GROWING THE GAME . . . by shortening the game

It’s a Wednesday evening. The parking lot is packed and there’s a steady trickle of people walking to the check-in table for their tee time. The ambience is vibrant and inviting. There’s pop music playing through the speakers that encompass the deck chairs and the food and drink trucks that sit under lines of patio lights. The food smells delicious and the drinks are flowing.

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On the course, there are groups from all skill levels, from pros, to scratch golfers, to those just happy to see the ball take flight. This is the vision that Pete Wilson, now the Grass Clippings marketing director, and his three buddies saw six years ago. 

Now that construction of the course and its amenities is further along, the community is starting to turn its head toward the game. Grass Clippings at Rolling Hills has moved the pin for a new era of golf, and the party’s just getting started. For 99.5% of people who golf, the coveted stage the PGA Tour pros have is unreachable, but Grass Clippings has leveled the playing field and has created a spotlight (figuratively and literally) for the common player. By removing the driver and precision long irons to elevate the wedge and putting game, this creates an even playing field for anyone, says Wilson.

“Everybody wants a chance… golfers are just banging balls on a range all day long, trying to get better, better, better for that moment when their name is called,” Wilson said. “The problem is the majority of golfers never get on that stage. And that stage is so protected and so far. 

Grass Clippings gets busier as the nights get darker, allowing golfers to escape the heat. Photo by Andrew Lwowski

“What we’re doing is we’re creating our own stage, to present to them to say, ‘Here’s an opportunity; here you go.’ Here’s an opportunity you might shank it. “You might put it inside two feet. It’s up to you.” 

Wilson said they didn’t reinvent the wheel, but simply redesigned it by combining light poles, golf and a staff that functions like a family. That unique product has not only caught the attention of pro athletes like Johnny Manziel and Steph Curry but widely popular YouTube golf influencers such Bob Does Sports (737,000 subscribers), Good Good Golf (1.48 million) and Grant Horvat (615,000). 

“It’s friggin’ awesome to meet Bob Berger on the first tee, chest bump Johnny Manziel or a handshake with Steph Curry,” Wilson said. “Believe me, that’s a huge accomplishment for us. But as Al Pacino would say, six inches in front of your face, you got to see right in the moment and make sure that everyone here is happy.” 

Included in that vision are amateur tournaments – but there’s a catch; amateurs can’t earn money. Third party sponsors can field teams, and the Minnesota Muskies are one of 10 franchises that have teams put together. When the team wins money, the purse goes to the sponsor. The sponsor can then disburse the money how they please. Also in the mix for tournaments are grandstands, a digital scoreboard, several thousand well-lubricated fans and live coverage by Bleacher Report. Oh, and $100,000 that’s soon to be increased substantially. 

A full moon in full swing. Nestled between downtown Tempe and ASU, Grass Clippings draws new faces to the game. Photo by Andrew Lwowski

Bryan Hoops, with his partner Drew Kittleson, won the 2024 Grass Clippings Open playing for the Minnesota Muskies team. Hoops, 55, is part of Aspen Technologies, which owns the Muskies. He has seeded himself as a crucial eye in the evolving product in Tempe after seeing its potential. Hoops attended city meetings and sat on the board with the Grass Clippings team, acting as a “support mechanism.” He offered advice to transform the vision of the golf course from his personal experience, and turn it into reality.

“I just knew that this venue…this is it,” Hoops said. “It’s so much more relaxing to be in this environment and fun that’s here that everyone wants to be a part of.”

The course got its first major makeover in November 2023 with lights and renovated greens and, most recently, the Grass Clippings prop shop. But more is on the horizon. The weathered driving range is next on the agenda with the implementation of top tracer technology, hitting mats and targets in the fairway. The restaurant will also be under renovation. The lawn, Grass Clippings music venue, is also on the list as well. Wilson says all will be done by 2025, or soon thereafter. 

Now fully equipped with lights, the addition of new carts with touch screen displays bring a new level to golf in Tempe. Photo by Andrew Lwowski

High stakes aside, it’s the camaraderie and new draw to an old game that is growing in a different way. “When you’re talking about growing the game of golf, everyone says, ‘my son is four years old and picked up the club.’ That’s growing the game. Great, he’s going to be a golfer. But it works the other way as well. 

“When you have Hoops’ age group (55) coming out saying he can beat anybody on the course, that is extremely unique and extremely special. Him and Jon Rahm go play a course up north, he’ll tell you right now, he’s going to get his ass kicked. But in this situation, I’d put my money on him.” 

The parity that Wilson and Hoops have seen on the course is a testament to the community and the vision and determination of Grass Clippings to grow the game. Even major companies such as SRP and other recognizable names are part of leagues and organizations that play monthly. 

“It’s this really cool way of the community turning heads,” he said. “Seeing that come to fruition is really, really cool. It gives me goosebumps.” What started as an organic conversation with four buddies who loved the game of golf has transpired into something much more, and there’s even more in view on the golfing horizon.




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