Innovation and golf: on a collision course?

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  • Frilford Heath

    The new Yellow course at Frilford Heath in Oxfordshire, England, has all-weather greens

Paul Chester
By Paul Chester

It never used to be the case, but running a golf course today is much like playing: you’ve got to keep working at it. Rest on your laurels and some new upstart will walk away with the prize! We know this all too well: as a company steeped in history ourselves, we too have had to embrace new ideas to adapt to new market demands.

I believe that there are three key trends which are transforming the golfing landscape which can be addressed with some very practical steps to embrace innovation and secure the future of your club or course.

The first is the trend for state-of-the-art practice facilities: multi-purpose practice studios and coaching zones indoors or larger short game practice areas outside. There’s an added benefit to this approach which is that it gives you something fresh to talk about; new news to kick-start your marketing and incentivise membership.

Secondly, there is the inevitable rise of technology designed to help players improve their game. In the last year we’ve seen hi-tech simulators and robots join the ranks of existing training technologies. It might sound like the stuff of science fiction but, with excellent success rates, it’s easy to see how computer-aided equipment has the potential to get younger players hooked.

The third trend is speed. While this may seem at odds with the traditional golf experience, it’s a fact that the demands of modern life rarely allow for 18 holes twice-weekly. There’s been a lot of publicity around the need for much quicker rounds of golf to attract more people into the game. There are various ways to achieve this: shortening the length of holes, and creating smaller (six- to nine-hole) courses which are more appealing to novices, younger players and time-strapped golfers. Finding ways to make a round of golf last one-and-a-half hours, instead of four, is the aim.

Although there is an up-front investment in any new approach, the payback potential with high quality artificial surfaces far outweighs this when you consider that there’s no skilled maintenance requirement, no watering, mowing or fertilisation needed. And, of course, they open up the opportunity for year-round play whatever the weather – rarely possible with exclusively natural grass courses.

The flexibility that all-weather surfaces offer cannot be understated. Aside from infinite possibilities in terms of size and shape, there’s no seeding period required, meaning that tees and greens can be installed at any time and are immediately ready for play. They can be blended into the natural surroundings with all-weather fringes and pathways too, to create a pleasingly consistent aesthetic around the course and practice areas.

We are increasingly seeing innovation and golf seamlessly work together. We are witnessing clubs and courses across Europe reinventing the rules to create interest and get more people engaging with the game. And with a well-publicised ageing population, this innovation revolution cannot come soon enough.

Paul Chester is general manager at Huxley Golf. Find out more at www.huxleygolf.com

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