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Friday, October 12, 2012

Crystal Springs Makes Golf A Family Game

There are those who talk about growing the game of golf, then there are those who do something about it. Put Art Walton, VP of Golf Operations at New Jersey's Crystal Springs Resort, at the head of the second group. He's led the seven-course facility in a major effort to make golf a family affair, the single best way to introduce new players into the game and increase the fun factor so they stay with it.

Family Golf at Crystal Springs
The Ultimate Buddy Trip at Crystal Springs. Photo courtesy of the resort.
It all began when they addedd the Minerals Hotel with its par-three nine-hole course to the portfolio a few years ago. The course was specified as a "Family Golf Club" and several features were added to make it more than a slogan. They cut oversize cups into the greens, provided four-seater golf carts, and put peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the snack cart. Similar steps were taken when the full-length nine-hole Cascades Course was opened a couple of years later. When Cascades was built, a special set of tees was built far forward on each hole and second, larger cups are cut into each green. Cascades, a Roger Rulewich design, can challenge golfers at all levels.

“Kids have done a lot to transform our two nine hole facilities,” Walton says. “It makes it more fun, not to mention easier, and certainly different.” Minerals has a full calendar of parent-junior events throughout the year and both courses offer family-friendly pricing, kids rental clubs, and rookie tee times.  “That took off," Walton says, "and each year our percentage of family golf has increased. It feels good and it’s been good from a financial standpoint, too. We’re growing the player segment.”

The resort isn't resting on its laurels. The Minerals course, a Robert Trent Jones design, is getting renovations to make it even more family-friendly. "The second hole has an elevated green with two bunkers in the front guarding the approach," Walton explains. "We took out one bunker and created a play-up area so you can hit it short and play on up. The par four fifth hole is a dog-leg right with a fairway bunker at the turn. We took out that bunker and created a run-up area for the green."

The single most popular innovation? "The four seater family carts are the best," says Walton. "Everyone in the family can ride together and you don’t have to worry about different sets of clubs."

The results have been rewarding, according to Walton, who points out, "The one limiting factor on family golf is the school year, of course, so you have a compressed season.” They still expect to log 13,000 rounds annually for family play on Minerals and a few less on Cascades.

He sums up the Crystal Springs philosophy perfectly: “You have to make it fun. People play for a lot of different reasons. Some are competitive, some aren’t. Some play for business, others to meet people. It makes you feel good when you try something like family golf and it works.”

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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