Tackling the Issue: Affordable Golf Subject of Local Symposium
There were a lot more questions than answers during the eight hours of the Symposium on Affordable Golf held at Southern Pines Golf Club recently.
Everyone agreed that the expense of golf, both in money and time, has created a slowdown in the growth of the game. A myriad of suggestions were offered and just as many reasons given for the problems. The end result, hopefully, was that more thought will be given to the problem and that some of the ideas will prove fruitful.
Richard Mandell, a Pinehurst-located course architect, and one of the prime organizers of the event, acted as moderator.
“I’ve felt for years that golf was too expensive,” Mandell said, “but we’ve never tackled the issue. It’s affordable right now because everybody is cutting green fees to try to be competitive.”
And exactly what is affordable?
“Affordable is what is believed to be within one’s financial means,” Mandell said. “Golfers can find places to play and they usually get what they pay for.”
As in most discussions concerning the cost of golf, course maintenance was one of the main topics. Greg Lyman, the Environmental Programs Director of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, was one of the three-man panel exploring possibilities in that area.
“The magic pill is to link up with others in the business and learn how to become more efficient.” Lyman said. “We have to attract more clientele to walk though the doors. How do we make golf more of a family affair? How do we get the skateboard kids and those kids who like to play video games with their thumbs?”
Kevin Fletcher, Executive Director of the Audubon Society, feels superintendents need to be more aware of their roles.
“I would say that 90 percent of superintendents don’t measure environmental costs,” he said.
“The USGA is pushing the ‘Brown is Beautiful’ program,” Lyman said, “but how many of us are having trouble selling this? I’m not sure brown is where we want to be. We’re simply committed to course improvement.
“Everyone now has a ‘green’ line, from soap to automobiles. The environmental consciousness has gone up and we understand problems of environment better than ever before.”
Fletcher feels the use of chemicals and over-seeding should be analyzed even closer.
“Pollution is just a misplaced resource,” he said, “and as for over-seeding, some cases work and some don’t.”
Josh Mahar is superintendent of Wild Horse Golf Club in Gothenburg, Neb., a course that some feel may be a model for the future.
Wild Horse was built 13 years ago for less than $2 million, including the purchase of the property, by a group of golfers and local farmers who wanted to upgrade golf offerings in their area.
“We had a lot to work with on the property,” Mahar said, “but we also used it wisely. We were lucky to be in the right place at the right time. We have only 70 acres that are maintained as the playing area and this reduces equipment and personnel. There are no trees, no flowerbeds, no pool, no dining area, no extras. The clubhouse isn’t extravagant, only 3,000 square feet. Our restaurant is pretty much a snack bar. That allows us to concentrate on the area where the game is played.”
Mandell was curious about how much maintenance was needed in a sand hazard. “What if we got rid of rakes and just let bunkers go?” he asked.
“Bunkers are too often used to make holes appear stylish,” Ron Forse of Forse Designs said. “We’ve been overdoing maintenance in my opinion. I think bunkers should be raked about every four days or so and built so that they require very little mowing. Golfers’ expectations have been changing slowly, but they’re beginning to realize that brown is OK. It’s a cultural thing.”
Ran Morrisett of GolfClubAtlas.com liked the idea. “A bunker should be a hazard,” he said. When they were first used, there wasn’t anything such as a sand wedge.
“But one of the most important things we can do is to cut down on the size of golf courses. I could care less about the guy who hits his tee shots 300 yards, yet all our new courses are being built for that one percent of the players. I can’t tell you a golf course that has been built in the past 10 years that’s less than 6,500 yards.”
So the general consensus on making golf affordable seems to be in making brown the new green and cutting out the frills.
“We didn’t solve the problems,” Mandell summed up, “but we did identify some.”
Contact Howard Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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