Dear Course Manager ….. (My plea for the future of course design)

At all levels of the game – golf is in transition.

At the entry-level, the complexity and length of time the game takes to learn and play are a couple of the many barriers to maintaining players. In the professional game, the distance that players are hitting the ball is making many courses obsolete and slow play is turning viewers away.

All of these challenges have to be considered by golf course managers and architects when they are deciding how to develop and present existing and new courses. The breadth and quality of the playing area is an absolutely essential element of the overall golf experience and the strategies utilised in this area have a crucial role to play in the future success of the game.

With this in mind, this blog will cover the key aspects of golf course presentation and design that I consider will help to place the game in the right position to move forwards with confidence and prosperity.

Make the journey fun too!

It is not just the quality of the actual playing area that is important to me – the holistic experience is all part of the enjoyment. The ‘flow’ or routing of the course is a key element to this. Transition routes between green and tees and tees and fairways can either add to or remove from the fun of my day.

 

Views are important here – let me approach the tee from behind to give me a great look at the hole. Give me a great path that is in keeping with the nature of the course – see images above – to let me feel the hole in comfort and ease.

Let the big dog eat! – but short courses can be great fun as well.

The future of course design and presentation surely does not lie in narrow fairways flanked by thick rough. My Driver cost me over £400, it is the most enjoyable Club to hit and I want to open my shoulders and move on – rather than be looking for balls constantly.

Castle Stuart is a modern groundbreaking design with a fresh philosophy:

 

The fairways are wide but the course is still highly strategic – the wrong side of the fairway will make for a much more difficult approach angle. Interestingly, where there are hazards alongside fairways at Castle Stuart they tend to be so penal that golfers do not waste time looking for their ball and play can flow smoothly.

Where the course is tree-lined, keep it clean and remove enough vegetation that Driver is still an option. This will also clear the views and add to my experience.

Having said all that – great quality short courses, either putting, Par 3 or less than 18 holes are a big part of the future. These are not poorly maintained pitch and putt facilities but fantastically conditioned layouts such as Bandon Preserve, a 13 hole Par 3 routing that golfers are happy to pay premium prices to play.

bandon dunes preserve
Bandon Dunes Preserve

Blind shots are OK – with certain conditions

For some golfers blind shots are a huge negative – not for me. The sight of your golf ball disappearing over the horizon into the unknown can be a great thrill and add to the fun. One of the best courses in the world – Royal County Down – contains a number of blind tee shots including arguably the best hole, the Par 4 9th.

rcd1
Royal County Down 9th hole

A couple of addendum’s to blind shots – narrow fairways and thick rough when you cannot see the end of your shot are a big turn-off – and blind approach shots to greens are not very satisfying.

Hazards can be beautiful too!

Conditioning is not all about tees, fairways and greens. Hazards help to provide a significant element of the aesthetics and definition to the hole, and are often the points that golfers eyes are drawn to or provide target lines.

Some examples of beautiful hazards from Royal Cromer and Royal County Down:

 

Bunkers should be well maintained and works of art. Rough has a place and adds great definition. It should have long grass but not thickness at its base. Water hazards can be stunning but must be fit into the nature of the course and clearly visible to the golfer.

Conditioning, Conditioning, Conditioning!

Remember that the course is the star – a perfectly conditioned course with good flow cannot fail to be a fun experience for any level of golfer.

 

The above photos illustrate great conditioning at Royal Liverpool and Trump Aberdeen. Whilst these clubs have healthy budgets which do help – a great course manager can achieve superb results without a Donald Trump style investment. Golf Club’s need to find the right person, trust them and invest in their training in order to reap superb results.

If you can create an improving, immaculate course,then members and visitors will come without the need for price discounting.

So – this is my plea to golf course managers and architects.

Make my experience FUN by setting the course up to challenge my mind but be playable with great flow. Let me ENJOY short courses with friends and family – I will pay good money for perfectly conditioned putting or par 3 layouts. Finally,  make my day BEAUTIFUL by creating an aesthetic journey full of views, smooth routing and well maintained tees, fairways, greens and hazards.

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