SCGA: Hacking Away – An Update on the 15-Inch Golf Hole in SoCal

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The following is a story I did for the SCGA’s FORE Magazine updating local courses adaption of Hack Golf. You can find the article and issue here:

Standing over a 35-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole of the east course at Oaks North in Rancho Bernardo, I’d never felt more confident about sinking a long putt in my life.

Aiming at a hole the size of a large pizza will do that.

And sure enough, my putt, hit firmly at the left edge of the oversized hole, gently sloped in for a two on the closing par 3.

And with that, I had the experience the founders of Hack Golf wanted to me to have – increased ease of scoring.

The 15-inch cups have been in place for more than a month now and Oaks North Head Professional Lloyd Porter says the game is finding its audiences. He reports that young juniors in particular like the oversized holes as do couples.

“He’ll play the regulation holes and she’ll play the 15-inch cups,” he says. “The women really like it because it takes away some of the intimidation factor. When they hear about it, they say, ‘I’d try that.’”

Couples, kids, juniors and beginners are the ones most drawn to game, according to course managers.

“It definitely appeals to certain age demographics,” says Jason Egnetz, general manager at the Lomas Santa Fe Executive Course in Solona Beach.

Lomas and Oaks North have been joined by The Ranch at Laguna Beach and the Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert as early adapters. TaylorMade Golf, and particularly former CEO Mark King, are founders of the concept and recruited 100 courses nationally to introduce the concept.

At Oaks North, the 15-inch holes, designated by a flag with a “15” on it, also come with their own tees, shorter than the whites. Those tees boxes are comprised of two large orange balls stamped with a “15.” There’s also a 15-inch cup on the practicing putting green.

At the course greens at Oaks North there’s a regulation hole on one side of the green and a 15-inch cup on the other. At Lomas, the 15-inch cups are in the back, making them less intrusive of traditional play.

While the new game is easier, Egnetz stops short of calling it easy.

“You still have to the ball to the green,” he says, “and even then it’s not as easy you think.”
Perhaps the best use for the new holes, Egnetz says, has been as a complement to another novelty game: Glow ball.
“You can see the hole better,” he says, “so people seem to be having more fun with it.”

But the holes themselves are no longer a novelty, report Lomas and Oaks North. They’re now a fixture.
“The holes are here to stay,” Porter says. “This is for the next generation of golfers.”

If you’re looking to take your round on the 15-inch cups as more than practice and looking to go low, Oaks North Assistant Golf Professional Steve Lyons and I have come up with three scoring tips for you.

1. Putt aggressively – There’s no reason to hold back and your best bet is often to go straight at the hole. With a 15-inch cup, the ball isn’t jumping out. As painful as leaving putts short normally is, it’s doubly so here. See it and hit it firmly.

2. Go for the middle of the green – This timeless golf scoring strategy especially holds true on the 15-inch holes, none of which are in the middle. The greens are set up with a regulation cup on one side and a 15-inch inch on the other. Put yourself in the middle on every hole to have consistence chances to score. All you’re looking to do is set up a putt and then take advantage of the advantage the game is giving you.

3. Chip with irons, not just wedges –
We talked previously about the scoring mentality of short-game shots on 15-inch cups. Unlike a normal round, you’re not necessarily looking to give yourself the best leave. You want to score – and a wedge isn’t necessarily your best bet for doing that.

Trying chipping with your 7-, 8- and 9-irons for your best scoring chances. Why? Those clubs don’t impart as much backspin and roll out more.

On the practice chipping green, hit practice shots with these clubs to learn how far they roll out and then allow for that on your shot. And these are shots that can come in handy in your normal round. Truthfully, most people don’t utilize these shots enough and teaching pros preach that you have better control of a ball on the ground than in the air. Here’s your chance to work on it.