The ageless allure of the putting course

More golf clubs and resorts are realizing that adding a putting course next to their regulation courses is good business
The famed Himalayas at St. Andrews is an example of just how much golfing fun can be had with just a putter and a golf ball.

It's been more than 150 years since the first putting course was introduced to the world of golf.

A century and some change later, putting courses have become all the rage in golf as resorts look for ways to entertain golfers who are looking for shorter rounds, more fun and affordable options.

These putting courses, sometimes requiring little to no charge to play, help bring everyone together, putter in hand. It’s becoming a vast culture encompassed with laughs, side-bets, the occasional drink or two, and of course, memories that are made. While putting courses are rolling their way into the picture, the history of how they came to fruition dates back to The Home of Golf in Scotland.

The Ladies’ Putting Green (The Himalayas) at St. Andrews in Scotland is the world’s first putting course. If we were to time-travel to when the course opened in 1867, the world was dramatically different. There weren’t many opportunities for women in golf, as many women took up archery and croquet to pass the time. In some cases, brothers and fathers were members of courses and would spend their summers at St. Andrews, but it was frowned upon for women to be playing with men. In an effort for the ladies to be involved in golf, but hidden from the public eye, a nine-hole course was created, and thus became the Ladies’ Golf Club.

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St. Andrews' Himalayas Putting Course

Competitions on the course were unlike any other, and started drawing crowds from near and far. The first-place prize in the very first competition was a gold locket, which is still in the Club’s possession today, and is played for each year. Competitors don’t get to bring these ancient prizes home with them, but they can hold onto them for a few minutes and take a picture or two before they go back into possession of the club. It only costs two sterling pounds ($2.50 USD) to take part in some coveted golf history without breaking the bank.

While putting courses bring new light to the game of golf, the less formal name, “mini-golf” is an important part of establishing the game of golf to young kids. According to, there are 82 miniature golf courses in the state of Florida alone. Most of the time, a putter finds its way into the hands of a child before they find themselves on a tee box for the first time. Regardless of age, most people experiment with putting or hitting at a driving range for their first taste of the game.

“If you can get people exposed to just one aspect of golf, it’s a gateway to eventually creating a golfer,” said Kevin McKinley, Director of golf at Treetops Golf and Ski Resort in Gaylord, Mich.

Treetops’ putting course, The Himalayas, was built back in 1993, and was heavily inspired by none other than The Himalayas at St. Andrews in Scotland. While there is quite a geographical difference between The Himalayas at St. Andrews and Treetops, the results are similar: bring together people of all different golf skill-sets for a unique golfing experience.

For the 2019 season, Treetops has made its putting course available to rent for an event or outing. The course is free if you are already playing that day. Renting the putting course requires a minimum of eight players with prices starting at $160 for an hour and a half.

Back in May of 2014, Bandon Dunes opened the Punchbowl, its putting course. More than 200 people showed out for the grand opening. While these courses help to pass the time and work on your putting skills, it’s a great way to play community golf. Any golfer from around the world can watch the live feed of the Punchbowl on the course’s website.

After seeing the potential and benefits of a putting course, Erin Hills, host of the 2017 U.S. Open, plans on opening the Drumlin putting course by August.

"We were looking to add another amenity for our guests," said John Morrissett, Competitions and Marketing Director for Erin Hills. "If you're looking for something to do after dinner, we wanted to provide a putting course. It's purely for fun."

Construction for Drumlin began in October 2018. Construction forced the relocation of several tee boxes on the first hole. For now, the course is free, and is reserved to those who have played that day. The course will be lit for night play.

Pinehurst, the home of American golf in the North Carolina Sandhills, offers Thistle Dhu, an 18-hole putting course. It gets its name from James Barber, a man who's credited with the first miniature golf course in America. After building the course in his hometown of Pinehurst, he admired his work and said "This'll Do." Pinehurst adopted the Scottish version. The course is free for resort guests, and acts as quite the alternative to hitting the links.

Buck’s Run in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., is home of the Putting Island, an 18-hole putting course that was named the “Best New Amenity” by Great Lakes Golf Magazine. After crossing a bridge, golfers are treated to 18 holes of putting adventures.

While putting courses are a great way to go out and settle a bet, it’s much more than that.

“It’s a great way to attract families, have date-night, team-building events and more,” said Buck’s Run General Manager Jon Conklin.

Over at Indian Wells Golf Resort in California is a completely different version of a putting course. A brand new technology called NextLinks, based out of Santa Ana, Calif., illuminates multiple putting greens at night with laser lights to create a variety of putting games. You can play the golf version of "HORSE", corn-hole, darts and more. The experience, called "Shots in the Night", takes place not only on the putting course, but the driving range as well. Food and drinks are served and music played, similar to a night on the town at TopGolf. There's also options to rent out the Shots in the Night experience for a private party starting at $2,500.

These “extra amenities” make a great way for more people to get involved, regardless of skill level or age. No longer does the golfer have to leave non-golfers behind. Anyone can play and enjoy putting courses together.

“Having more activities to do is better off for everyone. It helps keep people entertained,” said Conklin. “I think it’s great for resorts that have people stay on-site. They have other things for people to do during their stay.”

More and more traveling golfers are taking note of destinations and resorts with putting and short courses.

"As I continue to plan golf trips throughout the Midwest and beyond, short courses and putting courses are now a prerequisite to even consider a location," said Bryan Tweed, an avid golfer. Tweed has been in charge of coordinating more than 10 buddies trips. He believes that putting courses have become a major part of his planning.

"We won't go somewhere unless they have at least one alternative course option," he added.

To expand the love of golf and putting to a younger audience, Peter and Alice Dye took matters into their own hands and opened the “Peter and Alice Dye Golf Experience” at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis. The course was a part of the Riley Children’s Health Sports Legend experience, a $38-million-dollar project that started in 2017 and officially opened March 2018. The course consists of two nine-hole putting courses. Each hole is a replica from courses designed by the Dyes. There’s quite the variety of holes, from the par four 110-foot sixth at the Honors Course, to the par-two, 20-foot 17th at TPC Sawgrass. The course draws people of all ages, while prices range between $12 to $35 dollars for admission.

That's a bargain, and a lot less stressful than playing the real island green at Sawgrass.

Brandon Rothenberg is currently an intern at Golf Channel and attends Michigan State University.
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The ageless allure of the putting course