The shorter game
It’s still Golf, just not as you might know it.
We don’t really have Pitch & Putt in Australia. Well, certainly not that I was aware of.
Golf, for me, was always the long game. Smash it. Find it. Smash it again.
We have Par 3 golf, which was always a bit of fun, but not Pitch & Putt like you’ll find dotted all over Ireland.
When I first arrived here, I didn’t know much about Pitch & Putt… I’d often see a course or what looked like a golf hole while careening around the country, usually on the way to one of Irelands well known links courses, but I never seriously considered playing one.
Finally, just on a whim, I decided to give one a try. This was deep in West Cork, one of those bumpy little hand built tracks you often find right on the side of the road in someones front paddock.
The lure of low score
Being a ‘long golfer’, how hard could it be? It looked like a couple under would be a shoe-in.
“What’s the course record?” I cockily asked the owner. “42” he replied.
Slightly disbelieving, I headed to the first tee. It took a few seconds to calculate that 42 was actually 12 under. 12 under? Bloody hell. I thought he’d say 2 over. Surely this is just played for a bit of fun, no?
Oh how wrong I was.
Firstly, the ‘short game’ as I discovered it’s referred to in Ireland, is completely different animal to the ‘long game’. It’s a different set of skills entirely.
Forget strength, distance or power. That seems obvious, but when you only play long golf you think that’s all there is to golf. Wrong.
Those skills won’t help you here. The ideal shot for pitch & putt is a 30 to 40 yard high floater with stacks of back spin. And the only way to impart that much spin, is develop an action that… well, let’s just say it wouldn’t help you much on a long course. Wristy, with a fierce cut across the line it’s a combo of just about every bad habit you local pro has been trying to teach out of you for years.
After a brisk hour or so, I’d played 18 holes, shot no where near 42 and throughly enjoyed the whole experience… it takes much more skill than you might expect, and those who excel on the short course have (no surprise) killer short games.
I was initially happy to be hitting greens (they tend to be very small and often protected by small bumps and hollows making the pins hard to attack)… when really, a good pitch & putt player is looking for for a tee shot to finish 6ft away or less. As for missing a green, well, don’t even go there. Those bumps, hollows plus tiny bunkers with no green to work with mean most recovery shots are incredibly difficult. Plus, you’ll only be out there with a sand wedge and a putter, so your options are limited.
Need to work on you short game, for the long course? Head to your nearest pitch & putt and go for it… you won’t look back, and learn a lot about control & accuracy in the process.
Pitch & Putt in Ireland has an interesting history. It began in Cork in the mid-1930s and caught on during the second World War, when gas rationing made regular golf all but impossible. The earliest layouts were often extremely short, with the first hole at the original course only 16 feet from tee to green. Around the same time, a similar game took hold around Dublin where holes measured up to 100 yards, and players carried three clubs (one of them a putter) instead of two down in Cork. The games evolved separately until 1960 when representatives from the two regions settled on a compromise hybrid set of rules & regulations, and created the Pitch and Putt Union of Ireland to govern it. The union today has 16,000 playing members and 170 affiliated clubs.
The space required for an 18-hole pitch-and-putt course is generally around five to six acres, with each hole allowed to be no longer than 70 yards (as per Irish Pitch & Putt Union rules). Some holes are as short as 25 yards, so a 9 hole loop fits easily into a small area of land.