Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

The LPGA IS Different

Some time ago I had a short but fatal spat with a Facebook friend.  No, I didn’t kill him – what’s better is he didn’t kill me.  I had gotten to know this fellow on FB several years ago, probably because he is a member at a course in NH where I had done some renovation work.  We also seemed to share an interest in women’s golf.  As time went on, I became concerned that this person had more than just a passing interest in these young women.  He even wrote a book about a young woman and her “father – aged” caddie.

Anyway, this person seems to tail the LPGA and Symetra tours ceaselessly to the extent that he attends the Q School events and some other Symetra tour events in Florida.  His postings are almost exclusively about women’s golf although he occasionally comes forward with ultra-conservative “shares”.

He had been taking a very negative line on Lydia Ko’s (she was 14 at the time) firing of her longtime coach in favor of David Ledbetter.  One morning he posted a video of some interaction between Lydia and this coach from when she was 8 years old.  This seemed to be in response to my earlier reply that we didn’t know anything about she and her past coach’s relationship.  I replied that I couldn’t believe that he would think that a videotaped segment could be indicative of their relationship.  In an attempt to shock him into being sensible, I included the fatal words of “for all we know he could be a pedophile.”

He quickly replied to my post with something like, “I can’t believe you would accuse anyone of that,” and then the line went dead.  He de-friended me.  Its ok, I had grown tired of the photos he posted with his arm around young women – many of them Asians – and his radical politics.

But this entire episode brought me to wondering about how often these girls (some barely young women) are “preyed” upon by men – old or young.  They certainly are vulnerable and who can blame their fathers for caddying or physically following them on tour?  Its not something the LPGA or Symetra likes to hear about and who could blame them – one bad scene could be a public relations disaster.

My next response to my FB friend was going to be.  “I certainly would not trust my young daughter to any man’s interaction like this without close supervision.”

Granted, we had some pretty nasty political disagreements in the past.  I occasionally wondered about his and some of his followers’ interest in the golf and not just the girls.  Nevertheless, I was surprised that this latest tiff would end our “relationship”.

Yes, the LPGA is different.  Much has been made about the “arbitrary” age limit of 18 they have established, but even 18 year-olds would have difficulty dealing with these kinds issues.  It gives  me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.

Golf has Gotta Change

The National Golf Foundation (NGF) just came out with their annual “Openings and Closings Update”.  In all of 2013 only 14 golf courses (18-hole equivalents) opened in all of the United States.  In the meantime, 157.5 golf courses closed; a net loss of 143.5.  Perhaps the most revealing statistic is that of the 157 odd golf courses that closed, only 6 were Private Clubs.  Daily Fee courses accounted for the lion’s share of closures at 144.5 and 7 were municipal facilities.  Without much thought, this tells me two things:

  1. The wealthy can still afford the game, and
  2. There should probably be more municipal golf course closures.

After a little more thought, I concluded that at least in part the U.S. golf industry is a microcosm of what is happening in our country.  Plainly put: the numbers of people that can afford the game is dwindling.

If you’ve been following the saga of golf course supply in the U.S., you know this is no sudden phenomenon.  There has been a steady decline in golf courses since 2005 – with net losses every year since then.  It’s also of no great surprise since it reflects a decline in income for the middle class – the daily fee players – while the “country clubbers” are stable.

18-Hole Equivalents (U.S.) – as of Dec. 31, 2013

 

OPENINGS

14

Number      % of Total

CLOSURES

157.5

Number      % of Total

TOTAL US SUPPLY

14,564.5

Number      % of Total

 
 
PUBLIC

8.5

61%

151.5

96%

10,704.5

73%

Daily Fee

8.0

57%

144.5

92%

8,410.0

58%

Municipal

0.5

4%

7.0

4%

2,294.5

16%

PRIVATE

5.5

39%

6.0

4%

3,860.0

27%

*NGF January 2014 Newsletter

Putting aside for now the issue of an overbuilt market, the PGA and USGA seem quick to blame the decline of the game on things such as speed of play and people playing from the wrong set of tees.  I have been saying for some time now that they are missing mark and the closure statistics reinforce that.

I have been an avid player for over 50 years and by that I mean I played golf an average of at least once a week during nearly that period.  The only time I didn’t was when my children were young.  I’ve been doing golf design for over 35 years and have had my own golf design firm for about 25 years.  What I have observed is a slow regression back to a game that only the wealthy can afford.  About the time I started playing, the game was attractive to middle class families, even those that had just a single wage earner such as my own.  My Dad paid for season passes to the local municipal golf course for him and my brother and me for several years until we began working at the facility and received golf as a side benefit.  We were middle class – and yet we owned a new car every 3 to 5 years, owned our own home (with the bank of course) and generally we were able to get whatever was needed.  My father was a union maintenance mechanic at John Morrell and my mother a budgeting wizard.  Where can you find this kind of  golf participation in America today?  It’s clear to me that our society has lost a good portion of its middle class – and therefore a large portion of the golfing public.

As you might imagine, golf participation has suffered right along with the decrease in golf course supply.  I don’t have access to the data to prove it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the NGF (and others) have massaged their counting methods to make the decline look as good as possible – just as they probably made the peak years of the late 90’s look better than they were.  Such is the way with business these days – shucks, they probably don’t know the true numbers themselves anymore.

But, I’m wandering a bit.  Getting back to the cost of golf, I have some suggestions:

  1. If you’re a daily fee golf course, leave the fancy restaurants and even fresh food to the Country Clubs.  It’s a well-known fact that the golf course has to support these ancillary services.  Sell beer, maybe liquor, soft drinks and packaged snacks and you’ll make money.
  2. Golf Course Maintenance costs have skyrocketed.  Part of the reason is greens and sometimes even fairways are mowed down to a nubbin which in turn requires more intensive maintenance, but it also has to do with the cost of the maintenance equipment. Today, it’s not unusual for a golf course to use a dozen or more pieces of equipment with its own self-propelling engine.  As a point of reference, when I was working at our municipal golf course in the mid-60’s, we had two or three tractors that could be connected to three or four different pieces of equipment for mowing and spraying pesticides.  When I first started, this was all that was necessary as we mowed greens with walk behind hand mowers.  There’s no doubt that equipment has become more effective and in some cases more efficient, but at what cost?  The average fairway or greens mower today costs well over $40,000 and therefore requires a skilled employee to care for it.  There IS a market today for less expensive, less costly to maintain, multipurpose turf equipment.  If I had the mechanical engineering knowledge and money, I would start a new business with a less expensive, simpler turf equipment line myself.
  3. If the USGA and R & A truly wanted to see golf grow they are among the few organizations that could have that impact.

The game suffers from “perceptions”, which for the most part aren’t necessarily so.  One of the most significant is that the game is too difficult or complicated.  People entering the game are intimidated by the idea of hitting a 1.68 inch ball with a club that isn’t much larger, but they are just as mortified by the archaic and nonsensical rules and etiquette of the game.  Rules officials will tell you that the rules make perfect sense to them and some will offer you a booklet written by Richard Tufts explaining his philosophy behind them.  For me, the idea that you have to read a book to understand the logic of the rules speaks volumes.  While newbies complain about the rules and etiquette of the game, veterans will tell you that they rarely play by the rules – they don’t go back to the place the played their last shot for a lost ball; they play “winter rules”; they give 6” putts; they allow moving a ball from a footprint in a bunker.  What does it tell you when experienced players realize playing by the rules isn’t in their best interest, but those new to the game think they must play by the rules?  The game needs to be simplified and the rules are where it needs to start.  I’m certainly not suggesting that any putts be given to play within the rules, but there have been several suggestions for logical, simple rule changes.

If the USGA and R&A stood up to commercial interests they could have a significant impact on the cost of the game.  The average golfer doesn’t know the difference between how far he or she hits a 7 iron and an 8 iron.  If the USGA reduced the standard set to 8 or 9 clubs, we would see about a 30 percent decrease in the cost of clubs and perhaps even faster play.  It would also make the game more challenging for our better players and increase the importance of shot making and reduce the importance of putting, which is the determining factor in most tournaments.  Similarly, if the USGA froze the current standards for licensing clubs and golf balls, we would see a substantial decrease in the cost of equipment because Research and Development costs (a large part of the cost of doing business) would be nearly eliminated.  This would also protect our current golf courses and the reduce the need for ever larger layouts that require more maintenance.

One last suggestion:

At best, many of our PGA professionals, especially the younger ones, have become merchandisers and tournament organizers.  Must they be relegated to collecting green fees selling shirts and transcribing scores?  In today’s world, these things can be done through technology and with only minor staff involvement.  We need to get our golf pros back on the course and mentoring golfers young and old.  In today’s world, people often take offense when someone suggests they aren’t doing something correctly, but they still respect the authority.  When I tell someone they aren’t letting a group play through the best way, they look at me like I’m blue.  If the golf pro tutored them on this, keeping up a pace of play, repairing ball marks and divots, and countless other nuances of the game everyone would benefit.  When I was a kid our golf pro would play a couple of rounds a week with the “members”.  He encouraged and instructed during those rounds – even if it was only nine holes.  I remember so looking forward to seeing him hit those beautiful shots – that alone inspired me.

 

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.

 

Freddie & Me by Tripp Bowden

Book review by Mary Armstrong

 

Tripp Bowden was a typical 10 year-old boy – hungry, impressionable and always up for something to do.  When his physician father invites Tripp to join him and the Augusta National Caddy Master in his office for an informal consultation…well, the rest is history.

 Freddie Bennett wasn’t just Augusta National’s Caddy Master – a position considerably under the radar by the way – he was their LEGENDARY Caddy Master.  Freddie called Augusta National home for over 50 years.  In a way it was fitting that CaddyMaster, Incorporated took over in 2000 because no one person could have filled his shoes.  being a Caddy Master is first and foremost about pairing caddie with player.  If this was all that Freddie did he still would have been legendary, but that was just the beginning.

 The Bowden family’s move to Berckmans Road before that summer may not have been instrumental in Tripp’s journey through Freddie’s world, but being just around the corner from famed Magnolia Lane made the first leg a lot shorter.  Tripp could have cared less about golf at 10 years old, but the chance to go fishing with one of his Dad’s buddies – well, now that was special.  Turns out the little fishing hole just down the road was at a place called Augusta National Golf Club and his Dad’s buddy was the inimitable Freddie Bennett.  

 Whether it was teaching Tripp how to grip the club on a fishing pole or telling him he couldn’t have golf shoes until he broke 80, Freddie’s way of helping Tripp find a life he didn’t know he wanted was subtle, but masterful.  Tripp was the first white caddie to don the Augusta National white jumpsuits, but this story isn’t about racial differences and it’s not about the legendary golf course.  To my mind it’s about a man that led by example; a role model without trying; and a boy becoming a young man with the qualities that led him to a rich, fulfilling life.

 Don’t get me wrong, if you want insight into the inner workings of Augusta National, the nuances of the course or like to read about celebrities, Freddie and Me can give you all that as well.  The 200 odd-page book is a fast read for sure.  Seventy-two short chapters capture “mini-acts” in the life of Bowden and Bennett.  As you might expect the book is also full of “Freddie-isms”.  Among them:

 “To quiet down a raucous caddy house: ‘I just told them if they didn’t shut up, I wasn’t gonna pay ‘em.  Man, it got so quiet you could hear a rat pissing on cotton.’ ”

 “To the caddie sniffing around the bags that arrived on a Sunday afternoon: ‘You don’t want his bag, man.  He’s got short arms and deep pockets.’ ”

 If you’ve had a “Freddie” in your life this book will bring memories of his or her influences on you.  But if you’re really lucky and don’t think you’ve had a “Freddie” it just might reveal one to you.

 ‘nuff said.

NMSU Golf Course – 50 years OLD?

by: Mary Armstrong for the Las Cruces Sun-News; submitted 4/12/12

I played regularly at New Mexico State’s University Golf Course (NMSU) for the first couple of years I lived here.  I found it a fair course with reasonable conditions for a public access course.  This time of year, the dormant bermudagrass is getting beat down and often times you play from very thin lies.  Now, any good player will tell you that they prefer that to a lush lie, but sub-10 handicappers make up only a small percentage of the golfing public.

About a year ago, I came across a guy at the NMSU practice area.  He was vacationing from Minnesota and he asked me, “is there a golf course in town that doesn’t have dead grass?”

This is a big problem for the managers at the University’s course, but it’s not the biggest challenge they face.  If you’ve read my column for a while you probably realize that managing a golf course is about far more than just irrigating, mowing and selling green fees.

I’ve noticed that the golf course seems to plod along, repairing damage and problem areas by hook or crook.  The course will be 50 years old next year and I have observed two iterations of a rebuilt 17th green and there seems to be quite a lot of activity now at the course with adding tees for the men’s golf team and removing trees.  There have been repairs made to bunkers, extending and refining the irrigation system, and the greens have become firmer, but also truer.  There’s no doubt the course has improved and presents as a good public course.  But does it provide the quality and utility that a University course should?

I have often wondered how a land grant institution with a golf course maintenance program (turf agronomy) and a professional golf management (PGM) program can settle for such a mediocre facility.  It’s one of the few Universities in the United States to have highly respected programs in both areas.  UNM has neither program and yet their 27-hole facility is considered better.  A 2010 Golfweek article featuring the top 30 university golf courses in the nation ranked their facility 13th in the nation.  NMSU’s golf course didn’t break the top 30 and wasn’t mentioned at all in the article.

I could probably speculate until I’m blue in the face about why this is the case, but I figured we should go directly to the “horse’s mouth” for the facts.  I sat down with Dan Koesters in his office at the NMSU golf course last week.

Mary: Dan, the course has been improving steadily since I moved here.  What role does the University play in getting improvements for the golf course?

Dan: “Well, the NMSU Golf Course is known as an Auxiliary Service within the University and that means we are responsible for generating the funds we need in order to operate.  The golf course has had a history of running profitably over the years where it has been able to make the improvements we have made in the 14 years I have been here and those that were made before I got here.”

Mary: The course will be 50 years old next year.  What kinds of improvements have been made over the years?

Dan: “First off, the course was built for only $150,000.  Even in the 60’s that was a very small budget for a course.  In the early days, when you paid your green fee, the pro shop sent you out on the course with a bucket so you could pick up rocks from the fairways and dump them in the desert.  When the USGA came to give the University advice for improving the conditions of the course back in the ‘60’s they told us that the fairway that is now the 12th would never have grass on it because there wasn’t enough topsoil and it had too many rocks. I was in school here from ’77 – ’81 and I think it was in 1981 when a new irrigation system was installed.   The system was installed for approximately $250,000 and even then the maintenance staff was very involved in the installation process.  Paul Brilliant actually worked a deal with the city to capture rain water in exchange for the funding needed to install that system.  We have been fortunate to get a little legislative funding for a few of our projects such as the cart path project, the driving range and the halfway house and restrooms but to be honest, our outside funding has been very limited.   Other than those projects and the Clubhouse, all of the improvements made to the golf course have come through our operating income.”

Mary: I have heard all kinds of things about how the Clubhouse was funded.  How did that happen?

Dan: “The University was selling off some of the smaller parcels of land it held that didn’t fit into the future plans for the University.  The golf course needed a new clubhouse and the Regents agreed to allow the construction of a new clubhouse using the proceeds from the sale of the land that was then occupied by the clubhouse, driving range and adjacent to what is now #15 fairway.  The proceeds from the land directly across the street from the old clubhouse were actually used to fund the building of the new clubhouse and the University retained the rights of the land where the old clubhouse was located.”

Mary:  So, Dan when the maintenance staff is doing projects, who takes care of the course?

Dan: “When we schedule projects it is usually in the winter where the grass is not growing and there is a minimum amount of work to be done on the course.  Less mowing, less play or traffic, you don’t have to change cups as often.  We will usually increase our part time help and then assign work crews to different projects.  We have been very ambitious over the years with course improvement projects and everyone pitches in where needed.”

Mary: So, how do you get funding for improvements?

Dan: “Our funding comes from the income we derive from being in business.  We have gotten very little outside funding which is frustrating when UNM has received much more funding over the years.  Virtually all of our projects have been done in house.  Karl Olson, my current superintendent is a very “hands-on” guy and is very imaginative when it comes to improving the course.  We are currently in the process of planning the replacement of our irrigation system.  It is over 30 years old and is horribly inefficient.  It has needed numerous repairs over the last few years and because of its age, we are limited in what repairs we can make to it and how efficient we can make it.  Plain and simple….it is worn out.”

There’s really nothing wrong with the routing of NMSU.  In fact, I think its superior to UNM’s.  The problems at NMSU include the long dormant period of the bermudagrass, underfunded maintenance budget and an infrastructure – irrigation system bunkers, tees and greens that are approaching 50 years old.  Sure, the in-house approach can get some things done adequately, but is “adequate” all that is expected for an agricultural University?

So why can’t the NMSU golf course secure additional funding to get the expertise they need to put their facility in the top 30 nationwide?  I decided to talk with Tammy Anthony, Vice President of Auxiliary Services at NMSU.

Mary: What other NMSU facilities are in the Auxiliary status?

Ms. Anthony:  “The University facilities that are considered Auxiliary are Corbett Hall, Student Housing, the new bookstore, the Pan Am Center and all the other Athletic facilities, including the golf course.”

Mary: Are all these facilities able to operate within their own revenues?

Ms. Anthony:  “We operate collectively within our budget.”

Mary:  So if a facility isn’t able to meet its own budget, you move funds around from other facilities to take care of that?

Ms. Anthony:  “Correct.  The University and more specifically the Auxiliary facilities aren’t here to make money, but to provide a good service.  The golf course does a very good job of balancing their budget.”

Mary: What happens when a facility needs a major repair or renovation?

Ms. Anthony:  “We do have a ‘set-aside’ account which is set up for what we call “R & R” or renewal and replacement.  There are times when the project is too large for the “R & R” fund and when that happens we can secure revenue bonds.  The facility that receives the bond funding justifies the financing with long-term financial projections and is then required to retire the debt.”

Mary: So, if the Pan Am Center needs a new roof, which I understand it does, then funds may be taken from the golf course to fund it?

Ms. Anthony:  “Well, in the case of the Pan Am Center roof, the revenue bond that was used to renovate it in 2007 was for 23 million dollars.  As it turned out, that wasn’t enough to complete the job, and we’ve been able to scrape together the 2 million dollars through remnant bond dollars and other funds.”

Mary: The golf course performs many different repairs and renovations on their own – for instance, multiple re-builds of the 17th green.  Are any of the other auxiliary facilities expected to complete this level of work in-house?

Ms. Anthony: “Housing handles their own smaller projects, but they don’t build walls.  The golf course is unique in that its improvements are land-based and the skills required are right there in house.  They have a good bunch of workers over there and Dan Koester’s is doing a good job.  The golf course does a good job of operating within its budget.”

Mary:  Is there anything more you would like to add?

Ms. Anthony: “Yes, there is one other avenue for funding and that is through a direct legislative appropriation.”

UNM’s golf courses are also auxiliary facilities.  According to a November 10, 2011 Albuquerque Journal article, UNM golf course operated at a $678,000 loss in 2010 and a total deficit of more than 4.38 million dollars in the last 20 years.  Last year’s loss has been reported to be $521,000.  Their two courses operate at a 2.4 million dollar budget; that after about a half million dollar reduction between 2008 and 2010.

We Las Crucen’s are accustomed to the legislature favoring UNM and I suppose that is understandable given the proximity, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.  Besides the perennial budget overruns, UNM golf course has been recipient of far more special legislative appropriations.  One in particular was for the renovation of all the bunkers on the Championship Course in order to assure the NCAA would select UNM as their national championship site.  The Championship Course has about 70 bunkers.  Based upon my experience as a golf architect, that translates into a $350 to $400 thousand dollar bill.

I’m not interested in seeing UNM’s Championship course falter into a pasture, but you have to agree that if either state university golf course should be recognized in the nation’s top 30 it should be the one with the turfgrass agronomy and professional golf management programs.

Earlier this month, Bernalillo County offered to spend 1.5 million dollars to improve the 9-hole UNM North Course.  A couple of weeks ago the Albuquerque Journal ran an article announcing the offer, which comes with a requirement that UNM continue to operate the course for at least another 25 years.  I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that this offer was made because there has been a lot of noise in Albuquerque about how much of a drain the golf courses are on the university and the neighborhood fears losing the open space.

County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins is pushing the idea because it would mean a new irrigation system which she says would save about 25 million gallons per year on the 9-hole course.  NMSU’s 18-hole course needs an irrigation system – you do the math.  The North Course is situated close in to the campus (and also to Stebbins house) and gets lots of activity by golfers, runners and walkers.  It’s a pretty compact space of only 70 acres.  I’m not sure I would be all that anxious to use the area for my morning run with golfers spraying shots everywhere.  Perhaps the County should just buy the property and make it a park.  With any luck, perhaps that money could end up as a down payment to add nine holes at the NMSU course and renovate the current 18.

People often think about Aggie Memorial Stadium and the Pan Am Center as the “face” of the University for people traveling through the area on I-25.  The University Course could be every bit as iconic if it was brought into the 21st century.

About one third of the courses in New Mexico have warm season grasses – as does the NMSU course.  The remaining two thirds are cool season grasses.  I’ve written here several times about how fortunate we are to have both warm and cool season grasses grow in our climate.  This is especially true for the University’s turfgrass program.  A large percentage of the golf course superintendents at New Mexico golf courses have been schooled at NMSU.  A University golf course that has both grasses provides them with hands-on opportunities.  It’s time for the University and legislature to support the golf course, turfgrass management and PGM programs with a greater financial commitment.  Times ARE difficult right now in the golf business, but things will get better and if the University offers a first class facility, both the PGM and Turfgrass programs will expand.

I haven’t delved into the Women’s and Men’s golf teams here because both only play one event a year at the University course.  However, having both warm and cool season grasses to practice on would be a tremendous advantage for them and having cool season grasses which are actively growing during the school year would allow them far more flexibility in their schedules.

I certainly am in no position to recommend improvements at the NMSU course, but there is one concept that stands out to me.  Las Cruces is lacking courses that are easily walked and I would certainly want the University course to capitalize on that niche.  The existing front nine is the flattest and easiest to walk.  I would suggest keeping it as the warm season course and adding a new nine to go with the current back nine for the NMSU Championship Course.  The 18-hole course should be cool season grasses which will provide better playing conditions year round.   Also, there is adequate room to move the practice facility next to the Clubhouse.

In conclusion, Dan Koesters and his staff are doing a good job of satisfying Tammy Anthony.  That much is clear.  He’s hired people that help him get by – innovative, skilled staff that can figure ways of getting things done on a shoestring.  Dan and Tammy Anthony are good soldiers – and I mean that as a compliment.  I can tell by talking to them both that they advocate for their respective facilities, but they can only do so much.

The reality of the situation is that the golf course isn’t getting the recognition of its value to the University and the community that would yield funds for the improvements that are needed.  Bricks and mortar seems to elicit the realization that experts are required when repairs and renovation is needed.  What too few people realize is that working with the earth requires every bit as much experience and knowledge.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010.  She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.  Mary is also the Executive Director for the Rio Grande Golf Course Superintendents Association.  You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: https://roadholeshorts17.wordpress.com/.

Handicaps: competing on an equal basis

by Mary Armstrong

Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 3-23-12

 

Over the last few months, I’ve heard a lot of talk about what role tee box (or tee set) selection has in equaling the field in competition. It’s my understanding that one local golf association has even enacted a by-law that assigns tee boxes by handicap.

This approach flies in the face of the USGA’s competition guidelines and makes about as much sense as requiring every bowler in a league that has a 175 or high average to use a sixteen pound ball. Your choice of the tee set you play from is the same as a bowler’s choice of the bowling ball weight he or she chooses. A long hitter may have some advantage when playing from a given tee set, just as someone using a 16 pound ball will have an advantage over someone that uses a twelve pounder.  Bowlers choose the weight of ball they feel they can handle just as golfers choose the tee set that fits their abilities.

Some golf courses endeavor to recommend a tee set for players based upon their handicaps, but that is primarily done to discourage people from playing a longer course than they can handle, which helps to maintain speed of play. This effort has been emphasized by the USGA’s recent promotion “Tee it Forward,” which encourages people to play a shorter course so they can enjoy the game more. I know that the bowling comparison isn’t perfect, but it very clearly relates in this case. Because golf courses have inconsistent measurements (versus bowling facilities for instance) it is important that play take place from the same tee set by all competitors, particularly in a scratch or no handicap event.

Players may play from different tee sets in a handicap event, but the handicaps must be adjusted to account for the more difficult course played from the longer tees.

In summary, to determine the best players in a competition, they all need to play the same course. If you want to “equalize” those players, then make it a handicap event.

 

NGF: Golf facility numbers fall again

For the sixth consecutive year, the National Golf Foundation (NGF) has reported that golf course closings outnumbered openings in 2011.

Last year, there were just 19 openings while 157.5 18 hole equivalents (e.g. two nine hole courses equals one 18) closed.

This represents the largest number of closings during that six year stretch.  The NGF explained this “supply-side market correction” is due to the fact that the number of golfers and rounds played over the last 20 years did not increase at the rate of the golf course supply. The boom started in the early 90s and since 1991, 18 hole equivalents have grown by 30 percent vs. the meager 6.5-percent growth in golfers over the same period.

“The cumulative reduction in course supply over the past six years has been quite modest, and pales in comparison to the net increase in facilities that occurred over the two decades prior to this recent pullback,” said Joe Beditz, the President and CEO of the NGF. “In 2000 alone, we gained 362 courses, and over the 20-year period from 1986-2005, we added more than 4,500 courses (18HEQ). The slow correction that is now occurring is very much overdue and necessary to help return the golf course business to a more healthy equilibrium between supply and demand.” The boom of the 90s was largely due to real estate projects that used projected “baby boomer” retiree demand to woo investors. Unfortunately, we all didn’t get old enough fast enough and the economy delayed retirements. I’m not holding my breath, but once the economy stabilizes and we “baby boomers” have the time to devote to golf, I’m hoping player numbers will explode.

 

Tiger’s stripes in High Def

This week we got what some are calling a clearer, more focused picture of what makes Tiger Woods tick in pre-release critiques of Hank Haney’s book “The Big Miss.” Tiger has been almost excruciatingly private and reserved in his public comments over his career. Even the nasty break up with his wife didn’t bring the same level of character revelation that we often see in celebrity divorces.

Haney was Tiger’s swing coach during that period, and although he said he wanted to focus on Tiger’s pursuit of his place in golfing history, a number of personal events are negatively described.

According to an ESPN.com news service article on the book, Tiger’s personal faux pas are revealed or re-hashed.  From Ian Poulter’s uninvited ride home in Tiger’s plane to his relationship with wife Elin at the golf course, Haney’s perception of Tiger’s true character is clearly spelled out for all to see.

Most of the book’s critiques seem to paint a picture of a deeply self-absorbed, complex man that was motivated to constantly improve, but distracted by other interests. Aside from his sexual escapades, Tiger apparently had a strong desire to be a Navy SEAL. This desire was so strong that he participated in a SEAL training exercise at a “Kill House” — an urban warfare simulator — in 2007, and his left knee was injured pretty badly. The story was corroborated by one of Woods’ closest friends and the wife of a SEAL that participated in the same exercise. This led to Tiger’s knee surgery after the 2008 U.S. Open.

Similarly, Tiger’s exercise regimen became more focused on his desire to be recognized as much as an athlete as a golfer. Haney and Tiger’s strength and conditioning coach Keith Kleven tried to convince him that his upper body strengthening was too much for an efficient golf swing. In 2008, Corey Carroll, a close friend at Isleworth, said that Woods injured his right Achilles tendon while attempting Olympic-style weightlifting as he returned from the major knee surgery of December 2008.

Personally, I’m at a loss to understand the Tiger bashing.  I’m not a big fan, and what I know isn’t attractive to me, but all this piling on isn’t warranted and certainly at best is based on third hand information. His personal life is just that, and if he chooses to risk his professional career for something he enjoys, then that’s up to him so long as he doesn’t hurt someone else.

Tiger’s injuries may well mean that he’ll never surpass Nicklaus’ major wins record.  The big question is: “Why does society demean individuals that don’t reach their perceived potential because they choose not to devote themselves?’ I, for one, think we should “get a life.”

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. Mary is also the Executive Director for the Rio Grande Golf Course Superintendents Association. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: http://roadholeshorts17.wordpr ess.com/.

 

Child’s Play (published as “Reliving childhood’s finest golf memories”)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my childhood connection to golf.   In that article I mentioned that my family and I lived in a town in Iowa, on what was probably a 50-foot-by-200­ foot lot.  I also mentioned that I start­ed hitting golf balls with a cut­off, left-handed eight iron, and that I crushed what was prob­ably an Acushnet Club Special golf ball and broke the base­ment window. Not long after, I began playing golf for real — and right hand­ed — at our local municipal course.

A couple of years lat­er, our home was displaced by a four-lane bypass highway and we moved to the country. My dad called our little acreage a farm — and he did farm it — at least enough to claim farm tax credits, but it didn’t take long for it to be­come my golf course. At first my brother and I repeated our little Main Street chip ’n putt configuration between the house and orchard. It wasn’t long before our Dinty Moore can “holes” were spread throughout the pasture and across the small “crick” at the back of the property. At its best, our little course had nine holes varying in distance from about 50 yards to nearly 200.  Of course, we played exclu­sively with pitching wedges — and that included putting.

A few years ago, I saw a drill on the golf channel that pro­moted the use of a wedge for putting because it forced you to keep your head absolutely still and the feedback from a mis-hit was dramatic. Hmpf!  Apparently my muscle mem­ory isn’t the best.

Anyhow, the zenith of our pasture pool course was when my Dad was farming the most intensively — about a dozen sheep, three beef calves and a couple of horses. If you’ve ever seen a pasture grazed by sheep you know why cattle ranchers hated them — turns out that sheep­grazed pasture made for ter­rific golfing. The pasture was a patchwork of very short lush green turf intermingled with apparently less di­gestible long grasses — oh and of course the occasional cow pie, etc. While there were no particular fairways, the “green” locations were well known and easily identi­fied and for a time marked with neat white flags tied to whatever we could find that we stuck in the Dinty Moore holes. It seemed like each spring the short “fairway” turf shifted around slightly and new strategies were nec­essary to devise the best ap­proach to the various greens.   Of course we also moved the greens now and then and the search for a different ap­proach was constant. My brother and I spent hours out there — often times just ex­perimenting with different kinds of shots.

There were two — what I thought of — natural green sites. Both were framed by shallow depressions with eroded, craggy edges. I im­mediately envisioned bunkers. One had a single “bunker” next to it that was probably a little deeper than the others, while the other greensite was flanked by two of these shallow “hazards.” We couldn’t really practice bunker shots since we didn’t have any sand to put in them (and that despite occasional pleading and downright beg­ging).

However, we were able to practice pitch shots over the “bunkers.” This re­quired us to lay back our wedges totally open and hit­ting what today would be called a flop shot. I’m not sure I ever mastered that 10-yard carry to a 15-foot wide “green” backed by a second, menacing “bunker.” My fondest memories of those shallow depressions took place one summer when I saw one of the pros hit a shot from a water hazard. I re­member Ken Venturi telling the audience that if any part of the ball is exposed above the surface “it’s worth a try.” The next time we had a thun­dershower — an all too com­mon occurrence during Iowa summers — we gathered our clubs and balls and headed out to the shallow depres­sions. Low and behold, Ven­turi was right and we had the wet clothes and muddy shoes as proof of our many at­tempts. After that, Mom in­sisted that water hazard prac­tice would be in our bathing suits!

I never knew why those de­pressions were there. Dad speculated that they were simply to gather water during storms for livestock. Whatev­er the reason, the “two-­bunkered green” is no more.  It was obliterated by the con­struction of two cell towers in the ’80s. I’m planning a trip back home soon. When I do, I want to sit by my remaining “green” and contemplate our carefree summers from so long ago and how I learned golf by just having fun. Who knows, maybe the remnants of a Dinty Moore “hole” will make the memories all the more vivid.

 

The rules

Rules — if it isn’t a problem in championships, will we ever see a rule change?  We’ve all done it. You half­top a drive on the heel and the ball zips off low and left, hitting another tee marker, ball washer, waste basket, div­ot mix box, bench, yadda, yad­da, yadda. The amount of “site furniture” placed around the golf course is certainly not getting smaller. The result of your ball hitting some of this “stuff” is nearly always disas­trous. Usually the ball ends up further offline and sometimes even behind you. “Rub of the green” chirps your opponent.

Or perhaps you’ve just hit the best second shot on a par 5 of your life and as it lands in front of the green it takes a big hop and hits a sign that has an arrow pointing carts to the cart path.  No amount of condolences will ever sooth the loss of an eagle try.

There’s no doubt that most of these accouterments of the game are desirable — maybe even necessary, but why do we put up with being penal­ized by not being able to re­play the shot if you hit one? If an immovable obstruction is between you and the green you get relief, but if you hit something that it is not a part of the golf course, you get no relief and ordinarily face a de­facto penalty of loss of dis­tance or direction. Granted, there is that rare occasion when an errant shot can be redirected toward your target, but in my estimation that is rare.

If the pros played with all that stuff lying around and just one of their shots hit something and the ball bound­ed even one iota further away from their target, you couldn’t get more whines from a vine­yard. Indeed, if the pros played under the conditions that Joe Blow plays on the weekends, that rule would have changed long ago. Make a re-play optional or require a re-play, either would be ac­ceptable to me, but there’s nothing about site furniture interference that’s consistent with golf. Oh, and by the way, just maybe a ball washer or wastebasket could find its way to the forward tee once in a while if certain people didn’t need to worry about hitting them.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, and executive director for the Rio Grande Golf Course Superintendents Association. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: http://roadholeshorts17. wordpress.com/.