When the golf scholars look back fifty years from now, I am confident that they will attribute the decrease in golf participation resulting in many courses closing, in part, largely to the members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects who lost their way.
It all begin so innocently with a unique and well-designed Coore Crenshaw Course Sand Hills – the beginning of the minimalist era. The one mile drive from the clubhouse in a gas cart to the anointed mecca of golf courses unlocks the key to how the game lost its way.
The aerial game was replaced by a ground game where the sole defense for the course became wind, ragged bunkers adorned with yucca plants and green complexes that reminds one of some miniature golf courses.
To the credit of Coore/Crenshaw, the green complexes at Sand Hills are marvelous where a ridge that funnels to a green or a spine contained therein that leaves a golfer with a reasonable putt that is likely to break in only one direction. The golf course is very playable.
The hubris of other architects is trying to top Coore/Crensaw is where golf course architecture took a wrong turn I believe.
History serves as a fair reference. On the 14th hole at St. Andrews, there is a knob in front of the green that if one’s finds its ball there, getting it up and own becomes a great challenge. However, 95% of that green is very flat and very playable. Most recently, the Barclay Championship at the Donald Ross designed Plainfield CC has some challenging putts that can be experienced. However, the allocation of the putting surface – 95% reasonable to 5% challenging – is appropriate.
What happened with Bandon Dunes, Tetherow, the Castle Course (David McClay Kidd), or Pacific Dunes, Old MacDonald, Barnougle Dunes, and Rock Creek Cattle (Tom Doak) or Sanctuary, Redland Mesa, Fossil Trace (Jim Engh) or Sutton Bay, Pines Course (Graham Marsh) is that the green complexes created are so undulating, 25% of the green is not pin able. If a golfer finds his ball on perhaps up to 50% of the remaining green surface, they have little chance of two putting. The architects have turned the most appreciated skill of putting into luck. Putts over 5 feet are likely to break in multiple directions. I think it is a bad allocation of a putting surface when 25% can’t be pinned, 50% produces a 3 putt or more and only 25% of the green surface gives the golfer a reasonable opportunity of a one or two putt.
In defense of these torture misters, golf course architects are only partly to blame. The superintendent have unknowingly contributed to make the game too hard. The faux links courses created should not have a stimpmeter rating greater than 8. In wanting to demonstrate their agronomic skills, most of the aforementioned courses have stimpmeter rating of 10+.
What I have presented above my be viewed as an oversimplification of golf’s ills by some. What is not oversimplified is that golf is about entertainment. Time spent outdoors, exercise and social companionship are the three primary attributes that attract the masses to play. When the experience they encounter frustrates more than rewards, the exodus is to the door.
That is what I think. What you think is more important. Comment below.