GOLF

Perfect for beginners, short course to open at Rogers Park Golf Course in Tampa

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TAMPA — Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic, longtime professional golfer and PGA broadcast analyst Gary Koch saw a new need on the course.

In addition to his broadcast duties on NBC, Koch serves as chairman of the board of First Tee of Tampa Bay. The organization’s goal, which runs through the YMCA of Tampa, is to empower young people through golf by providing access to the sport through local camps and programs and providing scholarship opportunities for older students who aspire to higher education.

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Koch, a Tampa resident, saw the need for greater access to classes given the sport’s post-pandemic boom. He noticed that it was more difficult for children and new golfers to find the space to develop their own game. Adults who were not comfortable with main courses also found it difficult to find space.

Koch hopes he can help solve that problem with the construction of a new short course at Rogers Park Golf Course in Tampa. The inauguration of the nine-hole, par 3 course, nestled on the current 18-hole course, took place in June. The opening is scheduled for the fall.

“This course,” Koch said, “has the potential to benefit many people at different levels.”

The short course will be located on a 6 1/2 acre lot between numbers 12, 13 and 16 of the main course. The builders, using a First Tee budget of around $600,000, will retain most of the existing vegetation and use it to create sight lines for golfers with character.

“Golfers love being integrated into the landscape,” said architect Steve Smyers, who has also designed courses at Countryway Golf Club in Tampa, Old Memorial Golf Club in Tampa and Interlachen Country Club in Winter Park.

Smyers plans to use the first hole’s palms and pines to frame the putting surface. On the second hole, the treeline mimics the green. For No. 5, the green will overlook the small lake on the course and will feature a green surface similar to a “punch bowl”, which will have higher sides that dip down the middle towards the mast.

Smyers and Koch played together at the University of Florida in the 1970s — winning a national title in 1973 — and kept in touch. Smyers was happy to volunteer his time and services to help bring the vision to life. Three or four days after walking the course, Koch said, Smyers had an idea of ​​what the course should look like.

“We wanted something with character,” Koch said. “And we could see (Steve’s) wheels turning. … Architects (of golf courses) are artists using the land.

Once the course opens, First Tee – which opened in the Tampa Bay area as Urban Junior Golf in 1991 and has since grown into the largest chapter of the First Tee organization – will have first rights to the course for camps and other programs as needed. . If the course is not used, it will be open to the public.

Ian Baxter, executive director of the Tampa Bay chapter, is excited to see the course’s impact on the region, as the program reaches 90,000 children between local public elementary and middle schools.

“That kind of middle course has been phased out in golf,” said Baxter, who has worked in the First Tee community for 20 years. “…So I really see that having a big impact on the community outside of First Tee’s programming as well.”

Koch envisions people walking the course, with options for those physically unable to do so, able to hire a buggy, if necessary. Those who play the course should be able to complete the course in an hour. The longest hole will be around 120 meters, the shortest around 70.

Koch said he thinks the course would also be a great practice ground for those who need to work on their wedge/short iron game. The campus will include a chipping green and net area where players can warm up and practice with coaches.

“Golf can be an intimidating game, even for seasoned veterans,” Baxter said. “So even if you’re a beginner, just learning the game, or a senior where the pitches are just too long, the short course is a happy medium for those players.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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