Thomas Harry asks, ‘Do you design courses to be tough or easy?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


Each round of golf has a different motivation. Golfers are enjoying, to varying degrees, the camaraderie of friendly competition, exercise, nature, the challenge of shooting a personal-best round (or on an individual hole) or the opportunity to entertain clients.*

Most players want fun. They don't like being beaten badly by competitors, or being "beaten up" by the course. Total, competitive and relative scores** are important to golfers, who believe, despite centuries of astronomical evidence to the contrary, that the sun won't rise tomorrow if they don't play well.

My designs address the wide variety of golfers, and very few times does designing a very difficult, or very easy, course fit the bill. The best designs, which aren't always the best courses, cater to the golfers who play the course the most. It's fine to build private courses with more difficulty, if that's in the charter of those starting the club.*** For public, municipal and upscale/resort public courses, I consider all the reasons people play golf.

Some architects believe in difficult golf. I do not. I walk the fine line of providing the enjoyment of golf challenge, combined with moderate difficulty, which are different from one another. Challenge means "fading 6-iron," while difficulty means targets not holding, or guarded difficult hazards – like water. Punishing mistakes with "half-stroke" penalties**** affects both handicaps and matches enough. Larger penalties only "help" raise scores to unpleasant levels.

With nearly 18,000 courses in the United States, golfers have lots of options for courses with difficulty, beauty or ease of play on any given day. The random process of site selection, architect selection and maintenance provide a nice mosaic. Most of us "golf nuts" forget that golfers usually play based on cost and time, choosing more expensive courses less, and less expensive ones more! They choose "exotic" courses a few times a year as their golf budget allows.

No course needs to fit any specific criteria for difficulty. While most courses will remain in the middle, difficulty-wise, there will always be a small niche for difficult courses, and another for beginners' courses. As the population ages, courses within active senior communities will cater to those residents with more upscale features, but less length. In fact, choosing a golf course will be more like choosing a restaurant. Italian, anyone?

* If they "entertain" their clients with a "putter toss" they are playing for score, too!

** This is true at the professional level. Tour pros don't enter tournaments where course design prevents them from being competitive. Examples include Lee Trevino and the Masters (with other elements contributing) and Scot Hoch skipping the British Open.

*** Although no study confirms any correlation between bank account and handicap sizes. I've always felt it may be inverse – if you spend your time making money, how much time can you practice?

**** Having a 50 percent chance of recovering from hazards to save par, not "I'll take a 4.5 on that hole."

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