Golf courses take swing at stereotypes

Local venues relax rules, atmosphere to help draw newcomers to game

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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photoA golfer plays a round of golf at Green Mountain Golf Course on April 12.

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Forget the days of rigid rules, ugly clothing and high costs — there's a new type of golf emerging at Clark County's public courses aimed at breaking the stereotypes.

Golf 2.0 is an effort started in 2011 by the Professional Golfers' Association of America to draw new people to a game that is often seen by non-golfers as expensive and rigid.

Many regional public golf courses have adopted the idea as a way to fight back against declining numbers, said Kevin Coombs, general manager of the Green Mountain course in Vancouver.

"Golf is a great game of traditions and values and rules, but I think our stubbornness has inhibited new people from playing," Coombs said. "For us, as long as you're taking an implement and hitting a ball toward a goal, it's all good."

According to the National Golf Foundation, the rounds of golf played declined by about 12 percent over the last decade. In Washington, the number dropped 2.1 percent from 2010 to 2011.

And at Green Meadows, which has had between 26,000 to 47,000 rounds played each year since it opened in 1999, the numbers were somewhere in the mid 30,000 range in 2012, Coombs said.

"Part of the reason the numbers have dropped is because of the bad economy," he said. "But part of it is just that the number of players has declined."

So if it gets you on the course, go ahead and play in a Bruins hockey sweater and sweatpants like Happy Gilmore. Or come out wearing jeans and a T-shirt. And the more traditional plaid pants and a polo shirt? That's fine too, Coombs said.

"Golf has a reputation of having really strange dress codes, and mine is strange as well — it's 'stay dressed,'" Coombs said with a laugh.

Monte Koch, player development regional manager for the PGA in the Pacific Northwest, said the efforts to make golf more accessible to the public have been quietly growing in popularity over the past year.

"We're basically trying to create 'it's OK' rules — which means there really aren't rules other than the basic rules of normal good behavior," Koch said. "There are situations where would-be golfers are discouraged because they think golf is intimidating. They don't want to do the wrong thing, show up in the wrong clothing or be humiliated."

Just 15 years ago, the idea of playing less than 18-holes of golf on a course was almost unheard of, Koch said.

Now, there are several nine-hole courses available.

It usually takes about two to two and a half hours for a nine-hole round of golf, and costs for that during off times start at about $10 per person at Green Mountain. But the Golf 2.0 initiative has encouraged clubs to go beyond even that.

Because long game times can discourage people from playing, some courses now have options where you can pay a small amount for a single hole or a just few selected holes.

"Playing by the hole, that's definitely at the forefront of this," Koch said. "And (Coombs) is very much a pioneer in that area."

At Green Mountain, visitors can also rent a small bucket of 30-35 golf balls and a club for $3.75 and just smack things around on the driving range or putting green, Coombs said.

"You can come and make up your own games with your friends if you want — like who can hit it the furthest," Coombs said. "Here we just want people to come out and play."

Green Mountain has also created different games for each hole. Golfers can tee off at different distances from a hole, depending on their skill level. And if a player gets frustrated, it's OK to just pick the ball up and move on, or toss it from the rough back onto the green.

"People, they need to try it," Coombs said. "They need to give the game a chance. The attitude in the industry is to be much more accommodating than we've been in the past. As long as you respect the facility and other players, come, and just have fun. It's a game, after all."

For the pros and purists, there's still plenty of places to go the more traditional rigid etiquette and dress route. The Royal Oaks Country Club is touted as one of the top five courses in the state and has been ranked one of the top 100 in the country by Golf Digest Magazine, according to the private club's website. And the The Royal Oaks Invitational is a must-play event for several college athletes every summer.

Statewide high school sports tournaments are also often held at Club Green Meadows, another private course, and at public courses such as Camas Meadows and Tri-Mountain.

And for mid-range or business golfers looking for a quicker game, the county has two par-3 courses, which are 9-hole courses made up entirely of par-3 holes, and two executive courses, which are similarly fast but made up of both par-3 and par-4 holes.

"I would say there's the right amount of golf in Clark County," Koch said. "It's a fairly healthy market. It could use more golfers, but it's not overbuilt. And there's a good range of price points with plenty of options."

Beyond the variety of courses, there's even a golf simulator available for public rental at Majeras & Co. Physical Therapy. The machine mimics many of the world's top golf courses.

"I think the most fun thing about golf is hitting a good shot and getting something we call 'golf euphoria,'" Coombs said. "It's the feeling of knowing that 'I've accomplished excellence in what is a very difficult thing to do.'"

And at any time, any average golf player can hit a shot like that. The difference between those players and pros is that the pros do it consistently.

"When you hit a good shot like that, it's almost like a drug, endorphins," Koch said. "It's like a runner's high, without having to run."

To get people started, several facilities have introduced a series of five "get golf ready" lessons that in total cost about $99. The series teaches players how to putt and hit, but also etiquette tips such as where to stand, how to act on a course and even how to drive a golf cart, Coombs said.

"Golf is a stupid game invented by drunk Scottish shepherds," Coombs said, adding that the game originated in that country in the 1400s. "It started with a bunch of Scottsmen sitting around hitting rocks into holes."

With that as a backdrop, rigid rules and customs really shouldn't be there to discourage people from playing, he said.

"We hope people will give it a try," Coombs said. "It's a fun game."

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; http://www.twitter.com/col_suevo;sue.vorenberg@columbian.com.

Golf in Clark County

Public courses

Camas Meadows, Camas, 360-833-2000, http://camasmeadows.com, 4105 N.W. Camas Meadows Drive.

Green Mountain, Vancouver, 360-833-8463, http://golfgreenmountain.com, 2817 N.E. Ingle Road.

Lewis River, Woodland, 360-225-8254, http://lewisrivergolf.com, 3209 Lewis River Road.

The Cedars on Salmon Creek, Brush Prairie, 360-687-4233, http://golfcedars.com, 15001 N.E. 181st St.

Tri-Mountain, Ridgefield, 360-887-3004, http://trimountaingolf.com, 170 N.E. 199th St.

Private courses

Club Green Meadows, Vancouver, 360-256-1510, http://clubgreenmeadows.com, 7703 N.E. 72nd Ave.

Orchard Hills Golf & Country Club, Washougal, 360-835-5889, http://ohgcc.com, 605 39th St.

Royal Oaks Country Club, Vancouver, 360-256-1350, http://royaloaks.net, 8917 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd.

Executive-length courses

Hartwood Golf Course, Brush Prairie, 360-896-6041, 12506 N.E. 152nd Ave.

Fairway Village, Vancouver, 360-254-9325, http://ourfairwayvillage.org, 15509 S.E. Fernwood Drive.

Par-3 golf courses

Lakeview Par-3 Golf Challenge, Vancouver, 360-693-9116, 2425 N.W. 69th St.

Pine Crest Golf Course, Vancouver, 360-573-2051, http://www.pinecrestgc.net, 2415 N.W. 143rd St.

Digital golf

Majeras & Co. Physical Therapy Golf Simulator, Vancouver, 360-253-4020, http://www.majeruspt.com/services-programs/golf-sim, 16219 S.E. 12th St., #100.