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July 2018

Hashtag fun‭ ‬at‭ ‬‭#‬miniDunes

Hashtag.jpg‭By Steve Donahue

Ak-Chin Southern Dunes turned its practice space into popular short course.

Who says great ideas can’t come in small packages?

A case in point is Ak-Chin Southern Dunes’ #miniDunes, a six-hole short course located on the Maricopa, Arizona, daily fee’s driving range.

“I was always active in teaching and developing players and I thought it was a great opportunity,” says General Manager Brady Wilson. “Most people spend range time hitting balls, but they need to spend time on their short game and #miniDunes is a perfect opportunity to help improve by working on their shots from 100 yards in. It has been a major part of our two-year golfer development programs. We utilize that as the working lab of the instruction component.”

The six holes range from 50 to 120 yards in length. #miniDunes was rolled into a larger project spurred by much-needed bunker work and opened in fall 2014. So ingenious is the #miniDunes placement and utilization that it earned the National Golf Course Owners Association 2017 Player Development Award.

The entire plot of land where the practice range and #miniDunes are located is used all day — the range until 2 p.m. and the short course in the afternoon.

“Initially, there might have been a few conversion growing pains how it would work,” says Wilson, who adds it takes an hour to pick up the range balls, “but converting it from practice facility to short course hasn’t been as challenging as we thought it would be.”

One concern involves #miniDunes’ six-hole rotation. Its third and sixth greens are very forward on the range, so ball marks can be a problem. So, there has been a concerted effort to keep those greens firm. The first-year staff didn’t over-seed them, and has only lightly over-seeded them the past two years. The greens are kept firm, not super wet and on a pretty aggressive top-dressing program, with staff fixing ball marks daily.

“We utilize the range’s back end with golf schools, private lessons and Dave Pelz lessons there,” says Wilson. “So those greens get golf balls sometimes, so there are noticeable ball marks on those front two. But, at the same time, having played it multiple times every year, it’s not unplayable. We just made some maintenance practices to address those greens.”

Those maintenance practices include moving greens and tees three times weekly. Greens are a little longer, but are rolled every other day. Cups are cut every other day. #miniDunes is closed on Mondays when the staff cleans and weeds the desert areas surrounding the range and short course. That’s also when superintendent Dan Payson does any needed fertilizer applications, any bunker edge trimming, resets tee lines, or top-dressing of greens and mows every practice facility blade of grass.

“Nobody is playing a competitive round on #miniDunes,” says Wilson. “It’s rub of the green. It’s fun. In fact, I haven’t received one complaint about #miniDunes’ condition. Not one. It far exceeds most people’s expectations because they’re playing in the middle of a practice facility. The operational benefit we didn’t plan on is we pick up every ball and they’re all ready for the next day. Our first tee times of the day are playing to greens with no balls on them.”

#miniDunes is also a major part of an itinerary for buddy trips. They’re breaking ties, having a few cocktails, relaxing and having fun.

“The biggest hurdle is having people try it one time,” says Wilson. “And once they do they’re hooked. It’s kind of a multi-purpose deal. Some people who want to beat balls for two hours get upset when they find out the range is closed in the afternoon, then they play #miniDunes and go around and around the holes and think it’s great. It’s certainly helping to grow the game.”
And the short course is growing on the players.

“The rounds and revenue have increased every year,” he says. “We don’t do it for financial reasons. We’re not making lots of money off of #miniDunes rounds, but the idea is to get people to play it.”
 Adults’ green fee is $12, $9 with a Troon card and free for juniors 17 and under. It’s no surprise there’s a strong following of families playing #miniDunes.

 “They’re out there for four hours,” Wilson says. “What kind of four-hour active entertainment can you enjoy with your kids for that amount of money? We definitely see more of that crowd in summer because school’s out.”

Golfers that have played #miniDunes multiple times have built it into their routines.
“We get requests from groups who want a morning tee time on the championship course and an afternoon finishing time on #miniDunes so they can immediately hop over to the short course to settle bets once they finish their 18-hole round,” says Wilson.

People in a Maricopa 55-plus community and some other elderly locals and winter visitors play #miniDunes with a pushcart, share four clubs and, get exercise while playing eightsomes. They are encouraged to play music, sit down or take a hole off.

“We want respectful golfers as far as raking bunkers and fixing divots, etc.,” says Wilson. “But we also want it to be a relaxed environment. We’re introducing the game to youngsters and encouraging the elderly to play, so we’re expanding the window of age to play golf.”

Steve Donahue is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.




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