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9-hole rounds gaining popularity

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    A group of three golfers walk down the 10th hole before playing their second shots during the third round of stroke play at the 2014 Men's State Team at French Lick Resort (Pete Dye Course) in French Lick, Ind. on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane)

Golf hopes to take a page from its past to brighten its future.

Wednesday was the second annual PLAY9 Day, a U.S. Golf Association promotion in partnership with American Express. Hawaii did not celebrate the date specifically, but is slowly warming to the idea of more nine-hole rounds, and not just because the last two summers have been brutally hot.

Why not? Play is down almost everywhere and prices are up. Time is more precious and weekend rounds often last five or six hours. Movies are two hours and so is dinner at a restaurant or a workout. Why not golf?

And, who are we kidding? Golf usually makes you crazy. Why not cut that craziness in half and still turn in your score for an official handicap?

“I think the game of golf can definitely make you go crazy if you don’t have fun with it, because it is a crazy game,” Michelle Wie said with a grin on a USGA video promoting Play9. “But it’s a fun game too.”

Halve your holes and double your fun?

“It’s just fewer holes,” says Paul Ogawa, the Hawaii State Golf Association executive director, “so if you struggle, instead of struggling through the whole 18 you can struggle through nine and get out of there. You don’t have to commit to the whole five hours. It’s two hours and out.

“And, it’s a good way to get started because you don’t want more torture.”

The USGA is pushing its initiative with a fist-full of reasons nine holes makes sense, beginning with the beginning:

>> The first U.S. Open in 1895 was played at Newport (R.I.) Golf Club, a nine-hole facility. Arnold Palmer and Pete Dye learned the game on nine-hole courses.

>> The National Golf Foundation found that 90 percent of U.S. golf facilities offer nine-hole rates, and there are 4,200 nine-hole courses around the country. Before Tiger Woods’ influence grew the game in the 1990s, nearly half of America’s courses had just nine holes.

>> The USGA’s Golf Handicap Information Network (GHIN) showed a 13 percent increase in nine-hole scores posted in the two months following last year’s Play9 launch.

The stats don’t tell this story though. Nine holes is cheaper, faster and often takes on its own, more laid-back personality. You can watch a sunrise or sunset or sneak in nine between crowds. You can play before work or after — or before the kids get up.

“I always play nine holes,” says Kasandra Shriver, a realtor and mother of four who won the low-net championship at this month’s Waialae Women’s Invitational. “For the last several years, my husband and I wake up very early in the morning and go play the back nine at Klipper because we can get started at 6 and done by 8:30. Our children are still sleeping so it works perfect. That’s the only way we can play together on the weekends.

“If I didn’t have such a busy life, such busy work, I’d probably want to play 18, but this way I can play golf. I love to play golf and I can do it in 2 to 21⁄2 hours. It never takes more than 21⁄2.”

Kimberlie Miyamoto, the low-gross winner at Waialae, is about to start her sophomore year at Eastern Washington and about the same age as Shriver’s oldest child. The Baldwin graduate, who won the MIL championship by 23 shots as a senior, also enjoys playing nine.

“I have a summer job at Kahili and I play nine holes after because I’d rather play nine holes than hit balls on the range,” Miyamoto says. “You can see what you’re doing. On the range you just hit balls anyplace and it’s not the same affect.”

Most munis and resort courses have a nine-hole option. Mid-Pacific Country Club offers “Play 9 and Dine” and a nine-hole women’s group during the week. Waialae head pro Kevin Carll started one this year.

“A few of the ladies were getting older and really couldn’t play the entire 18 holes,” Carll says. “We came up with this nine-hole idea and it’s kept them at the golf course and keeps them up with the social aspect of the club. …

They get to play a little golf and enjoy lunch afterwards.”

It’s also a great way to introduce folks to the game and get your exercise. Walking nine holes is more palatable than walking 18 and golfers that walk and carry or push their clubs burn 300-plus calories on the shorter route.

“I’m a big fan of playing nine holes,” Wie says on the video. “Just keep it fun. Sometimes you don’t want to play a whole 18. Sometimes I spend a lot of energy on the range so I just go out for nine. Make it fun and spice it up a little bit.”

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