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A Golf Club's Triple-Play For Fun And Profit

by Jed Rotella, owner and golf course superintendent, West Hill Golf and Croquet Club, Camillus, New York

It's a single lawn designed for croquet, golf putting, and lawn bowling - and a smart manager makes it work.

Our story begins with West Hill Golf Club, in central New York, which my parents began to develop in 1964. We have an 18-hole, par-3 layout, with 9 more in the design stage. Designed by Hal Purdy, it has the best playing conditions you'll find on any public course in the area, with bentgrass greens, tees, and fairways.

We had for a long time seen the need for a practice putting lawn, but up to a couple of years ago, we thought the $10,000 investment was always needed more elsewhere. But then, on a vacation in Williamsburg, Virginia, my wife and I saw lawn bowling and croquet played on side-by-side courts. The idea was born to build a flat, square putting green and introduce croquet and lawn bowling on the same surface to offset the costs.

The Perfect Site is Near the Clubhouse

Once we had the idea, it seemed a natural. The golf course staff already had the knowledge and equipment to supervise the building of the lawn and to maintain it. We had a perfect site, near the clubhouse, and the new green would add an activity focus that would delight the eye and provide entertainment for spectators. We would surround the green with benches and other amenities to make it an appealing gathering place for golfers waiting for playing partners, or for spouses and other non-golfers.

The lawn was completed in good order for the next spring season, and we laid it out for two side-by-side croquet courts (each of them narrower than regulation size, but also longer). We confidently expected this lawn to be thus used by croquet players as well as putters.

Combining Putting Cups and Stake Fittings

But some of our assumptions were mistaken. We thought the putters would be content to shoot wickets for practice. We couldn't have been more wrong. And the lawn bowling backboards seemed to discourage access, almost like a fence.

Even though we did not fully understand or agree with the golfers' objections to our plan, it was clear we had to take them into account. We removed the backboards and replaced them with a grass berm, which not only made the green more accessible, but also made maintenance easier. And we installed putting cups, which the golfers were accustomed to using.

For the green's second year, our present scheme was fully in place. It consists of four putting cups, one at eacn center stake and two on the boundary line separating the courts in the middle of the lawn. With this layout, it is not necessary to remove the wickets to adapt the lawn for putting. The only thing the golfers have to do is to lift out the center stakes - adapted to fit neatly into the cups - and put them aside. (The stakes, striped with croquet colors, are made of 1" PVC pipe set into 1" x 4" PVC bushing to match the size of the putting cups.)

The croquet court boundaries are marked with string, which doesn't seem to bother the golfers.

Green Reserved for Practice Putting at Peak Times

The croquet club is growing steadily. Dues are currently $150 a person per year. The club manages its own affairs, scheduling activities within the times alloted for croquet.

The lawn is scheduled every week for croquet leagues on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and Thursday mornings. Other play is available to members by appointment. Croquet play is never allowed on Sunday mornings, when all the lawn we have is needed for golfers. At all other times, court reservations are taken. There are times when all three sports are being played side by side.

Some lawn bowling is played, by appointment, but not to its potential. We have not yet found the proper person to instruct and organize. I feel that when we get the lawn bowling organized, the lawn will have a much greater income potential.

Croquet Paying its Way as Alternative Activity for Groups

After only two seasons, without any big fund-raisers or expensive events, croquet was paying for the maintenance of the new lawn, as well as providing a putting surface to golfers and space for lawn bowling. We have booked several golf outings we wouldn't have gotten without an alternative activity for the non-golfers in the groups. (We taught them to play golf croquet.) We are already thinking about building another identical, adjacent lawn, which will give us great scheduling flexibility and increase the efficiency of our shared-use scheme. We'll use the second green exclusively for croquet, retaining mixed use on the first lawn.

I believe our experience at West Hill shows that the best place for croquet's growth is at golf courses. I suggest that anyone interested in forming a croquet club contact their local golf course. If the owner or superintendent is doubtful about the potential, you can quote me. In fact, you can show them this article.

Croquet has surely changed the image of West Hill. I have increased my income and improved my golf club by making available to our members all three of the great lawn sports.

One more thing: I'm having a lot of fun playing croquet.

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