What Makes a Great Golf Course?
The saying ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder” applies especially to golfers and golf courses. What one duffer thinks is an enjoyable, friendly course another golfer may find boring and unchallenging. But some factors are more or less universal when it comes to what makes a good or great golf course. These include accessibility, quality of play, cost, and what can be called the “walk in the park” test, the aesthetic quality that enhances (or detracts) from the experience of playing that course.
One of the keys to success for a golf course is how many golfers it can serve. Private clubs are always trying to increase membership and public courses try to serve the largest cross-section of golfers possible. They do this through ease of getting tee times (or walking on), the logistics of getting on (locker rooms, pro shop, helpful staff), and having the course set up to play fairly for both novice and more seasoned golfers. Most courses offer at least 3 tee boxes to play from (men’s, women’s/children’s, and more difficult tees), but anymore to cater to everything from fundraising outings to tournaments, courses may have up to 7 tees to choose from. And rather than just making holes longer, they are separated so the same hole plays dramatically different for the semi-pro versus the weekend warrior.
Quality of Play
Once you have chosen the correct tee box to play from, there are many other factors involved to make your experience of play a good one. If a course is extremely accessible and perhaps very affordable, it can be crowded at times. This causes pace of play issues as well as making players wait which is never a good thing. Several other things including if carts are allowed, distance between holes, and simply the difficulty of the course can profoundly affect quality of play. The great courses balance all of these so that they provide a high-quality experience for as many players as possible.
Golfers will many times equate the quality of a golf course with how much it costs to play it. The best and highest-ranked courses cost the most. But the cost itself is just one piece. If you are playing a legendary classic course, cost may be small compared to the experience. Hence you see people paying large amounts to play courses like Pebble Beach and St. Andrews. Other courses pride themselves on being designed by a famous golf course designer and that merits higher fees (Tom Fazio, Donald Ross, Jack Nicklaus, etc.). Overall you can usually find a course within your price range that you can enjoy. But once you are on the course, typically cost becomes an afterthought and you remember the experience.
Walk in the Park
The largest part of a golf experience is what you feel like when you are golfing. There’s a beauty to the combination of greens and trees, sand and sea, turf and tee boxes that makes each course distinctive. Holes like number18 at St. Andrews, or number12 at Augusta National, or number 7 at Pebble Beach are so beautiful they have been portrayed and photographed so many times even if you have never been there you can recognize them easily. Great courses give you the experience of nature’s beauty and a great golf at the same time.
While what makes a great golf course is subjective and different for everyone, these are some of the fundamental things that are important. But ultimately you can determine what makes a golf course great because it makes your golf experience a great one.