Are Today’s Golf Courses Unfair to the Average Golfer?

by   |   November 28, 2012
Floating Green

For the past two decades, there has been little movement of in the scoring averages, driving distances and handicaps of the average golfer. The average score still hovers around 100, the average drive is still in the 200-yard range and for those who keep handicaps 16 remains the average.

However, in those 20 years golf equipment has evolved exponentially. Advancements include the cavity back iron, vast improvements in the casting process, higher moment of inertia, aerodynamics, lighter/better graphite shafts, center of gravity, better materials such as titanium and tungsten, 460cc heads, hybrids, the evolution of the golf ball and even the lowly golf tee.

So what gives? If lessons aren’t helping the average golfer, technology isn’t helping the average golfer and all those gazillion tips he reads in the golf magazines, not to mention all those Golf Channel and You Tube lessons, where is our average golfer faltering?

  • Is golf really that hard?
  • Is the average golfer really that inept?
  • Are golf instructors really that bad?
  • Are the OEM’s really just selling the average golfer a bill of goods?

Is it any one thing, or a combination of a lot of things? Here’s another theory to add fuel to the fire: maybe today’s courses are simply too hard — too long with too many hazards.

A little over a decade ago, a new course opened up in our area to all kinds of acclaim. It was a beautiful course that received many awards. But for the average golfer it was virtually unplayable. I never heard so many golfers complain about a golf course and how many golf balls they lost per round. Sure, it was beautiful. But, you better hit the ball straight — perfectly straight. How many average golfers hit the ball perfectly straight? The course had to make a number of adjustments to accommodate the average golfer, i.e., the paying customer.

Now, that was an extreme example, but I’ve played a number of newer courses that makes me ask, “What was the designer thinking?” I’ve heard of a few other courses in my area that are user unfriendly, and as a result are struggling. Who wants to go play a course where you lose a bunch of balls, and post a score somewhere north of the Arctic Circle?

Even my home course punishes good shots, e.g., you can hit a good shot and still end up in a hazard (basically you better hit the ball in the fairway or your toast). I’ve played TPC Boston three times and have never lost a ball (the slope I’ve played was 146), however at my home course I average two to three lost balls a round.

So here you have the average golfer. He steps up to first tee, excited to be out on the course, away from the office, away from any of those cares that may be consuming him otherwise. Eighteen holes later, as he puts his clubs in the car, he wonders why he even bothered. Every hole was surrounded by bunkers. What was that creek doing running across the middle of the fairway? Who the heck would put hazard right behind No. 8 green, or right in front No. 12 green? What’s up with that dogleg? There was only one place to put the ball and no where to miss?

That wasn’t a golf course, that was an obstacle course!

Okay, we have better equipment, all those extra years of analysis to further understand the swing, yet we continue to struggle. Well, some of us anyway. So, why don’t designers build courses with the average golfers in mind? And, I’m not talking about Pete Dye, who said:

“Golf isn’t supposed to be fair.”

Build a course and they will come? I don’t know. Maybe. But at the very least make it fair for the average golfer. Do you really need all those hazards? Really? Does that green really require a long, towering iron shot or hybrid? Why not a thinned one? Do you really think the PGA Tour is going to come to your course for four days?

For those you who like a challenge there are plenty of golf courses out there to test you (there is another course in my area that is 8325 yards from the back tees). But, golf should be more fun for the average golfer too. He should walk off No. 18 with a grin on his face, a few golf balls left in his bag, a bit of swagger in his step and maybe a circle or two on his scorecard.

To paraphrase Pink Floyd, Hey Designer, leave those golfers alone!

Click here for more discussion in the “Golf Talk” forum. 

About

Sean Foster-Nolan was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, and has lived all over the United States. He picked up the game of golf at the age of 50, and currently plays at Harmon Golf & Fitness Club in Rockland, Mass. Sean is passionate about all things golf and has been a member of GolfWRX since 2007. He is a retired counselor, where he last worked with high school kids who had severe emotional and behavioral problems in an alternative high school. His philosophy is treat all people with kindness and respect.

14 Comments

  1. Sean

    December 13, 2012 at 12:12 am

    Some excellent comments here. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. Hans

    December 1, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    I agree that many of the newer course are built too hard for the average golfer. There was a course in northern Ohio that opened a few years back to a lot of acclaim. Most people that played it once said they’d never go back. Way too many blind shots, hazards placed to punish a slightly mishit ball, etc. That course is now closed. There’s another course that is trying anything to get play. They built a ” championship” course, looks great, but OB is just a couple yards from a very slightly wayward shot. It’s just not fun to play. We’re average golfers, we play for the fun and the challenge. We’re going to hit more shots off the heel, toe, thin, etc and to be punished with a penalty for being OB when you missed the fairway by 10 yards does not make for an enjoyable round.

  3. BigD

    November 30, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    Golf course difficulty is not entirely down to length and playing the forward tees does not always ensure a more enjoyable experience irrespective of handicap. I live in Johannesburg, South Africa and my 2 favorite courses measure 6950 yards and >8200 yards. We are 1600m above sea level so the ball flies about 10% further, so an 8000 yard course will play like a 7200 yard course. Difficulty relates far more the design than to length. Deep fairway bunkers, deep bush just off the fairway, large water hazards, heavily undulating greens and deep and lush rough affect playability and difficulty more than sheer length.

  4. TK

    November 30, 2012 at 11:53 am

    I don’t think that golf courses are unfair – unless you play from the wrong t-box. A high handicapper should NEVER play anything other than the tees just before the ladies’ t-box (forward tees, I believe). I think you will find that courses are great when played from the appropriate tees. This would also alleviate the 4.5+ hr rounds…

    God Bless,
    TK

  5. Pingback: GolfWRX.com – Are Today's Golf Courses Unfair to the Average … | Golf Grip Instruction

  6. Sean

    November 30, 2012 at 1:08 am

    I agree Tom, but sometimes even playing from the correct tees isn’t enough.

  7. Sean

    November 30, 2012 at 1:08 am

    Thanks Nate. I also like your idea! It would make it a lot easier for golfers looking for a place to play.

  8. tom

    November 29, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    most courses have several different tees you can play from. You should try playing from the front ones if you don’t have the handicap to play at the back ones.

    • Craig

      November 30, 2012 at 2:36 pm

      Amen. If a course is too hard for a player, get better. It’s just that simple. I worked hard to be a low single digit handicap. On a difficult course I usually shoot a little higher and I don’t complain.

  9. Nate

    November 29, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Honestly, I think you flushed an iron with this one. Most courses are too difficult for the average golfer and more people would play if it wasn’t so difficult. Maybe a rating system that is easier to understand like a “star” rating. 5 stars professional down to 1 star being beginner. Different handicaps look to different star levels to pick a course that is the right amount of challenge with a higher degree of fun.

  10. Sean

    November 29, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Well Max, I hope you find what you are looking for. :-)

  11. Mr. Blair M. Phillips

    November 29, 2012 at 9:41 am

    Unfair? Not a chance! The only thing that annoyes me about any golf course is “critical golfers and golfers that don’t use garbage recepticals or recycling bins”
    I wish though I had “a few more shekels” so I could play more “strategic” golf courses that were designed by some of the “earlier” strategic golf course designers like H.”Harry” Colt, Mac Macan and Dr Alister MacKenzie and the like. Around here, golf courses designed by men like H. Colt are “impossible to get on” because of the cost. (sigh)
    Max
    Canada

  12. blake

    November 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Were u talking about The International being the 8000+ yard course

    • Sean

      November 29, 2012 at 12:17 am

      Yes, that’s the one Blake.

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