On a recent trip to Australia I played at four of the finest courses in the country, Royal Melbourne (special treat on my 50th birthday!), Kingston Heath, Huntingdale and the New South Wales Golf Club in Sydney.
With the exception of Huntingdale, home of the Australian Masters, these courses were designed by the great (British) golf course architect Alister Mackenzie.
These world-class courses have lots of common features and are extremely popular with all levels of golfer.
The fairways are very wide in places and the ground conditions are firm not soft.
There is almost no rough at all around the greens which feature interesting slopes and bunkers that really cut into the greens.
You had to pay attention and it was not easy but, playing in a very mixed ability group, we hardly lost a ball and everyone enjoyed their game.
This was very much Mackenzie’s aim.
I especially like his idea that the purpose of a hazard is not to punish a bad shot but to make the round more interesting.
He was not an accomplished player himself, in fact before he went to Australia a friend advised him not to let his clients see him play!
This may well have been one of his strengths,since
he understood very well the problems of the handicap golfer and did not just build difficult courses that only the best could play….in his view anyone could do that.
More of his ideas can be found in his excellent book, the Spirit of St Andrews, which would make a great Xmas present for any golfer.
Not every course has such great architecture but clubs can perhaps best present what they do have
by adopting some of Mackenzie’s ideas.
Last summer in England, I played a tree-lined course where the conditions were the complete opposite.
The greens (in one of the driest summers for ages) were so soft and overwatered that each iron shot left a huge pitch mark.
Under the trees (from which a recovery was already difficult enough) there was thick rough so that much time was spent looking for balls and then hacking out instead of being tempted into an interesting recovery shot.
It was not much fun.
The Mackenzie courses all had very wide fairways but there was usually a risk reward choice or a perfect spot on one side of the fairway that opened up the green
A narrow fairway gives fewer options for challenging hazards or making angles and can reduce the game to a straight hitting contest. This is fine on some holes in the round but most golfers find it tiresome over 18 holes.
You may remember that Davis Love asked for all the rough to be cut down for the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah. It was controversial at the start of the week but it allowed the players to produce great matches.
Even the USGA have relented on rough when they took the US Open to a restored Pinehurst so perhaps we are seeing the start of a trend away from thick rough as a hazard – something Mackenzie warned was bad for the game.
Participation in golf has been reported as declining according to many reports like this one earlier this year…
If we are to expect golf to grow again, we cannot present newcomers with ever longer, narrower, more difficult courses and expect them to enjoy it.
No one comes to the golf club to be punished by the course – the game itself will do that perfectly well.
If we want to keep existing golfers interested then it would help if the courses were as sporting and exciting as they can possibly be.
Mackenzie certainly helped them achieve that in Melbourne and Sydney.