By Michael Vogt, CGCS
Modified USGA specification greens, sand bunkers with pure white sand also add expensive fabric liners to these bunkers so we can flash sand at ridiculous slopes, oh, and don’t forget blemish free turf from tee to green. Is it harder to let go of the tiger than it was to catch him by the tail? We are the victim of our own technology; let’s examine just two basic problems with technology, golf design and maintenance and see if we have identified the enemy.
Let’s examine the green:
As mentioned earlier if you amortized the cost of just bunkers and greens the course would have to reinvest $132,857 per year. That’s just for bunkers and greens renovations or replacements, from day one the asset was put into service.
Whom else to blame?
The superintendents are the next nemesis of the grand old game. Their ever increasing expertise demonstrated that super-green, blemish free turf could be achieved, at a substantial additional cost!
Golf course designers have been practicing one-upmanship for the last 50 years. The golden age of golf architecture with practitioners such as Maxwell, McDonald, McKenzie, Tillinghast and Ross are lauded today for their design genius, even today. They understood the game of golf on a higher level than most and based their designs on what was available to build with on site. They never moved 100,000 cubic yards of soil; they designed the greens to surface drain properly. Trees, as a rule, didn’t have a purpose on golf course design except for an occasional grove of apple or pear trees to supply the walking golfers with a treat during the dog days of summer.
The cost of golf has increased dramatically due to these advances in design, construction and maintenance. With today’s economic pressures, over-supply of golf, reduction in leisure time and lenders and banks classifying golf as “Toxic Assets” we have built high maintenance features without the forethought of cost. Golf maintenance has never been inexpensive; however, golfer, owner, members and superintendent demands strive for ever-increasing pristine conditions and visual perfection. These elements have driven the cost of golf into the stratosphere. Slowly the game will once again be reserved for the ultra-rich with ample time and resources to enjoy.
Let’s examine the maintenance cost:
Now that the other shoe has dropped the buzz is, maybe less is more in golf design and maintenance, to wit, Bandon Dunes, Chambers Bay and Barnbougle Dunes. These are wildly popular courses that focus maintenance on play areas, have little or no trees and have sand bunkers that are truly hazards; not perfectly groomed, white sand, lined maintenance headaches.
Million dollar maintenance budgets have become the norm at just average golf courses from coast to coast. Should we attempt to look at golf course design, building and grooming and accept a through-back principle to less expensive, simpler times? There will always be golfers willing to pay a premium for super-ultra private club golf courses. I just find it hard to imagine the average small business owner or upper wage earner spending an average of $130.00 per round (at a club) of golf before the first beer.
What do you think, email me with your view?