Golf is at a crossroads. For the past several decades, we have been chasing a model for golf consisting of wall-to-wall green landscapes, pristine conditioning and layouts that increasingly have occupied more acreage they have crept toward—and even beyond—the 8,000-yard mark.
Those standards are very expensive to maintain, and until recently, that price tag didn’t matter. Courses were able to afford extra layers like large clubhouses, hundreds of acres of maintained turf, hand-mowing six sets of tee boxes and hand-raking bunkers, thanks to golfers who were willing to pay for them, in the form of six-figure initiation and three-figure green fees.
The current economic downturn has hit golf hard, and at all levels, from the highest-end private clubs to local munis. Caught in the imperfect storm of rising costs and falling revenue, facilities are discovering that the model, which equated length, conditioning and visual stimulation with the quality of the golf experience, is no longer sustainable.
For a number of reasons, we think golf would be best if it returned to the way it used to be. The game thrived for centuries on seemingly inferior attributes: firm, brown, natural. These conditions would require fewer resources for construction and maintenance, resulting in cost savings for courses.
Despite the benefits of this simpler game, many facilities are reluctant to move down this path because of the resistance from their constituents—everyone from greens committee chairmen who demand perfect conditions to customers who speak with their wallets by playing a greener course across town.
For the game to succeed in these challenging times, it is imperative that golfers embrace a simpler game. The precedence is already in place. These conditions are the norm at overseas destinations like Scotland and Ireland, and at a handful of American courses, like those at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
For nearly our entire history, we have extolled the virtues of these courses in our pages. Now, we want to extend beyond the magazine with a campaign to highlight the benefits of firm, fast and natural golf to the golf public.
Our mission is best described by architect Bruce Hepner, who has said: “Just because it is not perfectly maintained doesn’t mean you can't make good golf out of it. That’s a mentality that has to change, and will.”
We will do that by explaining that these courses are more fun to play because you will hit the ball farther due to roll and you will be able to run the ball up to the greens, using the contours to great advantage. Green fees will cost less because the courses will be cheaper to maintain. Finally, rounds will take less time because practices like carts on paths only and thick, maintained rough will no longer be in effect. In short, it will make for a much better golf experience.
Previous attempts in this field have targeted the industry side of the golf course equation. But we have found that we need to reach out to its most important segment: golfers. Without them, golf cannot move forward.
Over the decades, they have been led to believe that green is better than brown, soft is better than dry, conditioning is better than the experience. The time has come to change those beliefs, and the only way to do that is by showing them that the alternative—a simpler game—is actually the better game.