Americans aren't going for coffins like they used to. Cremation is becoming more popular and many families opt to dispose of the ashes somewhere other than a cemetery.
That's not good news for the funeral and cemetery business. Arne Swanson, market director for Dignity Memorial Service Corporation International, recalls watching a family spreading the ashes of a loved one on the fairway of a golf course.
"I thought, 'There must be a better way,' " he says. "There just simply was not a product to meet the needs of this family."
So Swanson has come up with such a product: A memorial "golf park" right in the middle of a hilltop cemetery in Bellevue, Wash., with views of downtown Seattle and the Olympic mountains.
It's a perfectly playable putting green, built over an ossuary, a sealed vault for ashes. There's also a rough and a sand trap — which can also accommodate ashes.
"If you spent a lot of time in the sand trap while you were playing golf, why, here at Sunset Hills Memorial Park, you have the opportunity to spend an eternity in the trap," says Swanson.
Swanson says he's already made three sales to people who want to be buried at the golf hole, or their families. The company plans to expand the memorial golf hole concept to another one of its properties in Phoenix, and perhaps Las Vegas later.
Swanson also might contemplate products that memorialize other kinds of sports. But with its emphasis on quiet and lawn care, golf is ideal for the cemetery environment.
"The one unique thing about Sunset Hills is that we guarantee you that everyone here finishes six under," says Swanson.