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Longleaf: ‘A Living Laboratory’ for Growing Golf

In 1987, Dan Maples, ASGCA Past President, took 170 acres of the Starland Horse Farms property in Southern Pines, North Carolina and designed and developed a golf facility that included a driving range, tennis courts and more. Named after the state tree, Longleaf Golf & Country Club held its grand opening in November 1998 using the old barn as its clubhouse.

By 2015, U.S. Kids Golf Foundation(USKGF)-maker of golf equipment for kids- was looking for what their president Dan Van Horn describes as “a living laboratory” for growing kids and family golf in a real life situation. They found what they wanted at Longleaf, buying the property and working with Architect Bill Bergin, ASGCA, to bring the vision to reality. They renamed the facility Longleaf Golf & Family Club.

A key feature of the redesign was the conversion of the club’s traditional four tee areas per hole to a new system developed by USKGF. Following extensive data analysis, it was determined that on any given course there would ideally be a total of 600 yards of separation over a typical 18-hole layout between each tee marker option. Beginning with 3,200 yards from the forward tees, most golf courses can be fit with six, seven or even eight yardage options to choose from. The gap between markers on each hole is 30 yards, but that decreases on par threes and increases on par fives.

With a broader range of tee locations every golfer, regardless of skill, can play at a good pace, shoot lower scores and have more fun. At Longleaf they settled on a seven tee system, following the previous principles set out but also factoring in the course’s topography, choosing locations that facilitated ease of construction. Forty tee pads were constructed, mostly related to size or conditioning rather than location. Twenty-nine tees were cut into existing fairways, of which four had to be shaped and a few more had to modestly leveled. Because of the increased number of tees, size-per-tee could be reduced, and many existing tees could be reduced by adjusting mowing lines. The back tees and more heavily used middle tees may hold more than one set of markers each, and are respectively about 800 square feet and between 900 and 1,200 sq. ft. each. The forward two to three tees are smaller at approximately 400 sq. ft. each.

With the tees in place, the next challenge for Longleaf was to communicate the system effectively to golfers. A crucial part  of this is clear signage. “The charts and illustrations elevate this over other initiatives. From the pro shop and range to the first tee and scorecard, it is all packaged in a way  that encourages more players to play from the correct tees,” says Bergin. On the practice range, there is a guide for golfers that shows which tees they should use determined by the distance they hit their drives.

“The beauty of the Longleaf Tee System is that you don’t lose the integrity of the design,” says Jeff Cowell, General Manager of Longleaf Golf & Family Club. “It’s not just an arbitrary layout of the tees to make a hole shorter. So most importantly, the players still feel a sense of great accomplishment and fun as they play. Since Bill’s work here at Longleaf, our total rounds are up nearly 20 percent and I.m hearing from a lot of happy members and guests.”

“The new tee system has given me a completely different confidence about playing,” says Club member Emily Simeon. “I can go out an play with many people who are much better golfers than I am- and I can compete.”

To book a tee time or learn more about the ‘Living Laboratory, visit http://LongleafGFC.com.

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Dave Daubert

Lehigh University graduate, Procter & Gamble retired. Previously a Managing Editor and Feature Writer for a regional golf monthly magazine for 11 years. Married to wife Carol and residing in Solivita, an active adult community in Central Florida

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