Playing golf is a wonderful experience best understood by the fraternity of players who have enjoyed it for many years. In the past, most of these players would play an 18 hole course given the choice, and most would try to find the best 18 hole course in their area that they could afford. Times have changed for these same people who now have less time and a lot less money than before, and as a consequence their views have changed as well regarding the type of courses they would play. On the other side of the golf world are the beginning players who seek any golf course that is convenient to them in order to pursue their new interest. Like the veteran players, the beginners probably have less time and less money to devote to their new hobby and this defines their view of the type of courses they would play as well. Interestingly, there may be a convergence of these two polar opposites of the golf world at the same golfing facility and the savvy golf course owner should be looking to make accommodations for both.
Without question, most golfers are interested in golf courses that are well maintained (specifically the greens), have reasonable green fees, and aren’t plagued by slow play. That is a tall order to fill for some courses, but accomplishing those three goals can help a golf course attract the most customers. There are other virtues worth striving for that are needed to make any golf course attractive to the beginning golf, the familiar golfer, and every type of golfer in between.
Every golf course should be designed to fit in with the site’s natural features. This can be the distinguishing feature separating it from other local courses. Taking this approach could mean the number of holes may be less than 18, or it may allow for 18 holes, but at an overall playing distance much less than what is considered average today. The golf course with fewer holes that fits in well with the land by preserving the natural features may be more attractive than a course that obliterates the land’s natural features while trying to meet the “rule” of 18 holes. What if the land is featureless? This is a delicate subject to discuss because in our experiences land deemed featureless has in fact proven to have many wonderful and subtle features worth preserving and incorporating into the design of the course. If the land is truly featureless, maybe a distressed site abused by previous development, there may be a strategy worth exploring. If the golf course land is within a developing area then let the bulk earth movers deposit their excess soil and shape and misshape the soil in any way they see fit. At the appropriate time the architect can visit the site and see what kind of golf course can be found on the “naturally” man made site. This approach certainly takes a leap of faith but it could result in an intriguing layout not possible with a more conventional approach.
For the golfers fewer holes means it takes less time to play, and costs less money to play. These benefits can be attractive to many golfers. But in many communities the most successful golf course will provide golf holes with a heightened standard of strategy and interest which will be attractive to golfers of all abilities. Golf holes with interesting natural features, and more importantly, with exciting strategic challenges can make any golfer forget the number of holes. Fewer holes are not the only feature that may prove attractive to all golfers. Shorter courses help the better player fine tune their short game; shorter courses can be less intimidating to the beginning player; and, shorter courses with variety, like a hole or two that can play as a par 3 one time and a par 4 the next time, and holes that captivate and challenge golfers with intriguing strategic qualities can make a golf course the most attractive alternative in many golfing communities. For the developers fewer holes means construction and maintenance costs are lower. For communities fewer holes means less demand on local water resources and less of an impact on local natural features.
The position of the golf course property within the community is another important matter that deserves a post devoted to it. But, it is important to leave this post with the declaration that any golf course would do well to be integrated within the boundaries of a community, within walking distance of many of its residence so that it can be regarded as an indispensable feature within the community. Less important are the number of holes and the length of the course; more important is a golf course that locals support and in a sense take “ownership” of the course as a source of pride and source of indispensable joy in their lives.