Big-Hole Golf - Something Old & Something New

By: Nancy Berkley

Movers and shakers in the golf industry led by Mark King, CEO of TaylorMade, are suggesting that a 15-inch cup on the golf green (instead of the regulation 4-inch cup) will bring more players to the game. The game will play faster and be more fun without the precision putting required of slower, recreational golfers.

Both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times recently carried stories about "big-hole" golf. And a manufacturer is already selling a special kit to golf course superintendents that will make making those big holes easy.

My reaction is that speeding up the game with easier putting is really an old idea. What's new is that the industry is taking the idea very seriously.

In a book I wrote for the National Golf Foundation in 2003 entitled "Women Welcome Here: A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," I included the suggestion of using a "gimme circle" to create a larger cup without actually having to cut a big hole in the green. The method was pretty simple: the course superintendent used a diluted vegetable-dye tracking agent and a compass-type device and tube he invented that simply drew a bigger circle around the traditional cup by depositing the tracking agent through the end of the small tube.

If a player's ball landed inside the gimme-circle, the next putt was a "gimme" and automatically "good." The tracking agent faded after a couple of irrigation cycles and never interfered with players who wanted to use the regulation cup and post scores for handicaps. The course, Banyan Golf Club in West Palm Beach, of which I am a member, used the gimme-circle for their fun tournaments to move play along.

The only difference in the current "big-hole" idea from King's recent proposal is that under Hack Golf, if a ball landed in the gimme circle it would be considered to have landed in the cup. I agree, that will take a minute or two off the group's putting time. Actually, and based on my experience, men give lots of "gimmes" in non-serious recreational play. The Hack Golf big-hole proposal legitimizes what has been a common practice and just encourages it.

Looking at women's golf, there were several other tournaments - usually on ladies day - that used the big-hole concept. The first is the simple "in the leather" rule: if the ball lands near the hole at a distance equal to the distance from the putter blade to the grip, it was "in-the-leather" and the next putt was "good." (Some women thought that "in the leather" meant the length of the putter's grip - but it was the same "speed up play" concept at work.)

There was also a "string tournament" on some ladies-day schedule. Every player was given a piece of string of identical length - usually about a foot or so. A player was entitled to a "good" putt if her ball landed anywhere between the end of the string and the flag stick. Same principle: bigger-hole golf.

So why didn't these very simple "big-hole" methods catch on a decade ago? The answer is simply that the industry had not fully recognized the downward trends the game was facing as a recreational sport. And the PGA of America professionals who managed most of the play on the golf course weren't really interested in tournament novelty. And, the course superintendents weren't really all that committed to growing-the-game proposals like adding circles around existing cups.

But times are different now. For all those clubs and professionals out there who want to see if the new "big hole" golf works at their facility and whether or not their members and customers like it, try out the old big-hole ideas I mentioned above.

Before cutting up your greens to get the "something new" Hack Golf, try out the "something old" suggestions first. I met a golf director from North Carolina who actually has both a big-hole and a traditional cup on the same green. Wow! That's something to think about. And, more strategic and innovative thinking is what the industry needs.

Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is an expert on women's golf and junior-girls golf. She is a frequent contributor to Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women and spotting trends within the industry. She offers information and advice about the golf industry on and is often quoted in national publications. She was a contributing editor of "Golf for Women" magazine and a founding advisor of "Golfer Girl Magazine." Her interviews with women in the golf industry now appear on Nancy lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and Rutgers Law School. After a business and legal career, she decided to write about the game she learned and loved as a teenager. She describes herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential.