Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Future of Golf Course Architecture in Canada – Part 3 - Economics



The photo is of Sagebrush in BC
taken by Jeff Mingay








The last two entries talked about environmental issues – which I’m sure I’ll return to before this series is up – but today I wanted to touch on other issues that will have a huge impact on future golf developments. I’m going to continue to talk about a series of related subjects for about a week and then pull them all together with what I think is a realistic solution. Golf is going to change – the question is no longer if – its how much.

The Economic Model Doesn’t Work

Golf has clearly entered a period of stagnation that began at the turn of the century with a noticeable decline in participation. The price to play golf had turned players away for the first time in decades. All the while developers continued to over-build a market that was in decline, creating enormous price pressure particularly with the new higher end courses. The problem stems from too much ego getting involved in the developments with each mega project attempting to one up the previous course in order to draw attention away. The result is that each business model became more unrealistic than the last – people seemed to have forgotten that this is still a business where revenue must outpace expenses.

Study after study has reached the same conclusion. The game has become too expensive, takes too much time and in many cases is too difficult for the average person – and until the game becomes more inclusive of different skill levels, socio-economic groups and does not involve a whole day - the game will struggle. This doesn’t mean and end to new projects – far from it - but they will have to be better businesses in the future. They will need to be built for less, require less maintenance, and be inclusive of all levels of players.





shape only tees, greens and bunkers








Golf designers will need to show some restraint. In particular they need to avoid the development of what I would call Extreme Golf. It makes for great photos and lousy playing experiences. Just because we have the equipment and skills to build in even the most extreme places – it still doesn’t mean we should. The amount of earthmoving required, the potential for environmental damage, the shear cost, the difficulties for grow in and the development of cart only golf courses is not healthy for the game.

The economics and designs will improve if we choose to disturb less of what’s there. We don’t need to strip an entire site of topsoil, reshape the site to suit or image of a golf hole and then put it all back together. By finding the holes that nature has left and accepting some of the quirks as part of the design – we can become less intrusive – and a little more creative as designers. This will also leave much more of the topsoil in place, reduce disturbance amd create a cheaper build.

34 comments:

HenryE said...

Hi Ian. I think the challenge that golf clubs/courses face will continue as more and more people congregate in urban settings. The cost of real estate in or near urban populations makes developing golf courses prohibitively expensive. I don't see that trend slowing. Also, as transportation costs increase (traffic/fuel) people in those urban environments will be less inclined to travel great distances for affordable golf.

Philip said...

Basically it's another facet of an overall problem in Golf (describing it would take up too much space and it has been talked to death eslsewhere).

Unfortunately, I think it's going to require a 'crash' before things get better.

M Beebe said...

Ian - Did I read you correctly when you said "restraint"? Is that possible for our profession? I'm with you 100% on re-introducing some "quirky" into our work, especially when nature provides the "quirky". Less IS more. We try way to hard to make everything perfect when it comes to golf design and construction.

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