There’s an interesting trend quietly occurring in Australian golf at the moment. It seems that more and more courses are beginning to (finally) tune-in to the fact that the majority of golfers out there (i.e. the middle-to-high-handicap club golfers, who are the bread and butter of the industry) are no longer actively seeking out the most punishing, difficult or feet-numbingly-long golf courses.
The trend—which I’m noticing increasingly in editorial and advertisements across a variety of media—sees many clubs steering clear of the once-touted highlights like high Slope/Course Ratings or extreme length from the “Tiger Tees”. Instead, we are now seeing more phrases like “member-friendly layout” and “a very playable course” and “enjoyable for golfers of all levels.”
This is a quantum shift from only a few decades ago, when a tough course was seemingly the Holy Grail. Back then, landowners approached golf course architects and asked for a course that was, for example “as challenging as a US Open venue”. They wanted their new course to be full of hazards, booby traps and pitfalls to bring players to their knees. They asked for their own versions of the “Snake Pit”, or the “Bear Trap” or other fear-inducing monikers to label their course as a brutal monster. These owners may have had visions of hosting national championships, and seeing their club’s name atop the list of “Most difficult/Challenging” layouts.
Smaller or already-established clubs (and committees) wanted in on the action, with some embarking on a mission to litter their own courses with extra bunkers, water hazards, foliage, forced carries, Tiger Tees, ultra-slick greens, wrist-straining rough and the like.
The problem with this approach, we have found over the years, is that the majority of golfers will play these types of courses once or twice. But after that, they (generally) return to a course or club that is more manageable for their game. And as we all know, it’s very difficult in this day and age for the average golf course to survive without a constant stream of repeat players or members.
These days—as we are seeing with forward-thinking courses/developments like Melbourne’s new Eastern Golf Club and Gardiners Run—clubs are asking for more “member-friendly” layouts. This doesn’t necessarily translate to an “easy” course, but rather aims for a layout that remains playable by a large number of golfers, every day. This can include large bail-out areas, very few (if any) forced carries, and a variety of teeboxes to allow all golfers to play a course that is comfortable to them and their game.
But you don’t need a brand-new course to make your club more attractive to the golfing masses. In fact, there are a few very simple things you can do to capitalise on this trend towards playability, and make your club as appealing to as many people as possible. Some clubs (see this month’s Club of the Month feature, for example) have introduced “forward tees” for juniors, beginners, seniors or other distance-challenged players. These teeboxes, usually positioned well past a major hazard or forced carry) greatly reduce the length of the hole, and thus help the shorter hitters to play closer to their handicap, or simply enjoy the game more.
Other clubs are beginning to create more bail-out areas off the tee. This is done by either expanding a fairway, or even eliminating tee-shot-grabbing fairway bunkers. And some clubs are heavily reducing thick rough, making pin placements more reasonable on a regular basis or even adjusting/reducing green speeds to limit the number of three-putts, etc.
Of course, these clubs can (and will) trick-up the course all they like for annual Club Championships, Monthly Medals or major events. But for the other 50 weeks of the year, these “member-friendly” clubs will have a course that creates more joy than misery. And I’m all in favour of that. Golf itself is difficult enough without having to contend with additional traps, pits, monsters and other hazards.
I’m not advocating that we make all golf courses ultra-easy. On the contrary, I love a good challenge (every now and then) and each course certainly needs their own “defence”; whether it’s fast greens or narrow fairways. But keep in mind that a course’s defence is there to protect par. Not to develop double-bogeys.
See you on the fairways,