Following on from my “Augusta Effect” article (October issue), I heard a story the other day from a mate who had played a relatively new-ish course that was featured as part of a larger real estate development.

“The course was nice,” he said, “but the rough was crazy deep. Unplayably deep.”

While this was not surprising in its own right (I mean, long rough can be a main defense of a course, etc)  when my mate explained the reason WHY the rough was intentionally grown so long, the explanation made my jaw drop.

“They want to grow the rough super long because it makes the surrounding houses look better,” he said.

In essence, the developers were treating a championship course as glorified landscaping. They didn’t necessarily care about playability or enjoyability of the course (not to mention the original intentions of the architect/designer). They didn’t care about the long-term implications or first impressions by golfers. Rather, they wanted to make a nice picture to sell houses.

This type of short-term view is troubling. And it highlights a similar problem that is affecting courses all over Australia.

I’m not talking about golf courses being part of Real Estate developments – as that is, unfortunately, part and parcel of most new golf courses these days.

More and more, I’m beginning to see course/hole redevelopments that are focussing primarily on visual appeal. Too often, committees, boards (and even the occasional designer or land owner) will focus more on the “picture” of a course/hole rather than the overall playability.  “Let’s add a bunker over there to make it visually appealing” they’ll say, or “Let’s plant a tree right here to better frame the view from the tee”.

The problem is, adding these “features” willy nilly (without consulting a qualified course designer, etc) can often have a huge (and undesirable) impact on the playability of a hole/course.  They can slow down play (searching for lost balls, or playing multiple bunker shots), make a hole too difficult (eliminating bail-out areas or penalising good shots), or have a follow-on impact on other parts of the course (too many trees can restrict sunlight to a fairway, thus causing the grass to die, etc.) Too often, committees/boards don’t take the long-term impact into account.

Then, many years (or decades) down the line, these features often get removed after complaints by members, low ratings/reviews, etc.  There are plenty of stories these days about designers “reinvigorating” a course by simply taking it back to the original design, clearing out heaps of trees/bunkers/etc that had been implemented through “decades of ad hoc changes by committees, etc”.

Now, I should point out that there have been many great changes to many great courses over the years. Some committees and boards manage to get it right (whether they are “switched on” and get proper consultation in advance, or whether they are just lucky).   But there are an equal number of mistakes out there that can do massive harm to a course.

I’ve played heaps of “redesigned” courses over the years that left me shaking my head. Yes, they were as pretty as a picture. But I won’t be rushing back there to play them again. And in many cases, their members seem to have felt the same way, with many moving on to more playable courses.

So if you (or your committee) want to keep the club healthy, your course playable and your members/guests happy, perhaps focus more on “playability”, and less on postcards. More on “conditioning” and less on “construction”.  In my opinion, a well-maintained, playable course will trump a “knee-knocking, visually-stunning behemoth” every time. No matter what the marketing brochures tell you.

See you on the fairways.

 

Richard Fellner

 

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