Back in the 1920s, golf’s number-one visionary was a cheerful Chicagoan named Herb Graffis. He co-founded the National Golf Foundation, the Club Managers Association, Course Superintendents Association, and Golf Writers Association, not to mention GOLF Magazine. For those and many other contributions he was among the first class of inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Among the numerous ideas Graffis had for growing the game was the notion of a golf beer garden, a place where people of all shapes and sizes could come together and have a jolly old time while puttering a bit. Well, it may have taken a century, but now another visionary is starting to make that happen.
Davis Sezna had forged a highly successful career in the restaurant and hospitality business—including stints as President of La Quinta Resorts and CEO of the Cliffs Communities—when he retired to Greenville, S.C., a few years ago. Then he got restless. It wasn’t long before he found himself buying a 29-acre par-three golf course near the Greenville Airport. It was a unique property, each of the 18 holes designed by a different architect including Arnold Palmer, Pete Dye, and Rees Jones. But the place had long suffered from neglect.
Sezna, with the help of local golf architect Jeff Lawrence, did some major surgery, cutting the course from 18 holes to 12 (floodlit for evening play) adding a 7-acre short game practice area, and creating a 17,000-square-foot putting course modeled after The Himalayas in St. Andrews. He also transformed a tired little clubhouse into a funky center of action surrounded by firepits and serving up gourmet pub food and creative cocktails. The result is one of the city’s hottest playgrounds: 3’s Greenville.
It’s similar in concept to Topgolf but more earthy. Instead of a high-tech driving range backed up to a sports bar, this is real golf, real turf, and it has attracted everyone from frat boys to families, golf fanatics to folks who’ve never held a club, all of them with smiles on their faces. Plans are already afoot for additional 3’s, first in the southeast and then beyond.
Sezna may have the instincts of P.T. Barnum, but his soul is that of a golf traditionalist (a member of Pine Valley, Merion, Seminole, Mid Ocean, and the Royal & Ancient). To that end, he’s made room at 3’s Greenville for serious players, offering $1,000-a-year memberships that allow unlimited play plus exclusive access to the practice area where, to maximize the value, each of the three greens is sown with a different strain of grass—bent, Bermuda, and zoysia.
But his real motivation is to bring golf to the masses as a joyful experience. “Every day we throw a party,” he says, “and the better the party, the more people will come.”
Herb Graffis would have approved.