In large markets where golf once prospered, the number of active players and rounds played has dropped considerably. This has been covered in the media now for several years. Two main causes have been commonly identified; the time it takes to play a round of golf and how much it costs to play. A third factor, the much discussed environmental restrictions, is also likely to continue influencing the game and the expense involved in golf course maintenance for the future, and therefore also the cost of playing the game.
The author is among those who feel that nothing short of a radical change will reverse this trend and make the game sustainable and affordable for good. Without a drastic change in mentality throughout the industry, golf will remain painfully unable to tackle the obvious factors contributing to its decline: Time, money and the growing environmental issues showing up on our desks (believe me – I am in the golf course design business). So here is an idea and its benefits, in short:
We need to abandon the principle that a ‘full’ round of golf consists of eighteen holes and get used to the thought that a golf course may have just any number of holes that suits its particular environment. This will help many struggling golf clubs make quick and relatively easy changes to adapt to the needs of today’s golfer, allow them to co-exist with other existing courses that wish to stick to their current model, open new dimensions in the design of new courses and give golf greater flexibility to work hand in hand with the environment.
Let us elaborate a bit more on the two main causes, time and money.
Most of us know all too well that a game of golf is taking too long these days. Who has not experienced five and six hour rounds? Surely, the working men and women of today can not spare that much time on the golf course. The key for the golf industry is to get golf back to being an experience of, say, 3 hours plus – the way it once was. This is a time unit that could work for the way we live today – not too short but long enough to achieve fulfillment.
To make the game more affordable, we must find ways to lower construction and running costs. The more we are able to lower this cost, we can offer the player lower fees. It is easy to predict that by each decade from now on, dealing with environmental restrictions will not become any easier for golf clubs than it is today. If anything, this and other tasks will become more complicated and more expensive. It will take a major breakthrough of historical proportions to change the outlook and alter this reality. Golf will therefore not become any less expensive in the coming decades unless we are ready to open our minds to what golf really is, from what it has originated and how it has evolved for the several hundred years it has been played.
I believe many of us are charmed by the uniqueness of golf among other sports, games or pastimes. One of these unique attributes is the variety from one golf course to the other. The canvas on which the game is played is to some extent a result of the local environment that of course differs from one place to the next. This is among the things that distinguish the game of golf from other games, most of which are played on a field with fixed dimensions like tennis or football (soccer). This is true for most games, hence the charm of golf. Let me ask you this:
- When an author gets ready to write a novel, does he/she decide upon the exact number of pages?
- Does a film director base all his work on the fact that his/her motion picture must be 110 minutes long? Not one minute shorter or longer.
Imagine the creative hindrances involved in the above. Believe it or not, the same applies to golf course design. I think we should not standardize the number of holes on a golf course, because by doing so we are missing the purest possible experience from the land upon which the golf course rests. I feel that this is the essence of the game.
By breaking out of the whole nine or eighteen hole pattern, we would be opening up a vast opportunity to utilize properties of sizes and dimensions previously deemed unsuitable. Some of these properties could well have been the most exciting golf course country in the world, but no, just because the land parcel was, say, 65 acres, it was considered useless for golf unless it became for example an 18-hole par-3 course or something of the like, or a “good” 9-hole course plus an academy course, no matter if the owner was ready with the money and all permits could be obtained. Who knows how many world-class sites we have ignored simply because we have “standardized” the round of golf.