Guest column: Bill Love
There’s an interesting relationship between course ratings such as Golfweek’s and the long-term health of the game.
One of the prevalent topics of discussion at golf industry meetings is the need to attract new players to the game and get players who have hung up their sticks to return. Growing the game and increasing the rounds being played is important to the long-term health and business of golf.
The problems often identified with attracting more players are the time and expense involved in a round of golf. Recreational activities have to fit today’s lifestyles of hectic schedules and less discretionary spending, even in retirement. Facilities offering more-affordable golf and relief from time constraints create great opportunities for new and old players alike. However, the competitive marketplace requires that these facilities appeal to a wide range of golfers by providing more than a cheap round or requiring less time on the course.
Most golfers want a great experience, whether that means a challenging round for low-handicap players or a user-friendly round for less-accomplished players – ideally, on a course with a beautiful setting. Unfortunately, great golf experiences are often perceived to be associated with more-expensive courses and those that have less-accessible locations or restricted use.
This perception probably has a lot to do with televised golf events. It’s also the influence golf publications have through the evolution of their various ranking or rating systems for new and modern golf courses – including Golfweek’s.
More modest, affordable courses, while obviously given consideration, initially seem to pale in comparison with facilities involving large budgets or spectacular sites. A single round of golf on a course with an exceptional setting can provide a great experience. Other courses present subtle characteristics and nuances that require more than a few rounds to be discovered.
It is that process of discovery that contributes to a great golf experience.
A recent project I did, Laurel Hill Golf Club in Lorton, Va., had to address budget issues and numerous site and environmental constraints throughout the design and construction process. The course utilized the character of the site in such a way that the experience continues to be diverse and engaging.
Like all designers, I enjoy working on projects with ample budgets to overcome all site deficiencies or carefully integrating a course into a site with unique natural character and an exceptional setting. In these cases, there is an advantage, and it would be hard not to get great results.
However, when faced with an average or degraded site, stringent environmental regulations and a limited budget, the design, construction and maintenance of a new course can present quite a challenge. Successfully creating a great golf experience from these circumstances – one that is environmentally responsible, cost effective and therefore accessible to many players is equally gratifying, if not more so.
Perhaps rating modern courses for the best experience with the least amount of cost would be of interest. If more recognition were given to these types of golf courses, it might help attract more players to the game.
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Bill Love, of College Park, Md., has been a golf course architect for more than 25 years. He is past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and lead author/editor of that association’s book, “An Environmental Approach to Golf Course Development.” His Laurel Hill Golf Club is ranked No. 9 on the Golfweek’s Best public-access list for Virginia.