For Existing Courses: Turning a Problem into an Opportunity

Hundreds, if not thousands of golf facilities are now struggling to make ends meet. This includes a large number of municipal facilities, that now require repeated injections of tax-payers money to stay afloat. Many of these courses have been around for decades. They often sit on prime urban land. City planners therefore often look to these facilities when hoping to solve some kind of a planning dead-lock that may have emerged as times have changed. A new road here, new homes or commercial space there. Things of this nature.


Most of us will agree that we are now witnessing increased public awareness of how we use resources, including land and water. There also seems to be greater emphasis on access to urban green space. This is something that the community does not want to lose, and often we see public protest when city officials propose changing a golf course into residential or commercial real estate. One therefore wishes that there was a way to meet the needs of all stakeholders, to come as close as one can to appeal to all sentiments.


The operator of a struggling golf facility may be facing a financial dead-end, but this is because the true range of options is clouded by the prevailing convention of eighteen holes, nine, twelve, or even three loops of six holes. Eighteen is apparently too much. Nine is too little and limiting in terms of operational potential. Twelve costs money to implement because the existing course most likely does not have twelve holes forming a loop linked to the clubhouse. This is even more true of the idea of three loops of six. Both require earthwork that costs money - money that the facilities don't have.


The Why18 concept simply suggests the elimination of a handful of holes. The only work required would be to change the scorecard and some of the course signage. This can almost be done overnight. The exact number would depend on each course's routing and the particular goals in any given scenario. This could include wishes for more public recreational space, the protection or enhancement of certain wildlife habitats and/or other forms of development that could be thrown into the mix.


In some cases, the abandoned holes can be those that occupy land of lesser quality than the rest of the course. Also, these can be holes where safety has been compromised, e.g. with recent nearby development and the gradually increasing need for land as the golf ball has continued to fly further. Longer shots require a larger buffer zone for safety to cover the wider margins of error. Course operators have responed by lengthening holes, to the point of squeezing each and every square metre or yard out of the property. This can only go on for so long, and will most likely have had negative effects on the playing experience already. Furthermore, these candidate holes for abandonment may be the weakest holes on the course, and can in some cases be the most expensive to maintain, e.g. due to drainage problems.


Instead of tackling these issues through some kind of engineering or construction at times when funds are limited, the problems can simply be planned out. This is made possible by abandoning the current design constraints of the fixed number of holes on golf courses. If more freedom in this regard is to be accepted, a great number of golf facilities will be able to lower their running costs and sell some land for fast cash, while in essence improving their golf course or making it more relevant to the customer's needs.


To summarize, following the Why18 concept can help existing golf facilities:


a) reduce playing time. Golf becomes more relevant as a public leisure option.


b) increase green fee sales capacity by getting more tee-time slots to sell. Bring more people on the course

and in the clubhouse. How? Shorter playing time means that the last tee-time of the day occurs later in the

day with regard to daylight constraint.


c) reduce maintenance cost. In many cases the savings could end up around 25-30%


d) reduce negative environmental impact - less irrigation, fertilizer etc.


e) achieve more room for mixing golf with other land-uses, e.g. wildlife, public recreation, other development etc. This could mean more people in the clubhouse, better image & visibility by working according to a new way of thinking for golf as it moves into the 21st century.


Residential golf developments face a dilemma


Residential golf developments are also facing a dilemma. The real estate market crisis revealed that the golf courses themselves are often far from being self-sufficient. This is a problem irrespective of how the real estate market is doing. Of course, residents aggressively oppose any plan to shut down the golf course. After all, its presence was among the primary reasons why they signed on and bought a house. Losing the golf course sparks concern over the real estate value going down as a result. Again, applying the Why18 concept may offer an alternative that appeals to all stakeholders.


Many residential golf communities are designed in such a way that some of the golf holes do not run alongside the resident's back yards and are therefore not integral parts of the "golf views" that was promoted during the sale. With careful planning, a part of the holes can be abandoned to make way for other land uses, including more wildlife, housing, commercial space, and/or general outdoor life, e.g. by re-using abandoned golf cart paths. Something for everyone.


There may never come a better time for an existing golf course to re-invent itself in this easy and simple way, revolutionize the business model and set itself apart from the others as a trendsetter in golf, especially when the only other alternative is closing the course. There simply is no reason why the Why18 concept is not a perfect experiment for a a golf course operator in this position.