Age or smarts: It's time to play the real course

Dismal River in Nebraska

Editor's note: This feature first ran in Golfweek magazine that hit doorsteps on March 21, 2014. If you'd like to subscribe, click here.

• • •

Don’t play it forward. Just play it real.

Maybe it’s a function of golfers getting older. Or perhaps they’re getting smarter. Based on anecdotal evidence around the country, there seems to be a lot more play from sensible yardage tees and less stigma attached to those who choose to do so. The next time someone suggests you play the whole golf course from the back tees, tell them that the best way to experience what a course has to offer is simply to finish out your 2- and 3-foot putts.

The oddity of the U.S. golf industry is that so much conversation about course design and setup has been about distance and difficulty – as if long and strenuous were better.Yet a casual glance at any course will demonstrate that only a minuscule percentage of players actually play from the back tees, and many of them are industry insiders who are comped, thus producing little or no revenue.

Here’s where good business converges with sound architecture.The emphasis needs to be on the actual experience of real golfers. And that means golf from 6,500 yards, 6,000 yards, even 5,000 yards.

Just ask Chris Johnston, the owner/manager of Dismal River in Mullen, Neb., whose newly opened Tom Doak course debuts at No. 39 on the Golfweek’s Best Modern list.The course hardly has any formally defined tees at all, with players facing a layout that ranges roughly from 5,000 to 7,000 yards.

“People in golf are looking for fun,” he says. “If it takes four hours of your time these days, it’d better be fun.”

By his estimate, most of his play is at about 6,600 yards, which when discounted for the base elevation of 3,300 feet above sea level, clocks in at about 6,230 yards.

Across the country, golfers can experience a course’s intended design, angles and challenges if they start from a reasonable length and play shots that allow them to deal with ground features. And clubs can accommodate that by allowing players to choose their tees for club matches and events.

Or better yet, de-emphasize competitions and empower golfers to go out and play, even when it means one or two players within a four-ball may play from different tees. Let golfers find their comfort zones.

Now that would be getting real.

Bradley S. Klein, Senior writer

Welcome to Golfweek.com's comments section.
Please review the posting guidlines here: Golfweek.com Community Guidelines.
All accounts must be verified using Disqus email verification