1. Design every course for the 16-handicapper Golf course designers have to think about the golfer who plays off 16 when we’re laying out a course, not the professionals who can hit it 350 yards off every tee. The 16-handicapper has to go out onto that golf course and have fun, because if they don’t enjoy it then the game simply won’t survive. It’s easy to design a difficult golf course that very few people can play, and it’s also easy to really dumb a course down to where it’s no kind of challenge. But the key is to find that common ground where, every day, it can set up and play well for the 16-handcapper, but also have those back tees and have those angles and the ability to be set up for a big event if need be. The golden rule remains that you have to design for your primary, 51-week-a-year market, not for tour professionals or for elite amateurs.
2. Think evolution, not revolution The game is not as broken as some people would like you to think. We’ve talked for years about introducing three loops of six and you play 12 holes not 18 and… aarggh! It’s going to be hard to fundamentally change golf for those of us who have grown up playing the game as we do. What golf should do is look at how it attracts new generations through things like simulators, where you can go with your mates and play for a few hours while having some food and drinks. Rather than changing courses, golf needs to look at how it can make it easier for people to get into the game, how it teaches them shot making and hopefully the etiquette and everything else. And I think with things like Top Golf, it’s going along the right lines.
3. Why less = More Designers can help to grow the game by introducing more shorter golf courses. I’m not talking about the 6 or 12-hole concept when I say this. I believe we need more courses that are less intimidating to the beginner, less time-consuming and, ultimately, more fun to play. A good example of this is
the 9-hole, par-3 academy course we created at Yas Links in Abu Dhabi, under floodlights so it’s usable at all hours. The response to that course has been amazing. Again, it’s all about making the game accessible and fun.
4. Be much More Forward-Thinking In all the talk of slow play and the responsibility we designers have for improving things, I have to point out that the front tees are no different to where they were when I started designing golf courses, back in the 1980s. It’s the back tees that have caused the problem.Nowadays, they have gone back so far that 7,600 yards, not 7,000 yards, has become the norm. But the real problem here is that the professionals are hitting the ball further and further, so the courses have had to get longer
and longer – and that’s become standard for most courses now. Yet in the amateur game, women are not hitting the ball further and seniors are not hitting the ball further, because they’re not generating any more clubhead speed than they were before. As a result, we’re seeing a greater disparity between the forward tees and the back tees now. That is just ridiculous. So either technology needs to help them bridge the gap, or golfers need to start playing further forward.
5. Forget about distance Golfers can make the game more fun by not thinking they have to hit the ball 250-300 yards off the tees. When they go to the driving range they should get out of the mindset that it has to be driver, driver, driver. The shot-making aspect of golf is the fun part
and people should be learning how to hit sidehill lies and all the creative shots from 150 yards in. If a beginner learns that, they don’t actually have to hit the ball miles off the tee. If they can hit it 140 or 150 yards and keep it on the fairway, they can probably break 100 on an 18-hole golf course and feel pretty good about themselves and about the course they’ve just played.
6. We Have To Offer More If golf courses are to survive and to thrive in the future, they need to change the way they think about customers. Back home in California, I recently worked on a scheme to bring golf course operators together to allow people to buy a ticket that provides access to six or seven courses in the area. You are basically taking empty tee times and spaces on golf courses. With this ticket, you can now go out with your wife, partner or kids and not feel like you have to play 9 or 18 holes to get value
for money. As a result, you have more freedom to play where you want to play and for how long. It’s like a golf version of a season pass in skiing. I believe golf courses have to learn to cooperate with each other like that. It may not feel natural to want to cooperate with courses or clubs that you might currently view as rivals or competitors, but I think they would see the benefits if they did somehow collaborate.
7. Embrace Technology There are golf courses now where practice ranges and greens are synthetic. So does that mean we could soon be playing golf on an entirely synthetic golf course? I believe there will be at some point, but it’s impossible to say exactly when. Will there come a time where you go to Pebble Beach and find yourself putting on synthetic greens? I’m not sure it will happen in my lifetime, but you can never discount anything. So technology changes and it could very well change the golf courses we play on, too. We shouldn’t fear that change, it’s just how it is.
8. Design every Course for it To Be Walked This is currently far less of a problem here in Europe, but in the United States you’ll often see four golfers with four carts, all running all over the place, cigars, cell phones… It’s like Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack. Designing golf courses that you can’t easily walk is a big problem, in my opinion, because it damages the spirit of the game and it erodes what made it great – which is being out on the links with your mates, hitting shots and telling stories. And there is a rhythm to the game that has also been lost in a lot of course designs. Some modern golf courses are so spread out and expansive these days that you can’t just walk them. In the future, we have to make sure we continue to design and build golf courses that are easily walkable. We have to protect the whole experience and ethos of the game.
9. Look to the past When building new golf courses, less developed markets tend to think that if their clubhouse is bigger than another club’s, or if their waterfall behind the 18th is bigger than somebody else’s, then somehow it makes their offering more appealing. Maybe it is if you don’t understand golf. We know from playing golf in Britain that some of the best courses in the world have simple clubhouses, creaky floors and bad lighting – and they are just magical. In the future, we’re going to see places like China, who have built a lot of golf courses recently, I think we’ll see them create some courses that will really stand up long term. It’s an evolution in thinking and in understanding the game and they are getting there.
10. Accept that there are no design rules What makes a great golf course? Who truly knows? I have my own personal view of what a great golf course looks like and you’ll see those ideas come through in my designs, but my preferences may differ wildly to yours. And that’s as it should be because golf course architecture is so subjective. Golf is like art. It’s like wine. It’s all about what you see and what you take from it, personally.
11. Design responsibly and sustainably Water consumption is an issue with golf course design that keeps coming up and won’t ever go away, but it’s not a big problem and it’s not got any worse over the last 10 years. A lot of the time the big problem is with getting the tourist-type development with the golf course using water wisely when it’s in a dry area. But the water issue is like food – distribution is obviously key. There
is enough food in the world to feed everybody, but distribution is the tricky bit. The same goes for water, so obviously any course needs to factor that into the equation.