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Ian Andrew

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The Future of Golf Architecture
« on: September 11, 2016, 09:04:02 PM »
Someone asked about starting a thread on this topic. I was interviewed at some point by a grad student on this subject and it seems like a decent place to begin a thread ... so here's a few comments on the subject.

1] It appears that key stakeholders within the golf industry have, and continue to, strongly push an agenda that is directed towards the growth of the game. What are the consequences of such an approach to the game of golf, and thus golf course development?

I donít think they promote growth at all.

I think they depend on growth to support their existing infrastructure and now thatís come to a standstill. Their frightened in many cases and I personally think the problems will last for a decade or more. Nobody has addressed the real problem. Everyone is focusing on trying to bring new players to the game, but the biggest issue is retention. The game has become too expensive to play regularly, takes too much time out of our busy schedules and people leave over the economics.
We will have to address a couple of major fundamental issues to actually deal with this. The escalating land costs. The increasing amount of land required because of technology. The ever increasing costs to meet conditioning expectations. And the fact that costs have gone up as revenue has dropped dramatically. But that wonít happen till the ball is rolled back to reduce land requirements and the maintenance standards are changed to make North American courses look and play more like the United Kingdom. I`m not holding my breath on each major issue and I would expect close to zero growth for this entire decade.

2] Golfís last great growth period was driven by real-estate specification, with very little premium on quality golf course design.

The fatal flaw was the belief of the developer that they could forever sell their lots at a premium and flip the golf courses over to a willing buyer. They paid top dollar for a marketable name and paid top dollar to build to impress home owners with no plans or understanding how to run that business. The intention was a quick flip to members or a management company who would take over the facility.  They never worried about the quality of golf course, whether it was too expensive to maintain or whether it was a good economic model. That was someone elseís problem. They were just selling lots at a premium by adding the facility and thatís all that mattered.

a] What are the long-term consequences of real estate reliant golf course development on the game of golf?

Few of these golf courses work as a business. They were built for way too much money and without any end-user in mind. You canít run them as a legitimate business because the overhead exceeds the revenue stream. The worst part is they were built to be high end facilities for the elite making them largely too hard for the average player on top of being too expensive for the average consumer. So they donít even work as facilities to bring people to the game. The model was generally high end and there are very few high net worth people playing golf. They also were impacted by the market crash of 2008 and went back to working longer hours.

b] How can golf course development exist without real estate?

It used to be you built a course in a location with a demand. You built it as cheaply as you could keep an eye on maintenance to make things work. You then charged a modest fee and built your regular base one player at a time. This modest approach still works.  You also made improvements as you could afford them. Almost makes too much sense when you think about it. Golf courses are businesses and businesses need to make a profit to survive.

3] It can be argued that the comparatively Ďradicalí nature of golf courses built in the early exportation of golf from the British Isles were vital components in ensuing the establishment and long-term success of the game in countries such as the US and Australia. Despite this, it appears that the majority of developments in todayís emerging golf markets have borrowed from the one-size fits all, modern approach.

They were built in great locations because the cost and expectations were minimal. The game grew before the expectations grew. People were just grateful to have a place to play. Expectations are actually a problem of this generation. They expect too much, often where itís not possible  and golf is being hurt by this selfish attitude.

a] Why have golf course developments in emerging golf markets failed to innovate?

The selected the wrong model Ė North America Ė as the standard. Many cultures like the courses to be a controlled and perfectly maintained environment. They see that as the highest form of architecture and donít understand the core of the game is how itís played, not how it looks. Almost all decisions are made by people who donít play golf and often the courses are built to their vision of the game.

4] Given the nature of golf courses in the British Isles it is my opinion that golf developments in emerging regions can (and must) meet the cultural/social demands of the local golf population if the game is to establish and sustain itself in the long-term. a] How can golf courses best function as social assets?

Public facilities are social assets, but very few public facilities are being built because of economic pressure and the belief that golf is a game for the elite in society. There is a stigma to the game that comes from the North American version. That`s another problem that must be addressed to ever see public money invested in the game.

b] What responsibility must golf course architecture in directing the long-term future of the game?

In the last couple of decades 90% of new golf courses were designed to meet the demand of 10% of players. Only the best can play them and only the wealthiest can afford to play. We need to reverse the pyramid so that 90% of the courses are fun and cheap places to play. Then we as architects could help make progress in the growth of the game.

5] With the inclusion of golf into the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio providing hope of a golf development boom in South-America, and the continued construction of new courses in growth markets such as South-East Asia, it is my opinion that the golf industry is at a Ďbreakpointí in which it will be vital to shape a place-specific model of golf development that is sustainable and accessible to all. As the game continues to globalize, how are the challenges facing golf course architects (and the golf industry) today likely to evolve in the future?

In many ways we would be better off if nothing happened for a decade and many of the modern designers retired. They won`t change their spots and they`ve done enough damage to the game. The next generation is building a different type of course that is more inclusive of lesser players, more environmentally sustainable and a damn good economic model. We need those designers to become the trail blazers.  Rio is being built by one and my hope is we could show the world something different. That was why that choice of architect was so important. 

6] Golf course development in emerging markets appears to be following a private model driven by real-estate speculation, and to a lesser extent tourism. If golf is to be accessible, and sustain itself in the long-term, then, in my opinion, there must be a balance between public and private golf.
Public golf won`t get built in these tough economic times. New golf will come from various serious and wealthy golfers looking to create a legacy project or a really simple old fashioned business plan that meets the demand of the current market. There will not be any in between for quite some time.

a] To what extent should the golf industry guide the development of courses at a regional scale (if this is even possible)?

They shouldn`t guide anything. It needs grass roots people who understand who they can attract to come and play their course. Golf needs to go back to what it was which was a really efficient small business. Corporate golf has damaged the foundations of the game because the goal is not long term success but short term profit. Golf needs to return to its roots.

b] What types of course should we be building in countries unfamiliar to the history and nuances of the game?
Ideally we should be building much more rudimentary and fun layouts where people are unlikely to lose a golf ball. You want them to make a few pars or bogies and generally enjoy the day. The one thing they don`t need is another Championship Course that makes the game difficult to play. That frustrates new players and drives them out of the game.
The one thing still being built in large volumes in the emerging markets is long challenging golf courses. And we wonder why the game won`t grow.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2016, 09:06:29 PM by Ian Andrew »

Ian Andrew

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: The Future of Golf Architecture
« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2016, 09:10:08 PM »
I wrote this in 2010 - I think it holds pretty true still ....

2010 - 2020 What will happen this Decade?

The economic fallout from the Banking Crisis did more to change golf architecture than fashion or popularity. This decade will see only a handful of well financed, well thought out, realistic business models getting built. The Minimalist movement will completely dominate golf course architecture since it makes more economic sense and continues to garner critical support.

Golf is in recession and this will be a the final catalyst for a change in style.

Golf will continue go through hard times this decade but eventually there will be more building. As with all new cycles it will begin with more sensible economic models. The more ambitious projects won't come till the end of the decade. The driving force in new projects will no longer be real estate Ė ending the dominance of the brand name designer.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2016, 09:14:00 PM by Ian Andrew »

Peter Pallotta

Re: The Future of Golf Architecture
« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2016, 09:29:59 PM »
Ian - this might sound like simply a pithy and smart-ass response, but I don't mean it to be: There is no one here but us chickens. That's a phrase I find myself using a lot these days.

Complaints about the banality and coarseness of popular culture?  Well, think of how many people are making it and how many are paying for it and how many people are consuming it (even as they think themselves above it), i.e. no one here but us chickens

Fears about the divisive political climate, and the hurtful and spiteful rhetoric that has become the new normal? Well, listen/read the comments and attitudes from the rank and file on either/both sides of any issue, i.e. no one here but us chickens

Shocked about rising costs of living and of house prices in major cities across North America, and the sustainability of this economic model? Well, think of how many people you know who long ago stopped thinking of a house as a home and instead see it now simply as another commodity, and thus are on their 3rd or 4th house, flipping one to pay off some debts and taking their profits before doing it all over again and again. No one here but us chickens. 

Astounded that the real-estate model of golf course construction ever got off the ground? Then remember how many "home owners" (see above) bought homes on spec, and how many architects -- aware of the game that was being played by developers -- padded their fees and costs and made fortunes, and how many of us golfers for at least a while flocked to the absurd country clubs for a day (and your old employer built more than a couple of them) and shelled out ridiculous green fees for the so-called privilege of playing these bloated and over-manicured courses? No one here but us chickens.     

Confused by the ever more intensive and expensive maintenance practices?  Think of the corporatization of our public institutions/universities, and the money pouring in -- happily accepted by institutional leaders in the name of being able to provide "quality education" -- from companies with clear agendas around shaping the direction/goals of these  same institutions solely for profit. There is no one here but us chickens.

Until the chickens change, the coop will remain exactly the same, no matter how many times someone comes in to try to clean up the mess.  We're the chickens (in more than one sense); I'm a chicken. If we want change and want to call for change in any area that we care about, we'd better start living it ourselves

« Last Edit: September 11, 2016, 09:37:23 PM by Peter Pallotta »


Re: The Future of Golf Architecture
« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2016, 09:44:39 PM »
They shouldn`t guide anything. It needs grass roots people who understand who they can attract to come and play their course. Golf needs to go back to what it was which was a really efficient small business. Corporate golf has damaged the foundations of the game because the goal is not long term success but short term profit. Golf needs to return to its roots.


   I'm just going to start with the many points I agree with you on.  This is the big one.  Successful people in one's community used to be proud and re invest into their community without PUBLIC funds.  I don't see this today a whole lot, but I know 3 gentlemen in my home town who have.  So there is hope. 

   Your love for minimalism movement, well I won't pay those ridiculous prices to play those courses! :P   Get on a plane and play minimalism golf and call it charity.   ::)


  • Karma: +1/-1
Re: The Future of Golf Architecture
« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2016, 10:23:23 PM »

   Your love for minimalism movement, well I won't pay those ridiculous prices to play those courses! :P   Get on a plane and play minimalism golf and call it charity.   ::)


You don't love that [most of] our clients want to charge what the market will bear.  I understand that; I don't love it, either.  But that's got nothing to do with the style of golf courses we build.


Re: The Future of Golf Architecture
« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2016, 10:29:15 PM »

   I know and I don't believe in price controls.  There are also Non Minimalist archies that designed courses at a very low cost for their owners.  I just think GCA is too much C&C, Hanse, Doak vs Jones and Fazio.  Hey the first limited amount of air jordans are very expensive.  Some adults aka consumers aka lemmings never grow up..   ;)

Peter Pallotta

Re: The Future of Golf Architecture
« Reply #6 on: September 11, 2016, 11:04:39 PM »
P.S. to Ian -

the irony/pity of it all is that, when folks are true to their deepest beliefs -- when they're reformed chickens, let's say -- everything else seems to take care of itself, and the work is better

The only golf hole I remember from the expensive and once highly touted (even by the golf magazines) Cooper Creek is the one you built, i.e. the short, uphill Par 3 (the 6th I believe). 



  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: The Future of Golf Architecture
« Reply #7 on: September 11, 2016, 11:08:50 PM »
The future of GCA will be an independent ,artistic ,craft type of business.  We are already seeing it.  The tour pro model will be a much smaller part of the business....The BS will go away....
"just standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona"


  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: The Future of Golf Architecture
« Reply #8 on: September 12, 2016, 08:51:29 AM »

I respect you, but in a quick read of that, I see many statements I disagree with, including some that are flat our wrong.

Specifically, that golf courses are almost always a money loser, and that the mom and pop operations were more efficient.  They may have been lower cost overall, or not, but many aren't very well managed.

And, the reason golf courses were built as part of real estate is that golf courses can break even or make money, once you take the construction debt out of the equation.

Now, I will agree that many over spent on signature designs, not caring about the future after their 7-10 year build out period.  Then again, I probably have done a third of my courses on a more practical model that didn't require rebuilding for maintenance reasons (although a few have reduced bunkers size)  And, most of us have, so part of your answers seem to be gross generalizations looking at the top of the market everyone focuses on, and not what I call "Golf in America" where the cost was always considered and people still play happily away.

And, as tom alludes, the 1% you based some of your arguments on are really always going to be able to afford that, so it really hurt mostly the second tier of courses struggling to keep up, while tiers 3-5 toil away under the radar.

Mike, I hope you are right that the Tour Pro model is done, but I think the most we can hope for is that it is greatly reduced, or at least, shipped overseas, where they seem to be making all the same mistakes Ian correctly lists that we made in the US decades ago......
Jeff Brauer, ASGCA Director of Outreach

K Rafkin

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: The Future of Golf Architecture New
« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2016, 03:17:58 PM »
Good read Ian.

In regards to question 2b, In most instances I think time has passed on building courses in area's where there is demand for one.  In the areas with a high enough demand, the land required to build a golf course has immensely more value as something else.  I just don't think that this can work anymore.

What I'm most concerned about is the future of course development in immerging markets.  Great Britain, Ireland, parts of Europe, and even the United States are all very fortunate to have had a good deal of their courses build during an era of sustainability (wether that was intentional or not).  New markets don't have this foundation of 100+ year old golf courses to fall back on.  If these emerging markets follow in our footprints with the Signature Touring Pro and real estate models they're completely doomed.  The only difference between us and them is that foundation of sustainable golf development that happened before most of us were born.

This is why I'm very cautious and curious over what courses in these emerging markets, Asia in particular, recieve status on the World Top 100 lists.  While its nice to include courses from a variety of nations, i believe that these emerging markets are even more suceptible to these lists than we are.  If the only course in your Nation to receive this accolade an 8000yard, un-walkable, over watered, water hazards everywhere, signature touring pro real estate design, with a 50 million dollar clubhouse then the market is likely to emulate that design.  To be honest I haven't seen most of these courses, so I'm not exactly an expert, I can only be hopeful that the right kind of courses are getting the attention. 

The future of golf course development rests with the truly passionate, and the exceptionally dumb.  Luckily golf is a game that evokes great passion, and "dumbness" is never in short supply.
« Last Edit: September 12, 2016, 04:10:47 PM by K Rafkin »


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