Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

Golf courses not always for the feeble of heart

A few years ago I played with some friends at a relatively new golf course that has been acclaimed by many as one of best in the country. My cart-mate suffered from cardiomyopathy and experienced shortness of breath when she traversed steep slopes. As we neared the end of our round, she complained that the course we were playing (in carts) had no easy “walk-way” to the green from the cart path. She asked me why.
Her question caught me a bit off guard. Although I’m no physical specimen, I manage to get around a golf course pretty well despite having “baby boomer” generation status. I even manage to walk a round now and then. So, at first I was speechless. I think I mumbled something about it not being a consideration for the architect.

The more I thought about it, the more I became annoyed. After all, are we not in the middle of one of the most serious collapses of the golf course supply market in history?

Granted, all of us will reach a time when we can’t manage to get around well enough to play this marvelous game. Nonetheless, at a time when the mantra of “grow the game” can be heard or seen in most any medium, why would we be creating golf courses that limit accessibility?

That evening, as my displeasure mounted, I thought about emailing my friend with this explanation as to why the architect didn’t provide a manageable access way from cart path to green:

The architect was obsessed with “humps and hollows” and not aware or concerned about access to the greens.
The architect was intent only on making a name for him/herself and not too concerned with what anyone else thought.
The architect “wore no clothes” when he/she designed this course and everyone remarked on how good she/he looked.
As I mused further, I remembered how in the late ’80s and ’90s the “baby boomer effect” in part was touted to provide a market for the United States to build and open an average of one golf course per day. There was seemingly no projection for when the supply would satisfy the future demand; for as the baby boomers aged, they would have more time to play golf.

Do you see where I’m headed here? In 2002, accessibility regulations were added on to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush. At the time, I was among those that were concerned about the impact on the golf business – specifically designs. My fear was that the regulations would restrict the creativity of golf architects and therefore impact play. I also worried that golf course construction costs would increase at a time when budgets were being demolished left to achieve goals of one-upmanship and a perfect facility at opening.

As it turned out, the regulations were relatively innocuous. Few of the numeric specifications were problematic for designers or operators. However, over the years, as maintenance equipment has become more versatile in dealing with slopes, and as architects’ designs became more and more outrageously unique, perhaps we have lost our way.

The fact remains that we as an industry are struggling to retain and attract patrons. And to a large degree, the market – including the Gen Xers and younger – aren’t interested in being beat up for 5-1/2 hours for the sake of boasting, “I’ve played ‘A-Dozen-Balls-and-Full-Day-Country Club.’”

Regardless, many in the business look at the ADA requirements as undue government interference when they should be embracing the intent, if not the “letter of the law.” Perhaps the most important regulation pertaining to golf courses is the requirement that all features be accessible via a slope of not more than 8.333% (1:12). While this is relatively simple for architects to accomplish by checking routes that traverse slopes diagonally or extending the route, these paths are not marked or readily apparent to players. Many struggle up (or down) a steep slope when they could find a more gentle approach. Generally, the easiest path is from the front of the green – we often forget that it isn’t  necessary to always disembark from the golf car at the “designated location.” It is sometimes just as close or at least much flatter to get out in the fairway before the cars are diverted back to the cart path.

Otherwise, the regulations are almost entirely about golf cart access. In my opinion we are “missing the boat” by thinking that we need to have special accommodations for only those that need to use a golf cart. Golf courses today are littered with all kinds of tripping hazards. Ropes, steps, short posts, curbs and in some cases uneven ground are an accident waiting to happen and a hindrance to even able-bodied players.



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