At Royal Cromer, we are very fortunate to have one of the most talented young Course Managers in the country. At just 34 years of age, Mark Heveran includes spells at Royal Liverpool and Loch Lomond on his already impressive CV.
In this blog I will describe 3 things that I have learnt from talking to and observing Mark’s work in the last 4 years. The strategies that I describe do not require gigantic sized budgets to achieve but do require vision and no shortage of green-keeping and course design skill.
I have seen for myself how the presentation levels of a golf course can be totally transformed through a little trust, investment and craft. My experiences are at Royal Cromer, but many other courses across the country are following a similar path.
Bunkers are more important than you think
I am amazed when I visit other courses how low on the priority list bunkers often seem to be. It is fair to say that these patches of sand do take up a high % of maintenance time, but poorly maintained bunkers are hugely negative for the aesthetics of the course and cause huge frustration for golfers already disappointed with finding their ball in the trap.
I would say that it would be better for courses to fill in some of their bunkers if they are struggling with budget or labour hours to maintain them properly. There are some excellent and fun courses with no or very few bunkers including Berkhamsted, Bramshaw (Forest) and Painswick.
To demonstrate how big an influence great bunkers can be, consider the photos below from the Par 3 9th hole at Royal Cromer.
The photo on the right shows the hole following total redevelopment of the bunkers, as well as added definition from a bank at the rear of the green and rough short of the putting surface. This aerial shot helps to show the visual impact of the bunkers even better.
Although the style of bunkers will change according to the nature of the course, well designed and maintained traps offer great visual appeal and guide the golfer in their course strategy and management.
‘Flow’ is a vital ingredient to the Golfers overall experience
It is easy for Golf Clubs and maintenance staff to concentrate entirely on tees, fairways, bunkers and greens when considering course presentation, but I have learnt that the flow of the course can have a massive impact on the way the course looks and most importantly the overall enjoyment of players.
Flow contains a number of elements including pace of play, routing and journeys from tee to fairway and green to tee.
Pace of play issues will be covered as part of my final point.
Routing has a huge effect on wind influence and the ability to walk the course. For example, Manor House Golf Club in Wiltshire contains a wonderful and dramatic variety of holes but its extreme undulating routing makes it almost impossible to walk and has a detrimental effect on enjoyment for many golfers. The excellent Evalu18 on twitter help to give valuable insights into the importance of routing (and other areas of course architecture).
The photos below from the opening two holes at Royal Cromer help to give an example of great flow between tee and fairway.
Flow between green and next tee is also important. It is always preferable for the golfer to approach the next tee from the rear. This helps health and safety but also provides for the best ‘preview’ of the hole for the player.
The 4th at Royal Cromer is great in that the path from the 3rd green leads up and around the hill to approach the 4th tee from the back and rear. The view from the elevated position reveals itself wonderfully upon reaching the tee, providing great anticipation of the upcoming challenge.
Tougher is not always better
Since technology and Tiger Woods have helped to transform the nature of the game since the late 1990’s, with golfers becoming athletes and golf balls designed to fly longer and straighter, golf courses have sought to balance these advances with their set-up.
New back tees, narrower fairways, longer rough and faster greens have been the usual tactics of course managers. Most Golf Club websites like to boast how their course will ‘challenge every level of player’ or ‘plays 7200 yards from the back tees’.
Over the last few years, I have learnt that tougher is not always better. The development of the 8th hole at Royal Cromer helps to illustrate this point in a subtle way.
The photo on the left shows the hole 4 years ago, with the dune cutting sharply into the left hand side of the green. Golfers often lost their balls within a few feet of the pin on this bank. The flow was also difficult, with all traffic forced around the right hand side of the green into the line of the 9th hole play.
The right hand photo shows the results of a winters worth of re-development opening up the left side of the green to golf traffic and reducing the penalty for missing the green on this side (it is still a difficult up and down!). The below photo illustrates the change slightly better:
More difficult? No. Better course presentation and flow. Definitely.
I was taken by how similar the development of this hole was to some of the complexes at Augusta National when I saw some photos from the Masters course without the grandstands earlier in the year.
Rough management is another crucial element of course presentation. Rough provides an important element of definition, but nobody wants to be searching for balls a few feet off the fairway. The balance must lie in achieving the length of grass without the depth at the bottom. This is very much a work in progress at Cromer, but I have learnt that it is possible with the right strategy and hard work.
So this blog has explained 3 aspects of course presentation that can make a huge difference to the aesthetics and experience for golfers. With a little investment and the right staff, I have learnt that significant improvements are possible in just a few years.