More things we can change...
Q. We’ve not left the green yet. Next up : pin placings (hole locations)?
A. Exactly. There are real choices to be made here, and they can dictate how you try to play the hole, even from the tee.
For REAL golfers, easier pins are those which are in the middle of a green, or furthest away from bunkers or mounds. TOP golf, of course, goes for pins almost off the green at times, in order to make its challenge more difficult. Try playing such a set-up and see how much time – and shots - it adds to your round!
A good set-up for REAL golf may have one or two challenging hole locations – but not too many. Which leads back to a design issue : well-designed greens have a wide variety of possible hole locations, poorly-designed greens ( too many or too severe undulations ) do not.
Q. Can we get on to bunkers?
A. A major source of irritation for all golfers. Too many, too difficult, too easy, too deep, too shallow, too soft, too hard, too wet, too dry – take your pick.
These faults will be caused by poor design or poor construction/drainage or poor maintenance – or a combination of all three.
Never forget how much money they soak up – when analysed, we have sometimes seen 25% of the entire maintenance budget used up on bunkers!
Bunkers for TOP golfers
Let’s not get into the issues of how many bunkers or where they should be placed. On a good course, this will have been largely sorted out. We’re all going to get into them – the bigger question is do they give us a reasonable chance of getting out? Too often, the answer is no. There is, for example, a macho fashion for bunker faces which are almost vertical. Such bunkers are, we suspect, devised solely with the TOP golfer in mind. REAL golfers have their enjoyment spoiled on a daily basis by this dubious tactic – and pick up the tab ( and often the ball ) for their pains.
Our hope is that as facilities think more clearly about the need to attract and retain recreational golfers, they will pay serious attention to finding a better balance between hazards which fairly challenge REAL golfers and those designed only to penalise TOP golfers. And we’ll all get round the course more quickly!
Q. Well said. Now, can you deal with the other big one, the roughs?
A. Same thing, in many ways. REAL versus TOP. Start by going back to MacKenzie’s view : “There should be a complete absence of the annoyance and irritation caused by the necessity of searching for lost balls”. At courses which get closest to that ideal, you will find quicker rounds and more enjoyable golf. Unfortunately, many clubs simply do not budget for maintaining their roughs, and over time the roughs become jungle. ( In equatorial climates, an inevitable outcome).
Q. So, if you had the funds, would you cut all the roughs down?
A. No! Only as many trees as possible! Well-maintained rough is cut and scarified occasionally, so that you maybe lose a shot – but can still find the ball, as below. Areas which are almost never in play require less care, and the overall roughs management plan can be designed to encourage biodiversity.
Q. Does this have an effect on the mowing and shaping of fairways?
A. Very much so. Longer grass doesn’t just act as a hazard. It also takes spin off the ball when a shot is hit – which is why TOP golfers always want fairways cut low. To make life a bit more difficult for them, fairways are often narrowed at the point where a long drive will finish.
Again, we come back to the question of priorities : REAL golfers want wider fairways, with some grass on them to allow a margin of error on contact between club and ball. Clubs which see REAL golfers as their main customers work very hard to get a good balance between the challenge for both REAL and TOP golfers.
Q. So, finally, tees?
A. Yes, we think this is going to become a much bigger one in the future. Tees can be used to change the overall length of a course, so the need to play quicker rounds without losing enjoyment can still be accommodated at most clubs. Have a look at the ‘Tee it forward’ initiative which first launched in the USA. “Speed up play and have more fun” sounds good to REAL golf!
Finally, please spare more than a thought for the greenkeeper or superintendent who works so hard to fit this jigsaw together! It’s a job which takes great knowledge and dedication, with rarely enough thanks in return. And we’ve only scratched the surface of the subject.