The good, the bad and...

A good golf course is like good music or good anything grows on the player the more frequently he visits it. - Alister MacKenzie 1920

Q. Surely there are whole libraries of books on this subject? What can you add?

A. You’re right - so we want to briefly discuss how poor course design raises barriers to REAL golf . This includes re-design and renovation, as well as new courses.

Remember :  a REAL course needs to be enjoyable and affordable to play, and allow rounds to be played in under 4 hours – quicker when possible. And 6000 yards is much better than 7000 yards!

Q. Tell me how poor design spoils the enjoyment of the challenge.

A. OK, but one point first : other factors related to the course also raise barriers to REAL golf – especially the golf course set-up . And we'll discuss bunkers there!

To begin with, is the course designed to challenge all players : beginners, long handicap players - or just the low handicap golfers? Too often, it’s just the latter - the rest of us can't enjoy it.

Good, undulating terrain is the first essential, if the design is to be made interesting. Sensible length is the next one. As discussed in the  ball , golfers need to give a lot more thought to the length of course they really want to play – and use the right ball to match the overall length.


A good chance

From the tee, golfers want a good chance that their drive will at least reach where the fairway begins, even if the ball finishes on either side. Too many water hazards in front of tees are very unhelpful, for obvious reasons. And the carry itself should not be too long – more apparent than real, as Alister MacKenzie, designer of the original Augusta National, used to put it.

Absence of annoyance

Having got the ball into play, let’s stay with that great man - he made no bones about keeping  the game moving : “There should be a complete absence of the annoyance and irritation caused by the necessity of searching for lost balls”. How many courses obey that one?! Absence of annoyance and irritation = enjoyment.

Blind shots to greens are another no-no – as well as too many trees. Fewer trees help the golfer and the turf ( good grass does not grow well in the middle of a wood, in any climate ).

To find all these desirables on a course is rare. But if we are serious about wanting enjoyment for all golfers, then the more of these boxes we can tick, the better.

Q. Right. Now, where does cost and affordability come into it?

A. Apart from buying your golfing equipment, the major cost in playing golf comes from the design, construction and maintenance of the course itself.

Start with the cost of the land : most courses today seem to demand 150 acres of land ( 60 hectares ), whereas 100 years ago 100 acres ( 40 hectares ) would have been generous; such has been the influence of a too-powerful ball and the "benefits" of technology.

If the land lacks classic undulating golfing terrain, there will be the cost of much earth moving, drainage and the usual construction of greens complexes, fairways, bunkers, tees and so on. To say nothing of irrigation systems, and vast amounts of grass seed and fertilisers . Add on fees to the architect or “designer”.

This initial investment is being charged to your round of golf, but you also have to add in the cost of daily course maintenance, and perhaps the cost of the clubhouse ( even if you don’t use it ).

However, there are big contrasts in how each facility works out the cost of its green fee. An old, established members’ club has long ago paid for its land and the costs of building the course. It still has to pay the daily maintenance, and may have a creaky old clubhouse to look after. But often it uses its “surplus” from visitor income to help keep the members’ subscriptions down. Think about joining an older club if you expect to play a lot!

In the matter of choice, golfers have an increasingly strong hand. Around much of the world, gone are the days when golfers stood cap in hand just to be allowed onto a course. But make sensible choices with your money : join clubs or pick courses which give you a fair chance of REAL golf.

Q. So : price is what you pay, value is what you get. What about some words on design and how it can affect the time taken to get round the course?

A. We’ve all experienced the trudge back 70 yards to a new tee, which is only in play because the TOP players insist on their challenge being conserved. Long walks to a tee should be avoided, and again this is usually the fault of the chase for length.

But there are other intrinsic design faults which are becoming more recognised as serious contributors to slow golf. Perhaps the worst of these is the placing of par 3 holes too early in the round – or just after a par 5 - or bunched together. All conspiring to slower golf - and not the fault of the golfer. Just poor or unhelpful design.

We could go on and on...but what it all comes down to is this : choose to play at facilities which tick more of the desirable design boxes - your chances of playing REAL golf will increase dramatically.

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