Home » Travel Feature

Pasture golf gaining steam out West

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

"Progress, man's distinctive mark alone not God's, and not the beasts..." - "A Death in the Desert," by Robert Browning

Looking at progress from a golf perspective, the game has gone through a whirlwind of change, similar to many other aspects of human culture. What began as a few holes on the shores of the North Sea in Scotland has blossomed into a worldly obsession.

Today, golf is a nearly $50 billion industry. If the game's founding fathers knew that a round of golf at Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, or PGA West would now be going for more than $250, they'd shudder in their knickers.

The game's playing surface has become extremely glorified.Rather than finding suitable rolling fields and laying a track upon it, the courses of the past 20 years haven't met an earth mover they didn't like. And while there's been a return to the "minimalist" school of design thought by architects like Ben Crenshaw, Bill Coore and TomDoak, the modern game is overwhelmingly man made.

Enter Pasture Golf - minimalism taken to the extreme. This low maintenance, low-cost subculture isn't exactly sweeping the nation. Yet many golfers find that the small smattering of Pasture Golf courses offer are turn to the game's roots that is missing from many of today's tricked up courses.

Pasture Golf attempts to bring golf back to its origin, when the game was the property of the rural farmer, and not the white collar business class.It was a game that didn't require the use of Big Bertha's or Scotty Cameron's. You played with the sticks your father gave you or ones you fashioned athome.

Pasture Golf courses are not designed by the likes of TomFazio or Pete Dye. The mere thought of any bulldozer or earth-moving machine is a pasture golf cardinal sin.

Consider the second hole at Bear Valley Meadows in Seneca, Oregon. When your tee shot takes an errant and unexpected bounce 50 yards to the right, it is often due to a helicopter landing pad situated between the fairway and the rough. Rather than routing the course away from what most golfers would call an artificial obstruction, Bear Valley implements all these topographical nuances into the course's strategy.

Pasture courses may vary slightly, but the common theme is to use the original lay of the land.

"Lindsborg is all natural," says Pat Shea, manager at Lindsborg golf course in the rolling hills of the Kansas prairie. "We haven't shaped the course at all. This is the way the land lays."

Golfers are attracted to Lindsborg for a variety of reasons.

"It's fairly scenic," says Shea. "It's easy to play. The course is nice and green. We've got excellent bent grass greens. It's also centrally located, between the towns of Selina and McPherson."

Lindsborg is one of few courses with bent grass greens. The original greens, when the course was built in 1960, were made of cotton seed hull. The purest of pasture courses have the same sand greens as the ancient courses in Scotland. Putters are not used for many of these greens, but chippers.

Salt Creek Country Club in Midwest, Wyoming is one of these courses,still using sand greens and sand tee boxes. The course was built in the1920sby an unknown designer, but most likely not Donald Ross. Salt Creek proudly boasts amenities such as a club house, cart shed, Porta-Potties and resident antelope and prairie dogs roaming the land.

A golfer who shows up to the first tee in khaki+'s and a polo shirt may get some odd looks at Salt Creek. The pasture golf dress code is "come as you are". "Come as you are" usually means wrangler jeans, boots and a flannel shirt. Merely donning a pair of Foot-Joy's may cause a stare or two in certain old-fashioned corners of pasture golf country.

Pasture Golf is by no means a regional phenomenon. Courses stretch from Massachusetts through the Midwest and all the way up to the Canadian cattle ranches of British Columbia. If there is a wide open stretch of rolling land and a thirst for golf, the essential elements for Pasture Golf are in place.

The root of pasture golf may resort to golf's old school, but it doesn't mean new courses aren't being built. There are courses over 100 years old and courses as new as Bear Valley, built in 1996. Some courses still have the original sand greens like Salt Creek. Newer courses however use bent grass greens more often.

A round on the pasture generally takes less time than modern courses.Pasture courses are generally under 3,000 yards per nine and require just three hours to play a full 18 holes, even on a busy day, compared to the five hour weekend modern day standard.

Even if pasture golf enthusiasts find the modern way of golf to be somewhat unnecessarily snobbish, expensive and slow, it doesn't mean they don't welcome newcomers. First-timers may even be pleasantly surprised,according to Shea. Players new to Lindsborg often find the course enjoyable and in good condition.

Look at it this way: one round at modern marvel ShadowCreek in Las Vegas, was sculpted out of the middle of the desert into a 350-acre oasis complete with waterfalls, green grass, rolling hills and lakes. The price tag to build such a marvel was upwards of $60 million. The cost for one round at Shadow Creek is $500.

Or, for the same amount, you could play 250 rounds at Salt Creek, at $2apop. To the pasture lovers it's nothing more than pure logic to play the nine-hole Salt Creek.

To the modern golfer, bred on manicured pieces of land many deem as art,playing Salt Creek 250 times would mean 250 rounds of unsatisfactory golf played on a course appearing to be nothing more than holes and tee boxes.Where's the splendor at Salt Creek?

For pasture golfers, this is exactly where the splendor is. It is the beauty of crafting a natural game out of natural rolling hillside that gives pasture golf its authenticity.

Must we forget pasture golf is only staying true to the game's origin sin St. Andrews. While the game of golf itself has progressed and celebrated its advancement, Pasture Golf celebrates its humble origins.

Brandon TuckerBrandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment