Feature Interview with Kyle Harris
What is your background?
I was born in Pittsburgh, PA in April 1983 to parents from northeastern Pennsylvania. We lived at the time in a quiet suburb of the city called Oakmont at the corner of 11th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. In September 1985 we moved to the Philadelphia suburb of Warminster in Bucks County. My grandfather, a coal miner who worked in the infamous ghost town of Centralia, PA, was my hero and I had an obsession as a youngster with all sorts of heavy construction equipment and was perfectly content to play in my sandbox day-in and day-out. Some of my earliest memories of Warminster, therefore, was the construction of what became my first home course: The municipal Five Ponds Golf Course.
My interests included piano and music. I fell in love with The Beatles in 4th grade. Also, astronomy and American Civil War history predated my passion for golf. At the end of 8th grade during a tour of the high school, I signed up for the golf team on a lark, because I thought it was silly concept for a competitive high school sport. My first nines holes had me hooked and I managed to make the practice squad through a combination of enthusiasm and good behavior. Sophomore year I made varsity and started competing against junior golfers from all over the Philadelphia District, some of whom have gone on to compete at the national level in some form or the other. That, as they say, is the story of that.
What were the seminal golf moments that lead you to appreciate and study golf architecture?
Playing a relatively (for then) treeless and open Municipal Course all through High School that was exposed to some wind helped at least ingrain the idea that golf is about overcoming forces of nature. The less-than-perfect conditioning at the time also helped with that mentality. For those wondering, this is Warminster’s Five Ponds Golf Course in Bucks County. Not a bad place. Designed by the late, great Xenophon Hassenplug.
Playing the 7th hole at William Flynn’s Huntingdon Valley in my first High School match there in 1999. I remember seeing the second shot and the tumbling fairway and considering the shot shape and trajectory and aim point in the middle of what remains a rather wide fairway – all in order to keep the ball in the short grass and at an acceptable angle for the approach. It dawned on me that I never even considered the distance! From that point forward I understood golf to be more than just a “pick-a-duck-everyone’s-a-winner” kind of game.
Playing Penn State’s White Course in summer of 2002 in the midst of a drought. This was between my Freshman and Sophomore years at Penn State and I had spent most of the previous year trying to avoid the White Course in lieu of the longer and more modern Blue Course. Familiarity did not breed contempt in the drought conditions, in fact, quite the opposite! With a lack of irrigation the course was firm and fast and the Willie Park, Jr. greens speedy. Suddenly all the angles were exposed and I was thinking my way around a golf course with which I had familiarity in a whole new way. I never thought of golf course conditioning the same again and this was the moment where the idea of maintenance meld “clicked” for me.
One architect said words to the effect that architecture is all about management and control of water. Any green keeper would delight in hearing such an expressed sentiment, which brings me to a series of questions. The first is, what appeals to you more about greenkeeping than being an architect? How about vice-versa – what would you imagine?
For greenkeeping there is a consistency and longevity with curating that particular project over the course of time that appeals to me more than moving on to the next one, or working on concurrent ones. I once joked to a shaper who made some snarky maintenance/design comment at a course we were playing together that the problem with shapers is they don’t manage a budget and they leave before the job is done. I think being able to manage the bridge between design/intent and the effect of time is the most appealing part of greenkeeping along with using a full agronomic tool box to accomplish playability goals. One can think on two completely separate levels in terms of presenting the golf course. As a greenkeeper I have the ability and privilege to fall in love with a golf course on a completely different plane than as an architect.
As for the opposite, and to turn my above statement on myself, the problem with greenkeepers is they are only involved after all the large-scale decisions about the golf course for which the architect will succeed or fail are made. Taking new ground and turning into golf might be the single-most fascinating aspect of anything in golf because it is also the most primal. While many may pity the poor greenkeeper for the potential of being a dealt a bad hand architecturally, I prefer to look at it as a missed opportunity to connect with some of the larger decisions that affect the overall outcome of the whole.
In terms of agronomy, what areas are most misunderstood by architects?
It’s hard to paint in broad strokes here because I like to think that architects learn a little bit from each project. That has certainly been my experience. I should like to think that architects could embrace a little more volatility in terms of day-to-day maintenance born out of agronomic necessity. This segues into the idea that seasons will change both the appearance and growth habits of plants, especially in low-maintenance areas. Fine fescues will ultimately become unwieldy. Shrub growth will accelerate when introduced to irrigation. Bunker faces (both sand and grass) will need to find their repose only through the crucible of time and weather.
The design of the golf course can both help and hinder the ability of the greenkeeper to impose agronomic will on the play surface. Consider that a greenkeeper is charged with using an agronomic toolbox to present and curate the golf course design to the golfer. A well drained area with ample sunlight on good soil permits the greenkeeper to present ideal conditions with a minimal cost output or agronomic input. On less-than-ideal sites, it becomes increasingly difficult to present the same and golf design in this aspect is about balancing the needs for golf with the desired level of effort and desired playability. When looking at a golf course, even with minimal agronomic knowledge it is obvious that the best golf courses, and best experience, strike a balance and allow the golfer to suspend disbelief between what is “good golf” and what is agronomic necessity.
As with the golfer and play, a well-designed golf course will also pose essay questions on the greenkeeper agronomically.
True or false: The line between Green Keeper and Architect is more blurred today than at any point since Old Tom Morris’s day. Explain your answer.
Yeesh. This one might annoy Mr. Doak a bit, but I’ll say true – to a point.
A number of the early-20th century guys dabbled in agronomy and greenkeeping, but they ultimately moved on full time to architect. The interest was more out of an exigent of construction than the actual desire to maintain a golf course for day-to-day play. The middle of the century seems more marked with full-scale renovation work overseen by an architect in one large project. Architecture happened and then it was maintained.
With the advent of golf architect as consultant we now have a timespan of small in-house changes often times overseen by the greenkeeper and executed by a contracted construction company. I have been involved with a number of Master Plan projects at previous jobs that were culled from Master Plans developed years – sometimes over a decade – before. At this point, the greenkeeper is interpreting and executing a plan far removed from an architect’s involvement.
It doesn’t get much more blurred than that but the talented guys on both sides make it work.
This becomes limited as the prestige of the club increases and at that level I think we have become even more specialized within the respective “maintenance” and “architecture” camps.
Is the ability to route 18 holes and have them seamlessly connect while taking advantage of the property’s natural features the single greatest attribute an architect can possess? Is it also the most elusive?
I had one of my “made it” moments almost ten years ago when I posted on GolfClubAtlas that to me, the most important part of the golf course was the use of the space between the putting green and the next tee. Tom Doak chimed in with an almost Spock-like, “Fascinating.” That felt good.
Some may confuse a seamless routing with short green-to-tee walks or intimacy, but the fact is those are simply aspects of routing that appeal when applied correctly. Properties have non-golf features, too, and those need to be considered and integrated with the golf features. The negative space chosen by the architect speaks just as much as the golf space.
What is the state of American golf? We know it can be slow and expensive. Does golf need to be ‘fixed’ in this country?
I blame the advent of the Internet on this one, but at some point in the past twenty years each “type” of golfer started to fly a banner and demand a seat at the table. Golf in this country has always been service-oriented and as more groups emerged and demanded not to be marginalized we attempted to serve each group’s individual needs (wants) while at the same time forgetting that some types of people or golfers just haven’t earned a seat at the table.
I became more aware of this as I started to coach CrossFit. Regardless of ability, there are athletes that will try. They’ll make marginal improvements and assess and constantly attack their weaknesses to become a more well-rounded individual. Likewise, regardless of ability, there are athletes who will only work on things which are already strengths and then begin to search for excuses when they plateau. Ultimately, golf remains a game of considerable skill which is most enjoyable when skill can be applied.
What do you see as the actual problems with the golf industry?
We have gotten away from a model that encourages relationships with both the golf course and fellow golfers. When I started the game in the late-nineties, our local muni started twilight at 3PM and I always had to play with three other golfers, all of whom walked. We were introduced on the first tee and played away. You weren’t in a position to question it.
Furthermore, and tying in with the above question, we’ve done a poor job of indentifying the golfers that are ultimately going to be poor customers or contributors to a golf community in the long run. Gone is that sense of community that bonded that fellow you met for the first time on the first tee and made the next 3-4 hours enjoyable. Also gone is the idea that the golfer you meet on the first tee would actually be playing the same game as you – or even there to play golf as a priority. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told during the course of a round to “have fun” by rolling a ball out of trouble or improving my lie. I inevitably respond with something along the lines of “No, thank you, I’m playing golf today,” or “Actually, getting out of this situation is the fun.”
Because of this, we’ve given an equal voice to golfers with unequal levels of commitment to the game and the golf community around it and then wonder aloud why the course fails or struggles.
The result of all the above is that operators have subtly began attempting to fill downtime on the golf course in lieu of minimizing it. Right there is the crux of the cultural problem of golf in this country. We attempt to add non-golf value to a round of golf. Furthermore, how many initiatives and voices over the past few years have sought to make Golf: The Sport easier? They are both louder and more frequent than the voices attempting to make better golfers.
How have your views changed on Implements & Balls over the years?
Ten years ago I was definitely in the “roll back the ball” or “dial down the equipment” camp, if for no other reason than those voices were the loudest in terms of how to fix the game.
Then I started to actually watch people play golf.
An untold fact about the old equipment is that acquiring the skill to hit the ball far and control it around the green also meant acquiring the discipline to know how and when to use those particular shots. Now, a high-marker may actually have the ability to hit a shot without the ability to apply it. The results are often more disasterous. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a golfer complain that a chip shot didn’t roll out all while I’ve wondered why they’ve selected the club which applies the most back-spin to play it!
New equipment has not taken away the ability to play different shots, and that to me, is the key. The very highest levels of golf may have been compromised by the technological advances a bit, but the Tours seem to vary their venues well enough such that different kinds of players still find success.
Having worked around golf construction with different architects and varying shapers, what are some things the laymen may not understand about golf courses that are influential to the game?
Shapers and architects see and think vastly different things even when working on the same project or playing the same golf course! The opinions are as divisive and varied as you could imagine.
Most of the work on a golf course that makes it “feel” right you never notice. Minimalism is essentially defined as the idea that once you put a shovel in the ground you do everything possible to make it look like you never put a shovel in the ground. The detail work to accomplish that is often excruciatingly frustrating but also immensely satisfying to accomplish.
Bunkers aren’t important (unless they’re done so poorly that they are, see above). Routing and putting greens are important. Judge accordingly.
Grass lines play a major part in how the golfer perceives the golf course. Hard and defined edges photograph well. Blurred edges and conflicting diagonals confuse and confound. This also applies to how “busy” the foreground and backgrounds are and depth perception. Walk around a golf course on a foggy morning and notice how your perception changes as the fog lifts to see what I am talking about.
You stated to me that the Interstate Highway System has had the most influence on modern Golf Architecture. Please amplify!
A few years ago my best friend gifted me a book by Tom Vanderbilt called Traffic Why We Drive The Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). The sociological aspects of the Highway system and so-called “rules of the road” always fascinated me and the gift proved spot-on in piquing my interest.
Two points from the book apply directly to Golf Architecture in my opinion:
1. The standardization of roads helps to mitigate the mental load that driving has on our brains (operating a motor vehicle is, BY FAR, the most complex thing we do in modern society). Design features such as standard-width lanes, painted length of lane markings, colors indicating permissions for traffic movement, etc. are all in place to help focus our brains and reduce the amount of information processed so we can concentrate on the variables under our control.
Then. What happens when we approach a toll-booth? The lanes disappear. Other vehicles begin merging and queueing. We suddenly have to shift our minds from driving along a lane to acquiring a target and driving toward that target while avoiding other shifting obstacles alone the way. All while judging a reduction in speed within mere moments of losing every visual aid helping to do the same!
Is there no better example of the perception of a golf course from each tee? Consider that most of the so-called “classic” golf courses emerged in an era before standardized vehicular driving when most golfers probably couldn’t operate a motor vehicle! Golfers in this era did not get around the world by guiding themselves along corridors. I feel, therefore, their ability to accept golf courses as courses of self-navigation and applied athletics vs. a more modern idea of several connected corridors along a track has been directly influenced by the introduction of standardized routing in our every day lives.
- This one is a bit more sociological but applies to golf course architecture abstractly. Drivers are still rather poor at determining how their actions influence the system as a whole. It is fairly new in terms of human development to be placed within a system where your actions will influence the experience of potentially thousands of other drivers, all while combined with the independent decision-making to completely screw up the works, as it were. We don’t perceive how minute changes in our driving behavior can slow things down behind us, and we don’t understand how the changes in front of us should influence our own behavior. Similarly, we share golf courses with other participants and how many of our minute actions influence the experience of those behind us in terms of not only cleaning up after ourselves, but pace-of-play? The irony is that we still can’t fully understand it despite growing evidence contrary to popular notions. How many courses still hold on to the idea that Par-3’s/drivable Par-4’s/reachable Par-5’s slow play? Or faster greens? Or course setup? These notions don’t hold up to simple thought experiments. If Par-3’s held up play then executive courses would take 6+ hours to play. If faster greens or course set up slowed play then your first group out in the morning would take as long as the group teeing off 3 hours later.
Obviously this is a bit of an over-simplification, but the point remains that often times setup and golf architecture are blamed for pace-of-play that is truly a much simpler flow issue. We try to get too many people through a golf course where the capacity simply doesn’t exist to mitigate the compounding individual behaviors that influence the experience of the whole and we don’t understand what and how to actually increase that capacity. This becomes the old “more-lanes, more traffic” paradox. In Traffic Analysis, the way to manage flow is to make the exit point more efficient while at the same time finding the correct rate on the input side. We see metered merge lanes and timed traffic lights as a result. We also see demand pricing and volume speed limits imposed on traffic during peak hours.
When will golf fully catch on to this?
What do you wish golfers understood about the golf course underneath their feet?
Easy. That the course when you teed off on the first hole is not the same as when you putted out on the eighteenth. At Streamsong, I occassionally hear that X course must be maintained differently than Y course because of some perceived difference. Invariably, course X was played in the morning and course Y was played in the afternoon. They’re “maintained” the same.
Extending this idea, golfers seem to understand the macro-scale changes of a golf course much better than the micro. It’s far easier to look at aerial from 50 years ago and appreciate the large scale changes than it is to understand how a courses changes on a monthly basis.
Golf courses are by nature volatile. Golfers needs to accept and understand what that means. I find it more fun that way.
Let’s talk about friction. Golf is more interesting when confronted by multiple stances/lies. Yet, grass can be cut so short these days that balls merely collect in the same, low spot. What is the solution – Do we need the mower blades to be raised a skosh?
Yes, for the most part, but this is meaningless without individual context. I think the idea needs to be attacked from both ends: design AND maintenance. A steep slope is a steep slope and finding the balance between what should shed a ball elsewhere and what should hang up is as much, if not more, a design factor than a maintenance one.
Where maintenance enters, in my opinion, is how the ball enters the situation. Should it scamper up the slope? Should it grab? If it’s rolling should the momentum be enough to carry it all the way up or be retarded at some critical point?
For me, this is why it is absolutely vital to play the golf course under one’s care. You simply can’t quantify that feeling any other way.
You have lived in Florida now for eight years and have found some real hidden gems. What are a few and how do they compare to the general reputation of Florida golf as being water strewn with people riding in carts?
Ocala Golf Club: An intimate routing on terrain that is severe in places with a number of good uphill holes. The back nine especially uses the negative space well with non-golf terrain between corridors. The climb up on the 2nd hole is rarely seen in Florida and simply poses a rather demanding question for the second shot of a Par 5.
Dunedin Golf Club: This one certainly won’t change your mind about cart golf, but it’s a good Ross course on surprisingly rolling terrain less than a mile from the Gulf of Mexico. It also has the toughest opening stretch of Ross holes I’ve played this side of #2. The locals that inhabit the place are a bit of a trial, however. The 6th is a wonderful short hole.
Florida Highlands (formerly Lekarica, formerly Highland Park): For the ultimate Golf Architecture nerd litmus test: an extremely neglected, but never too-far-gone Stiles and Van Kleek course a few miles south of Mountain Lake. Routed across a great site. You either see it or you don’t. Someone buy this place and make it happen again.
Brooksville Country Club near World Woods is puttering along. The William Mitchell Front 9 leads to fun Back 9 renovated by Bobby Weed 15 years ago. The quarry holes are good and the routing even better. I enjoy the simplicity of the difficult uphill 2nd hole. Ownership changes and varying conditioning and course “improvements” have taken it down a notch, but still worth a look once World Woods gets boring. Speaking of…
World Woods Rolling Oaks. It’s better than Pine Barrens to me in that it’s a more elegant walk and simply accomplishes more golf over more varied terrain. Tom Doak snarkily wrote about it in The Confidential Guide that a course advertising a comparison to Augusta should at least have interesting greens. I counter with a course advertising a comparison to Pine Valley should have at least a good routing! I don’t know that there’s a better back nine in Fazio’s portfolio than at Rolling Oaks and outside of the boring opening two holes, the course is consistently good. One cannot say the same for Pine Barrens.
A year ago I would have touted Belleview-Biltmore (formerly Pelican Bay), which is just south of Dunedin and near Belleaire and another Donald Ross. It was bought from the city and has undergone a renovation/restoration that was unnecessary. I remain hopeful, but until it opens again I can’t say for sure. It did feature one of the best flat-site one-shotters I’ve ever seen. I trust that Beau Welling didn’t use too heavy a hand in the latest renovation and I am keen to get back there.
Given a modest construction and then maintenance budget, which three courses in the Southeast would you like to see renovated or restored?
Cleveland Heights here in Lakeland, FL. The 16 remaining William Flynn holes are largely intact (if you buy into the idea that bunkers really don’t matter), despite what The Nature Faker may insist from an aerial and carefully selected plans. The sense of scale and place that Flynn mastered definitely remains. A little bit of work and some sensitivity to what Flynn remains and this place could be an example of good-to-great golf on a less-than-interesting site. The city has put work into improving conditions and for the first time in my experience the playability commands respect. The 2nd hole on the A-Nine may be the most “intact” Flynn green. The uphill 9th on the same nine is a great one-shotter and the entire back-nine is playable by jumping between the routings of the other two nines. I’d love to see the original 17th restored to its island green in the sand.
The Dunes at Seville outside of Brooksville, FL. I am sad this one closed a few years ago. It arguably had more upside than World Woods across the street and it is difficult to have a more varied and fun set of one-shotters. Closing with two Par-5s of high quality was also rather keen. An example of throwing a ton of good money on a renovation at the exact wrong time.
TPC Sawgrass Stadium. Only because I played it for the first time in December and loved it, yet constantly hear how much more controversial and less-conventional it was when it first opened. This made me insanely curious. I am not sure ‘modest’ would be the term to describe the scope of that project, however.
How about outside of the Southeast?
Reading Country Club in Reading, PA: It’s humming along nicely as a municipal course for Exeter Township and was recently added to the Historic Register for the Commonwealth. I’m on record for saying that Alex Findlay is a candidate for Most Underappreciated Architect and Reading is an example as to why. The 14th is an outstanding tumbling Par-5. Needs a chainsaw and a little bit of corridor expansion.
Walnut Lane Golf Course, Philadelphia, PA: As profiled here, one can see the architectural merit and with the recent news about Cobb’s Creek moving along this is the next candidate for Philadelphia Public Golf. Downright severe site and yet another wonderful Alex Findlay design.
Ashbourne Country Club, Cheltenham, PA: Laying fallow for a little over 10 years now, this Willie Park, Jr. design was one of three he did within suburban Philadelphia along with the original Green Valley and the North Course at Philmont.
JC Melrose Country Club, which is across the street and I believe is the first collaboration of Alistair Mackenzie and Perry Maxwell, is another candidate, but that routing was compromised fairly soon after opening by the Tookany Creek Parkway .
What is/are the most controversial thought(s) about golf architecture you have?
The so-called Dark Ages of 1950-1995 weren’t so dark. The true Dark Ages probably started with the first attempts at inland golf and ended with the creation of National Golf Links of America and Sunningdale’s Old Course. Perhaps we can call golf architecture’s late 20th century era its “Flemish” period and there were dozens of great golf courses built in this time period.
Strategy is overrated and the majority of shots in a round shouldn’t necessarily have strategic implications.
Tactics are grossly underrated, especially on tee shots.
Combining the above two ideas: Most of the architectural hipster crowd acknowledge that a hit-it-or-else Par-3 is a necessary component to the round. They start to whine when stretches of holes feature subsequent hit-it-or-else shots. Even in the middle of the second-nine at Augusta National on holes like 15 and 17, you aren’t asked to think or strategize, you merely need to execute straight tee balls. There is nothing vexing nor strategic about that.
Please expand on that inflammatory (!) comment above, ‘Strategy is overrated and the majority of shots in a round shouldn’t necessarily have strategic implications’!
Strategy as a concept in golf has become almost rote in terms of both hazard placement and geometry. It seems that a dog-leg hole with a bunker to be challenged at the corner that opens a shorter approach to a putting green is deemed strategic. That’s not strategy, that’s geometry!
For example, and a bit more sophisticated, placing a bunker on the inside of a dog-leg to nullify that particular distance or angle to the green and countering that with a preferred angle of approach outside the dog-leg and perhaps thirty yards further is strategy. William Flynn mastered this technique. Donald Ross, on the other hand, did just fine without it. Both work well, but only one is truly “strategic.”
We further analyze and dissect every hole through the lens of the strategic implications of each shot. This, of course, isn’t realistic (or fun!) for many great golf holes that ask execution questions of the golfer.
For me, strategy expands a little bit beyond the risk/reward implications of an individual shot and more looks to discuss how certain approaches to multiple situations around the golf course are challenged. My classic example for this is one of the poster-boy examples of “Strategy” to the modern golfer: The 4th at World Woods Pine Barrens. This is a great hole. However, if you can hit a tee shot 250 yards, you aim away for the largest part of the fairway along the centerline of the hole. Why would you do anything else, if you can hit that shot? You wouldn’t! This hole presents an execution question in lieu of a strategic one: how far do you hit it?
To me, strategy involves a situation where you are choosing between two shots you know you can execute but with far-reaching implications as to the subsequent shots. What this means for each individual golfer will vary and when the strategic implications are present may vary from hole-to-hole depending on the golfer! How tiring would this sort of examination become shot-after-shot, round-after-round? How realistic is it to design a golf course in this manner? I like to see this situation a few times during a round and in different contexts (like a long one-shot hole which may feature an easy up-and-down opportunity in one area playing against an easy two-putt from another part of the putting green) but to put every golf hole through this lens as a critical analytical tool is absolutely overdone.
What is one of the worst architectural features you have ever seen? By that, I mean something that is hard to maintain and that adds little to no value to the golf.
Containment mounding for the purpose of framing. Difficult to make look good and all too often they keep water in the exact area you’re trying to drain or at least want the ability to dry out. Even worse is when the mounds are of such scale to effectively neutralize an otherwise good hole corridor, or worse, eliminate a compelling horizon. The 16th hole at Black Diamond Ranch’s Quarry Course would be an all-world Par 4 if not for the ill-conceived mounding outside the dog-leg that effectively pushes the golfer’s eye, and therefore tee shot into the correct position.
What is one of the best architectural features you have recently seen? By that, I mean something that is inexpensive to maintain and that adds gobs of playing value.
Approaches tilted one way or the other way in relation to the putting surface. Can there be a simpler and greater defense of a hole than an approach that both demands play from a particular angle or distance or shot-shape? Is there no better method to move water away from an area that is generally all-too-often too-wet than sheeting it away? Simple. Effective. Criminally under-utilized. Streamsong has a few in various applications: The approach to Blue #1, which adds options if you’re on the correct side of the fairway. A similar application to that one is at Red #5 (the area between the mound and the lake). A different application is found at Red #15, where a mistruck, but bold, approach may be shunted into the greenside bunker. Laying up well short of it allows for a pitch from a level lie and a chance to attack the pin to gain the half-shot.
What are your thoughts on socio-dynamics of golf participants in the modern age? Does it matter if golf does or doesn’t appeal to Millennials?
My generation seems to be drawn to athletic challenges out-of-doors in gorgeous locations and are willing to spend both time and money to do it. They appreciate well done, bespoke subtlety and are not keen for milquetoast, garden-variety anything. We are supposedly killing chain restaurants, mass-produced beer, and a number of other things as a result.
The push-back from my generation is not about golf as a sport or as a pursuit, but rather around the culture surrounding it. I first encountered this ten years ago when attempting to get a friend to join me for a round when I mentioned the dress code she balked. I even started a thread on GolfClubAtlas about the incident and was largely rebuked for even supporting the notion. Yet, dress remains a priority. It’s a priority over behavior, if you really think about it. When is the last time someone was refused service at a golf course while exhibiting behavior that truly could influence another’s round negatively? Refuse to clean up after yourself with ball-marks or bunkers? Don’t fix or fill a divot? Act boorishly to staff? That threshold remains rather high. Yet, you could walk into most golf courses in this country in suitable for being out in public athletic attire and be denied service immediately. In my opinion, this sends a strong and clear message that golf culture is largely about appearances and less about behavior and character to my generation.
How, exactly, does this make sense? Who would want to be a part of that culture in 2018? Take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself what is really important in terms of the continuing health of the game? Isn’t there a bit of irony that golf is perceived as turgid, conservative, and arcane despite surviving 500 years of history? Why are we arbitrarily assigning the values and traditions of under 10% of golf’s historic time span as the de jure and even doing so with rose-tinted glasses?
The mind-numbing thing is that golf’s movers and shakers constantly look inward to answer the question as to what is wrong with the game and yet never seem to ask the outsider their perceptions. One of the most enthusiastic reactions I’ve ever seen from an outsider, and I’ve gotten this reaction multiple times, as to the appeal of the game is that a course will play differently from day-to-day. They didn’t even understand you could move the hole!
The upcoming 2019 Rules Revisions are a bit non-starter that wreaks of Marie Antoinette’s “Well, let them eat cake!” Most non-golfers understand the current rules in place. They understand that yes, it’s most equitable that if you can’t find your ball or if you hit it out of the boundary of the course that you should go back to the original spot from which you played. They understand that if this is a problem, perhaps practice might help solve the problem from reoccurring. They ask that if these issues are so pervasive, are there not golf courses designed with a smaller likelihood of losing a golf ball? Of hitting Out-of-bounds?
Non-golfers are rather open to golf as-is. Perhaps it is because they haven’t truly experienced the frustration of attempting to become proficient at the game. But if the reaction to said frustration is to change the rules to make one appear better with no effort made to actually improve one’s skill set, can you blame someone for not wanting to associate with that sort of community?
My local course is presented in decent shape on an annual spend of approximately $500,000. That is ¼ to a ½ the spend of many other courses profiled on GolfClubAtlas. Where does all the money go?!
Without knowing many of the regional regulatory factors that influence material price and labor costs I’d suggest that your home course is perhaps maintained in a more simple and efficient manner. “Decent shape” to many people is a bit of a euphemism for “good enough,” which at certain levels and in certain competitive environments simply won’t bring in new or repeat business. This is also largely influenced by the culture and amount of golfers your course is able to draw in. Ultimately stakeholders are who we, the professionals, work for. Whatever practice keeps the cash flow going is going to be the practice that wins the day.
Where do you see money wasted in course maintenance?
Complexity. Too many graduated heights of cut. Too many agronomic practices that ultimately contradict one another such as fertilization which creates an unmanageable thatch layer which necessitates aerification that only addresses a small percentage of thatch while absolutely destroying what could be otherwise good soil structure. Too many tee boxes. Too many moving parts which require both supervision and overhead such as more salaried (or hourly!) managers and levels of management working overtime which all ultimately add cost to the consumer for little-to-no return. This leads to an increase in specialized equipment and overhead to both manage labor and method.
Simplify your agronomic practices and simplify your golf course set up and the cost savings will be astronomical.
What course in the UK really expressed you in terms of its course presentation?
The heathland courses because they seem to effectively blur the edges of play corridors and the color palette is simply astounding. Some of my favorites are Sunnigdale Old and Huntercombe, both of which are Willie Park, Jr. and seem to be seminal golf courses in terms of inland golf’s ideal presentation.
How much more expensive is it to maintain a course with fairways 45 yards wide than 30 yards wide?
Probably not as much as one would think when factoring in the possibility for economies of scale. It’s probably safe to say that increasing your per acre cost to maintain fairways by 50% will overbudget the estimate. The one thing that widening fairways has the potential to allow the greenkeeper to accomplish is simplify maintenance of other areas, or perhaps even reduce it as the play corridor becomes more “playable” for everybody. It is a bit easier to sell and accept a low-maintenance area on either side of a golf hole when one could conceivably host a football game (of any nationality!) between them perpendicular to play. This approach is a good idea if it empowers such other decisions in maintenance and may ultimately lead to some savings in the medium-term.
Is golf a verb?