When one speaks about “change” it can certainly be unnerving especially when we have been lulled into the comfort of the status-quo for so long. The amount of “change” we have experienced in the golf industry in such a short time has not been experienced in our collective memory. While unsettling it can also be a time for incredible innovation and new opportunities to broaden the base that will sustain golf for the future.
We first realized that change was in the air when new advances in equipment technology translated to longer drives and thus, longer courses. As a golf course architect, I worked with many clubs and resorts that wanted “bigger, longer..better” in the design to appeal to golfers that wanted to be challenged with over 7500 yards. That was a very dramatic change in a short period of time. Suddenly older, established courses and clubs were frantically trying to find extra yardage to “keep-up” and not fall behind. Now clubs are forced to find ways just to maintain membership and invigorate new players. To do that they are discovering a previously ignored and untapped market in women and juniors that don’t rely at all on length and strength. The wise club will embrace this change in demographics and rather than lengthen the course for the 1% of golfers that can adequately play from the tips, will seek out advice on design tweaks that will make their course more accommodating for the average and new player. Times are a changin….and that can be a good thing for growing the game.
Other changes we have all experienced recently include the economics of golf. Greens fees are in flux and maintenance costs have multiplied. The previous model is unsustainable for golf’s future and wise owners and operators are aware and willing to embrace some change in the way they do business. Now, more than ever, they are willing to be creative with new options that allow the “right amount of golf” for players that are financially and/or time-challenged. Rather than deeply discounting greens fees they are seizing on new ways to fill the “down times” during the day and week that every course experiences. Offering smaller doses of golf with three to six holes can be a successful use of that time while encouraging newer golfers to the game. Some operations even charge on a per hole basis which is a creative way to tackle the economics. Seeking the council of a golf course architect on the optimum short routing within the course is effective in keeping the shorter course challenging and interesting.
The rising cost of water, electricity and turf amendments is a formidable challenge for most courses today. The more efficient model uses less maintained turf. This more sustainable golf course is a change that we should all embrace. “Green and Lean” is the new mantra to replace the “Weed and Feed” of yesterday. Not only is this the right time for environmental conservation for our planet it is a time for change that offers significant savings in operating costs that will keep courses solvent. Once we realize that “change” doesn’t have to be feared we can then embrace creative solutions that will ultimately keep this wonderful game alive for future generations.