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Puttin’ around

Unlike in miniature golf, you won’t see windmills on a putting course

So you want to improve your putting game, but you get bored putting at the same holes over and over again on the putting green at your local course.

How about trying a putting course?

We're not talking about miniature golf here. You don't have any of those annoying windmills to try to hit through, and there isn't a fake green Statue of Liberty right in your line or any concrete curbs to bounce your purple golf ball around like a pinball machine.

Putting courses are one of golf's latest fads and you're sure to see more and more of them in the 21st century.

From Las Vegas to Dallas to Miami to Niagara Falls, putting courses are springing up all over America. The first one ever supposedly opened in Scotland in the 1870s (of course, didn't everything in golf start in Scotland?), while the first one in America opened in Arizona in 1982. Since then several dozen have popped up, especially in the past two years.

Just two putting courses are found in Utah, at Swan Lakes Golf Course in Layton and the Pleasant Valley Golf Center near Ogden. Another one is in the works at the new River Oaks Golf Course in Sandy and within a few years there will likely be several others around the state.

So what exactly is a putting course?

It's 18 holes with sand traps, water hazards, roughs, even out of bounds along with the requisite tee boxes and cups. The difference from a full-size course is that it's much smaller and you putt all of your shots. And the difference from a miniature course is that it's larger and you use your own putter with a regular golf ball on a real green with real grass. There's no Astroturf or carpet on top of cement, like at your typical miniature golf course.

The greens are narrow — anywhere from 3 to 6 feet across — and long, up to 200 feet long. While some putting courses around the country have holes as long as 300 feet with large elevation changes, the Utah courses are much shorter and flatter.

At Swan Lakes, the longest hole is the dogleg No. 14 at 182 feet long. Seven of the 18 holes are 100 feet or longer, while the shortest is 56 feet long.

The Pleasant Valley course also features seven holes 100 feet or longer, but its longest hole measures just 141 feet and its shortest is 63 feet.

If your main goal is to work on your putting game, the Pleasant Valley course is the place to go. Most of the greens are fairly flat and there are only a couple of "layup" holes where you have no chance of a hole in one and must lay up to set up your next shot.

The Swan Lakes course might be more fun, with a lot of hills and slopes and undulations. One hole has a big rock in the middle of the green, sort of like a miniature golf hazard and you're more likely to knock your ball in a bunker or in the water there. But both courses will aid anyone's lag putting and help cut down on those frustrating three-putts.

The Swan Lakes complex opened in 1994 with an executive 9-hole course, a lighted driving range, a miniature golf course and batting cages. The putting course opened in 1995.

Sheryl Starkey, who is the vice president of the Swan Lakes complex, says they see all types of people trying the putting course.

"We have a diverse clientele from scratch golfers to beginners," she said. "It's fun. You don't have to be a golfer to play a putting course. Anybody can putt."

The Pleasant Valley course, which also has a driving range and hopes to add a championship 18-hole course in the next few years, opened last year.

"We've come a long ways — our business has quadrupled over last year," said Paul Hammond, a certified PGA professional, who runs the Pleasant Valley facility.

Still Hammond is talking about 8,000 projected rounds this year, well below the 100,000 rounds (9-hole) a popular Utah golf course hosts per year.

To keep business consistent, Pleasant Valley has instituted leagues four nights a week with seniors on Monday, ladies on Tuesday, juniors on Wednesdays and mixed couples on Thursdays. Friday and Saturday nights are the times for young couples and teenagers on dates. Weekend nights are the busiest at Swan Lakes also.

But if you show up on a weekday afternoon, both the Pleasant Valley and Swan Lakes putting courses will be virtually empty most days. Pleasant Valley installed lights at the start of the summer, which has helped business immensely as it can stay open until 11 now.

Although it's easier to make a hole-in-one than on a real course, it's still not easy at these putting courses and certainly not as easy as mini-golf. Anyone who makes a hole-in-one at Pleasant Valley gets to put their picture on the "Wall of Fame."

Dave DeSantis, the head pro at River Oaks, which will build a putting course around a golf superstore on the River Oaks property by next year, says there's more money to be made with a miniature golf course. But a putting course is preferable from an aesthetics standpoint, he believes.

Starkey acknowledges it's "much easier" to maintain a miniature golf course, but said Swan Lakes decided to add the putting course "because we wanted to be different." In a few years, however, Swan Lakes may not be so different as more putting courses get built.

To get to Swan Lakes, take the Layton Hills Mall exit 334 off I-15 and head west to 2200 West and turn right.

To get to the Pleasant Valley Golf Center, which is just south of Ogden, turn off of Washington Boulevard, go south on Adams Avenue, past the Ogden Regional Hospital for about a mile. The golf center will be more accessible in a year or two when a new toll highway is built between the I-84 freeway and Washington Boulevard.

E-MAIL: sor@desnews.com