Taking Clients or Colleagues to the Course? Choose Wisely

For an outing in La Quinta, the Mountain Course (above) might be more suitable than Pete Dye's intimidating Stadium Course

The preceding article post (“Pick the Right Course for Your Business-Golf Event,” Mon. Feb 15) is Part One one of a Two-Part Series. Read the second and concluding part here to learn more about looking good when you select courses for your business outings.

Any golfer with a fairly keen eye for course design is unlikely to utter the phrase “good resort course” very often. In the days when public courses were either low-budget munis or nine-holers built by hand on family farmland, a “resort course” simply meant a public course built to country-club standards. The term’s more subtle meaning had to do with “readability” of the layout, versus mystery or subtlety. The members of a private club might not mind three blind approach shots out of 18 because repeated play would soon familiarize them with the hidden ground, whereas visitors to a resort would throw up their hands. Blind shots are seldom built anymore, and architects like Westhampton C.C. that couldn’t be converted to resort use, or vice versa.

“The marketing needs of any new resort course puts a premium on architecture that is visually stimulating,” says Weed. “That’s what a so-called resort-course design tends to be–something visually dramatic, along with the shotmaking challenge. It can require more or less the same shots as a private member course, but you’ll spend the money to route those shots through canyons and over barranca. You have to create that postcard look that leads to good word-of-mouth advertising.” One example of a “resorty” design feature is the extremely elevated tee, which makes any ball that gets airborne look like a good shot, at least for a while. Better players disparage these free-falling tee shots, calling them carnival rides for a golf ball. They would prefer to supply the launch power themselves and maintain more control over the shot’s destination.

Brian Silva, who oversaw renovation of The Ocean Course at The Breakers Resort, says it is possible for the layout and routing of a resort golf course to offer multiple strategic options, optional routes to the hole that calibrate risk and reward and provide a cerebral experience for the well-traveled, sharp-eyed golfer. That level of subtlety is seldom at the top of a developer’s wish list, however.

“Most people wouldn’t know a so-called strategic design if it bit them in the rump,” says Silva. “Even at private clubs that level of subtlety isn’t common. But if a course has style and some variety and it’s exciting to look at, it’s going to succeed.” Silva advises design-conscious corporate golfers to play Pete Dye’s resort layouts in the California desert. “La Quinta Mountain, La Quinta Citrus, PGA West Stadium–these are dramatic-looking courses that also demand thought. They give you a chance to play away from the hazards and still hit a high-percentage shot to the green. You just have to recognize the route.”

The term “gimmicky” is also used loosely, especially given the competitive nature of the resort and convention market and the resulting need for golf that stands apart. Silva gives himself and his fellow designers a fair amount of leeway for marginal features that dress up the look. It’s when the expressly visual elements try to masquerade as important playability factors that he winces.

“What bothers me lately are contrived fairway contours,” says Silva. “The fairway shouldn’t twist and turn based on nothing but the path of the mower, or because a bunker got plopped on some flat ground. There needs to be some natural sinew to a fairway.” The most intensely un-gimmicky resort course built recently is the Tom Weiskopf-designed Cedar River Club at Shanty Creek in Bellaire, Michigan. “This is traditional golf,” insists Weiskopf. The bunkering here is traditional, and so is the presentation from the tee.” Not that it lacks drama, according to Weiskopf, but the drama comes courtesy of the site’s natural land features, not bulldozed mounds or bizarre rockpiles.

Remember, even lack of gimmicks and showy touches–the so-called “minimalism” trend of the mid-1990s–was eventually considered a gimmick of its own. Architects traded in style for excessive restraint, giving rise to complaints of dullness and blandness in the presentation.

In the desert, a standard architectural feature is the tiered, often humpback greens, and to score on these greens you need a flop shot. Given that most pre-round clinics are relatively meaningless exercises in full-swing instruction, take your group of 8 and have the golf staff teach everyone a reliable flop shot. Go the extra step and have loaner 60-degree wedges on hand to pass out. In cases like this, knowledge of course design isn’t just for cocktail-party talk, it’s a means of helping orient less knowledgeable players and guide them to a more satisfying day on the links.

There is pressure on a resort developer to strike the right balance with his golf-course offerings, and there is pressure on a corporate staff person whose job is to satisfy diverse groups via the choice of a golf venue. You can gradually build up your knowledge of golf course design by reading books and articles on the subject and paying attention to the specific features and the overall feeling of every course you play. When the time comes to select a suitable course for a corporate event, you will at least have a critical framework to help you decide.

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