For golf courses, easy is the new difficult. And less is more when it comes to rough. Tom Irwin explains
I have played a lot of golf over the years. I began 27 years ago and have racked up 100s of courses on my personal bedpost. With every new experience you get more of a feel for what you do and don’t like. Or you think you do.
This exercise was different – the idea of actually formalising your judgement of the merits of a golf course was something new.
Yes, it forces you to consider architectural merit, the course condition and all of the other grading factors that go into making a fair assessment, but it also makes you consider what you actually enjoy.
That, at the end of the day, is the point. Golf is supposed to be enjoyable: it is a hobby for 99.99% of its players, it is downtime, it is fun.
Yet the rhetoric that surrounds golf courses, the architecture, and the instinct of administrators is to make things tougher, to highlight and increase the difficultly. Why?
Golf course marketing talks about difficulty. It speaks of ‘Championship Courses’, whatever that means. Holes are routinely described as ‘fiendishly’ difficult. Members boast their home club is a tough track. Why?
Please can we change the rhetoric to talk about what a good time you are going to have, how many birdies you are going to make, how easy it is going to be to find your ball? Tell people they can drive the odd par 4, and reach the par 5s.
Amen Corners, Bear Traps, Snake Pits, Green Miles – I am sure they all have their place out on tour but the rest of us would quite like to be flattered not embarrassed, please.
You might say those are just words. Well, yes they are, but when they become perceived as virtues they feed into briefs to designers for renovations and new courses.
Our list has a distinctly old-school feel to it and for good reason. Too many of the ‘new’ courses in this country are just not as pleasant to play. They are too long, they require you to be able to hit the ball long distances through the air, to be able to fly irons high into fortress-like greens and manage wickedly breaking putts on ‘USGA Spec’ (?!) greens.
I speak as a scratch golfer, who just occasionally can do these things. Goodness only knows what an 18-handicapper gets out of these places.
Worse still, this rhetoric of danger becomes fashionable with long-established courses.
Too often this year we encountered new back tees, played down holes where rough had been pinched in and spoke to course managers about their plans to stretch holes and add bunkering. Why? Who for?
The whole manifesto needs ripping up. The diggers should be building tees nearer greens. Conversations should be about making the course more playable. Rough should be cut back, not extended, and bunkers filled in.
My test for this list was that if a course couldn’t be genuinely good, then it should focus on being fun, different and playable.
Too many courses are trying to be something they’re not. Sure, we need Championship courses – to host Opens, to aspire to, to go on trips to but for everyone else, for our day-to-day golf, for golf to thrive, retain and recruit new players, what we need is an abundance of fun, short, roughless courses that anyone can play. And if the more competent player shoots 65 every now and again then fair play to them.
Occupation: Publisher of NCG
Home club: Alwoodley
Courses played in shortlist: 116
Favourite GB&I course outside England: Skibo Castle – the high life in the Highlands, perfection
What makes a great course in four words: Firm, flat, fun, fiendish
What you’ve learned about English courses: It’s just a crying shame that England isn’t renowned for its golf courses because it’s a huge selling point.