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The 8,000-Yard Behemoths Are Arriving


The debate over the increasing length of golf courses is not new. For the past few years, golf’s cogniscenti have been anticipating the arrival of 7,500- to 8,000-yard courses. Their reasons? Continuing improvements in golf balls and equipment that are gradually rendering “traditional-length” courses obsolete.

In an article on his website entitled, “On the Road With Ernie,” Ernie Els said the issue of escalating equipment advances dates back to the early 1900s. At that time, architect William Flynn, who designed such distinguished courses as Cherry Hills in Denver, Cascades in Virginia, The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., and Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, expressed concerns about the rapid improvements in golf balls and clubs.

Els cites comments made by Flynn in 1927: "All architects will be a lot more comfortable when the powers-that-be in golf finally solve the ball problem. A great deal of experimentation is now going on and it is to be hoped that before long a solution will be found to control the distance of the 'elusive pill'. If, as in the past, the distance to be gotten with the ball continues to increase, it will be necessary to go to 7,500-yard, even 8,000-yard, golf courses. And more yards mean more acres to buy, more courses to construct, more fairways to maintain and more money for the golfer to fork out."

According to some, the discussion may turn out to be more of a critique of American culture than of golf. (Jacksonville, Fla.) Times-Union sports writer, Garry Smits, writes, “Maybe it has something to do with Western culture and machismo, with vague Freudian undertones about bigger being better.” Smits adds that just as Americans love the slam dunk and the home run, “Nothing gets their attention in golf like the vicious crack of an oversized driver head meeting the ball and the sight of it winging 320 yards.”

Shane Sharp, senior editor for Travelgolf.com, may be oversimplifying the discussion when he says the problem with courses today is their increasing dependence on “steroids.” Sharp notes, “Seventy-five percent of America’s new golf courses are on steroids, and close to twenty-five percent of the country’s older courses have admitted to at least trying them once.”

The controversy surrounding the ever-expanding golf course hasn’t deterred architect Rick Phelps and the construction company, Niebur Golf, Inc., from starting work on an 8,000-yard layout just outside of Colorado Springs, Colo. Located at over 7,000 feet above sea level, the daily-fee facility won’t have the same impact as a course of similar distance at a lower elevation, but it is still the first of its length in that state.

The new Meridian Ranch Golf Course is not being designed to be overly intimidating, as it will include six sets of tee boxes, with the shortest configuration at 5,200 yards. According to the Colorado Springs Business Journal, the “prairie dunes-style” course will feature wide and “winding fairways that spiral through the massive sand washes existing throughout the 170-acre layout.” The golf facility is slated to open in the summer of 2003. Another nine holes are expected to be built within five years.

In the meantime, look for more of these “super-length” courses to come off the drawing board.