too much time pressure, and too high a level of expectations that they keep up the pace with their games.

I’ve been to dozens of ranges with them. We enrolled them one summer in a Connecticut First Tee program and that worked – for a while. Even snuck them out to a par three at my beloved local Wintonbury Hills Golf Course in Bloomfield, CT, to play their first golf hole. But they weren’t getting a lot of use out of the U.S. Kids Golf sets I bought for them. I was being optimistic when we packed the car and included their sets with the carry bag and six clubs that I reserve for casual golf.

Bolduc, tucked into a suburban neighborhood, was perfect. Green fee was $8 per for the par-27 layout, with tees totaling 960 (blue), 895 (white) and 845 (red). There were no restrictions on parents (or grandparents) accompanying on the walk, so my wife could tag along and watch.

They played the white tees, whose holes ranged from 50 to 125 yards. It was just enough for them to be able to tee up with drivers and hit wedges into the greens.

It was their first real, full round ever, and they had a blast. The tees were fully-formed platforms with proper markings and yardage posts. And the greens, averaging 1,500 to 2,500 square feet, had enough contour, shape and grooming to keep things interesting and fair. And they were on their own; a 30-kid junior golf camp had just come off the course, so we had the place to ourselves. Just as we were finishing, a group of disc golfers headed off the first tee. In other words, here was a facility that was being well used to cultivate junior golf.

Credit for all of this goes to owner/founder Bob Bolduc, whose idea it was 40 years ago “to give kids a place to play and learn the game,” as he says. Now 73 years old, he had the vision to convert an old pari-mutuel horse racetrack that doubled as a winter cross-country ski park.

Back in 1985, he set out to build himself a simple golf course and managed, miraculously, to secure permits from the two towns, Gilford and Laconia, which the property straddled. He then created a non-profit foundation to run the property, which today serves the community as a golf course, ski trail, nature preserve and recreational park.

Nobody gets paid to run the place. A group of 50 volunteers, each working four hours a week, keeps it going. Bolduc figures the course hosts 12,000 rounds per year, and if a kid doesn't have the money to pay the green fee, he or she pays whatever is affordable, or nothing at all. Donations help cover the cost of running the course.

Bob Bolduc, who built and founded the golf course/park.

If only more places in the country ran like that, the future of golf would be more secure than it is now.

Not that our grandkids worried about such things. They were too concerned with more immediate matters, like whether to carry the pond fronting the green of the 105-yard seventh hole or play safely around it. They each tried to go over and fell short, then played their way around.

As for me, I’m hooked on a place like Bolduc Par-3. Anyone know of other family-friendly little courses like it? Kindly share them with me and your fellow readers below.

Veteran golf travel, history and architecture journalist, Bradley S. Klein has written more than 1,500 feature articles on course architecture, resort travel, golf course development, golf history and the media for such other publications as Golfweek, Golf Digest, Financial Times, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. He has published seven books on golf architecture and history, including Discovering Donald Ross, winner of the USGA 2001 International Book Award. In 2015, Klein won the Donald Ross Award for lifetime achievement from the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Follow Brad on Twitter
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Commented on

Hi Bradley,

Thanks for sharing some of the backstory on Bolduc Park's par 3 course. I manage a well-kept, kid-friendly par 3 in Virginia. I also manage a website called Par 3 Near Me - https://par3nearme.com where I am in the process of writing descriptions for every par 3 course in the US. The site lets people find nearby par 3 / executive golf courses using a geolocation feature.

As I've gone through this process, I've found that many short courses have a unique backstory -- Bob Bolduc's being no exception.

Again, thanks for the history.

Commented on

Great article! Cedars Golf Club in Cutchogue on Long Island’s North Fork www.cedarsgolfclub.com is a par 3 that is reasonably priced and welcoming to all ages and abilities. Our kids camp hosts over 30 kids each week in July and August and includes a junior membership for all of the campers. No tee times, casual dress and an honor box to pay the greens fee.

My partner and I took it over 5 years ago, and nothing makes us happier than to see kids out there having fun at this great game. Come and visit us!!!

Commented on

Thank you for sharing. What a fantastic model for the golf world to learn from. Grow(ing) the worlds greatest game!

Commented on

Humble Oil Patch (9 holes from 100-175) just north of the Golf Club of Houston where The Houston Open is played. Great for kids!!

Commented on

Lightening Bug course in Triune, TN. Built by a man for his daughter. Supported by donations from local foundations and golf clubs. It’s now open to the public and free for all. 9 holes. Multiple tees. Par 3’s and 4’s. Nice elevation changes and water features. Tight fairways and small but receiving greens. Just like a regulation course, only smaller.

Commented on

I just played Bolduc this past weekend with my son for his birthday. It is now a two year old tradition. Another similar place is Garrison Gilf.in Haverhill, MA where they have a 4 lesson program for kids for $50.

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The Little Course in Franklin, Tn.

Commented on

Central Oregon has a great kid friendly course called Caldera Links

CALDERA LINKS
Caldera Links, on the Caldera Springs property at Sunriver Resort is a 9 hole collection of Par 3’s suitable for the entire family. It is exceeding rare to find a course this open to younger players, but Caldera Links is open to all players form the time they are able to swing a golf club. In fact, all players under the age of 11 play free, assuming they are accompanied by an adult. Designed and maintained by the folks at Crosswater, Caldera Links is a top notch facility while still playable to all golfers. Just off the fifth tee box sits the Caldera Links Golf Park, three additional full length holes for those looking for greater challenge. Play at Caldera Links is limited to guests of Sunriver Resort and members of Crosswater Golf Club and their guests.
While Caldera Links is designed to be accessible to players of all ages and skill levels, the quality of the course design and conditions are never compromised. In fact, Caldera Links might just be the best kept short course in the state. Caldera Links offers two sets of tee boxes, with holes ranging in length from 70 yards from the front tees to 175 yards at its longest from the back. The course is fairly wide open, but presents trouble in the form of greenside bunkers, water and tall grass. The greens at Caldera Links are exceptional, running fast and true
Caldera Links
1 Center Dr.
Sunriver, OR 97707
(541) 593-4402

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Very cool

Commented on

Harvey Penick Golf Campus in Austin, TX. 9 holes of which there are 6 par 3’s, 3 short par 4’s. Great creek runs through it. Also has a Footgolf course running along it. $14 to walk 9. Great hidden gem!

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Commented on

I live in ATX but haven't played it since the floods. How is it doing? I used to hit balls there and play the 3-hole pitch n putt when I lived closer to there.

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A plea for more kid-friendly golf courses