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January 2020

Designers Adapting To Golf’s New Reality

By Steve Eubanks

Thank goodness nobody asked him to play it. When Jack Nicklaus recently renovated the Great Waters course at Reynolds Lake Oconee in rural Georgia, the 79-year-old legend looked at the land a lot differently than he did a quarter-century earlier when he designed the course.

“I see a lot of things different,” Nicklaus said late last year at the grand re-opening of Great Waters. “I see the way the game is played as you get older. I have tell you, I don’t see memberships anywhere getting younger. And as you get older, you appreciate more and more the addition of forward tees. I’ve spent the last 20 years at Bear’s Club putting in forward tees and I hope to take a bite at Muirfield Village next year putting in forward tees there. I’ve put in some forward tees (at Muirfield Village) but I’m going to put in a lot more.”

Nicklaus doesn’t play much golf now. “I really haven’t played 18 holes in the last 17 years,” he said. “I play but I haven’t put a ball on a tee at the first hole, holed every putt and said, ‘I shot this score,’ in a long time. I’ve cheated a little bit, given myself a few putts and got myself a handicap. I’m about a 6 now. And as you get older and don’t play as much, you realize what a humbling game it is. People of all walks of life and all skill levels want to play. As an architect, you want them to enjoy it.”

He is among a growing list of architects who are revamping their older designs in an attempt to soften the game for an older population.

As owners enter the new year with goals for increasing business, softening your golf course should be somewhere near the top of the list.

“Why create a golf course with forced carries?” LPGA Tour player Amy Olson said of the need to make golf easier. “I play in pro-ams on tour every week and average players simply can’t get around without losing a ton of balls. You have to give them a path, a way to play. They aren’t going to make pars but they don’t expect that. They want to play without losing balls and embarrassing themselves. And they want to enjoy the game. So, cut the rough in front of tee boxes, give players a fairway path to the green – it might not be a direct path, but a path – and soften the greens so that the average player doesn’t four- or five-putt. That’s how you grow golf.”   

“People take a lot of pride in where they play and where they live and they don’t want the game to pass them by,” Nicklaus said. “You want to make sure that as people get older you include them in what you’re doing. But you also know that time moves on and you have young people are who want to join so you have to have a balance.

“I try to make sure golf courses are playable for everybody but also attract the better players who want to come out.”

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