The new putting course at Sea Island was designed to allow avid golfers to hone their skills while encouraging people of all ages and experience levels to give the sport a try.
By Dale Leatherman
When most golfers study a green, trying to predict where their putts will go, they don’t think about the layers of infrastructure under their feet—the drainage systems, the fine gravel, the sand and the carefully formulated rootzone mixture that is beneath the smooth green surface. For nearly 60 years, the United States Golf Association’s teams of agronomists, scientists and architects have done the necessary fretting about the technology and materials that go into building greens so there is consistent quality in putting surfaces throughout the country, and players can just focus on having fun.
Based on extensive research, the USGA (the sport’s governing body for the U.S. and Mexico) issued updated recommendations for greens construction this year, including 31 pages of “Tips for Success” that serve as a bible of sorts for anyone involved in golf course creation. Architects everywhere are availing themselves of the USGA’s guidelines—including Mark Love and Davis Love III as they planned the renovation of the Plantation Course and the design of The Driftwood Course, an 18-hole putting venue situated on an acre of land in front of The Lodge.
“The property … is a fabulous setting, and we tried to create a large green that would feel natural but have a lot of character,” Mark explains. He says that the vision he and Davis shared for the project was brought to life through the construction process, as the team created a gently undulating surface. Then they found the areas that would make the perfect hole locations before laying out each hole the same way they would if they were creating a full-size golf course. The result is a putting course that contains holes of varied lengths as well as uphill and downhill features and breaking putts. “One of our favorite spots is where the course works its way into a corner that also serves as the back tee for the Plantation Course’s 10th hole,” Mark adds. “This corner makes for some really interesting holes and helps connect the putting course to the full course, tying the whole area together.” In an effort to make it versatile, Mark notes that The Driftwood Course can even be played backward, or start from any hole.
“Creating the putting course for Sea Island was a lot of fun for us,” Mark says. “Our firm has designed many putting greens and practice facilities in conjunction with golf course design projects, … but this is our first actual putting course. The putting course and short course concepts … have been around [for] a long time and they are becoming more popular at clubs and resorts worldwide.”
The Driftwood Course, which opened in August, is part of a growing wave of sophisticated putting courses—sophisticated in that they are as far removed from miniature golf as a racing-themed video game is from driving a real IndyCar. There’s no artificial grass, no windmills and no volcanoes to be found on these new putting courses; instead, expect immaculately groomed turf sculpted into challenges with all of the nuance of a PGA TOUR venue. The abbreviated facilities encourage people of all skill levels and ages to enjoy the essence of the game without the expense and time commitment.
“A putting course is a great way for groups … to get in some extra golf without committing to another full round—and to settle a few bets,” Mark says. “It’s also a great place for families to play together, for beginners and kids to get more comfortable before moving to the full course, and for instructors like ours at the Golf Performance Center to teach on. All in all, I think it is going to be a great addition and complement to the resort’s golf offerings.”
Because the Driftwood Course is next to the new pool, it’s likely to draw in those who aren’t avid golfers as well. According to Sea Island Director of Golf Brannen Veal, it’s the perfect course to introduce new players to the game. “One of the big issues in golf, for some people, is time,” Veal says. “This is an opportunity for guests to go out on the course before dinner with a cocktail or with their kids and putt 18 holes. I think it’s going to be utilized by a wide variety of people—those who play golf a lot as well as those who have never played.”