Have we forgotten the punter?

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By Matt Osborne

The poor old punter. You can see the frustration. Two shots out of every bunker, three putts on every green. No hope of breaking 100 even on a good day. The best part of the day is the pint on the nineteenth. The poor guy spends hundreds of dollars a few times a year to be punished for five or six hours; not exactly enticing.

Have we forgotten these poor souls? Left them behind in order to design golf 's next great championship course? Are we doing enough for the largest percentage of the golfing population? We tend to design for the top one or two per cent of golfers but if we ignored them, would the designs be better? The perceived success of today's new golf developments lies heavily on marketing and advertising. It is the era of the championship golf course, supposed to be the highest in quality and the pinnacle of the golfing experience.

Championship also sounds good to golf architects as we strive to produce something unique and make our mark in the industry.

Does it not seem, though, that every new development is a championship course these days? Every brochure for a new real estate project with a golf course boasts another championship layout. The term has been used so heavily as a marketing tool that the definition of what constitutes a championship course has become clouded. Is it length? Difficulty? Aesthetic quality? Price? The combination of these 'championship' attributes has created a pretty clear and simple equation: increasing length = more land = more maintenance = higher costs = higher green fees.

Is it worth it? Lengthening the course not only adds to the maintenance budget but also requires players to hit more shots and thus increases the amount of time it takes to play a round.

The increase in difficulty challenges the low-handicappers but also discourages the larger majority of high-handicap players. The resulting increase in green fees detracts the average/casual player from playing very often and severely decreases the initiative for the beginner to take up the game.

Ask any golfer, beginner or pro, what their three biggest complaints are with regards to playing more often and undoubtedly their reply would be: time, difficulty and price.

So with the plethora of new championship courses hitting the market the question remains, what happened to the regular golf course? The fun golf course that was not too long so that even the punter had a chance to make the odd par or maybe even a birdie? The joy of playing a few holes well is surely greater than playing a course simply because of its name or stature. More courses need to be built with the idea to entertain the golfers, definitely not to punish them.

Consciously or unconsciously, some golf courses have already incorporated the fun golf course into their development. The industry usually refers to them as executive courses. The clubs that offer these executive courses can attest to their popularity even though many are under-maintained as the main resources are put towards the championship course. This is despite the fact that the executive courses are often booked more heavily than their championship counterparts and make more money for the club.

Their popularity is a result of a lower price, less play time and the fun of being able to score well, even if only for a few holes. It is this popularity that we should all remember. These courses are financially sustainable and also great promoters of the game.

Newly developing golf markets tend to overlook or lack the fun course facilities.

Creating these fun courses, even as standalone courses, creates an opportunity for the new or occasional player to play more and enjoy the game more often. Offering a wider range of playing experiences in a given golf market will help to increase the interest in the game and feasibility for the golf courses themselves. This is obviously an important step in helping to establish and encourage growth of the game and industry in these emerging golf markets.

It might also help some of the championship courses to define themselves better.

The problem lies in the marketing divisions of the developers, and with some golf architects who have to produce a monument in order to satisfy their egos and the exigencies of the exalted media and clients. The architect should put his own agenda aside and convince the client that a fun course is the best solution for the site and the golf market as a whole.

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