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

course difficulty

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#1 zakkozuchowski

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 01:53 PM

Posted Image

By Sean Foster-Nolan

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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!


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#2 cal842

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 02:30 PM

I agree that courses are too tough for average golfers and we need to make it fun people to be out having breaks go there way instead of punishing them. I think it's funny that you used a picture of one of the easiest courses in the northwest (barring the island green at Couer D'Alene). Good read!

#3 6thFairway

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 03:16 PM

I first started playing golf as a teenager back in the 1980's... didn't play often back then but I did play enough to say that the average golf course these days is a lot harder than the ones I remember back then.   Modern neighborhood courses like the one I live on have more hazards, more forced carries, more greenside bunkers, etc.

I'd absolutely be in favor of rolling back the golf ball, decreasing the hotness of the driver, etc. if we also went back to shorter tees, easier courses, and cheaper maintenance.

Edited by jwrogers, 28 November 2012 - 03:17 PM.


#4 cb24

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 03:17 PM

definitely a fine balance.  Golf is no doubt challenging on its own, but if you make it hazard free it takes away from the inherent challenges a golf course should have, like bunkers, OB, water etc.  The other thing that is too bad is often the harder courses are the nicer courses where better maintenance is put in.  Wish that it worked to where easier courses had the same maintenance standards but probably couldnt work out financially.

#5 xabia

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 03:25 PM

Absolutely.. tons of forced carries, multi tiered leveled greens, crazy length and ob everywhere creates doubt and fear in average golfers and slows pace of play to a crawl especially when people play for handicap or in leagues

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#6 Jim Clark

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 03:44 PM

They're perfectly fair if you play the right tees based on your ability.

#7 mwkbmw

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 03:49 PM

It probably wouldn't be nearly as bad if people would only play the proper tees according to their ability. Their true ability, not their ego-driven fantasies.

Edit: Jim, you beat me to it!

Edited by mwkbmw, 28 November 2012 - 03:49 PM.

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#8 mikes919

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 03:49 PM

If I played from the white tees more often it might not be so bad. It's hard to say no sometimes when the other three guys in your foursome think they're good enough to play from 7000yds. These courses might not seem so crazy from the forward tees.

When I play by myself I usually aim for 6200 or so, and it's a lot less stressful (even on very tough courses). It's nice to use something shorter than a 5 iron for your second shot every once in a while. It's also easier to avoid hazards when you're not punishing yourself with distance.
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#9 duffer987

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 03:50 PM

This has come up in a few other threads recently and generally speaking I would say good courses built and renovated in the last 5-15 yrs are not becoming more unfair. It is bad golf courses built and renovated in the same time frame that are becoming more unfair.

I've been fortunate to play a lot of great courses this year (Blackhorse, Bayonet, Poppy Hills, Pasatiempo, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Dunes, Old Mac, Paiute Snow and Wolf, Indian Wells Players, amongst the more well known ones) and none of those courses are unfair. Some are more difficult than others, but they are all fair challenges and if you know your game you can get around them in good time and enjoy it.

Courses I've played this year that I would say are 'unfair' would be Badlands and Bodega Harbour and what makes them go into the unfair category is they are poorly executed/built target golf courses. Shoehorned between houses, ridiculous unnatural elevation changes, truncated fairways for no reason other than to make them a 'design feature' and the like. These are the type of courses that leave folks shaking their heads, looking for and losing balls, and returning to tee boxes to hit again.
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#10 mdgboxx

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 03:56 PM

It all depends on the size of my EGO on that day.
I read, years ago, that only 15% of golfers played better than 100 (avg Joe) and, that I should look for a slope of 113-120 on a course. Today, b/c of new technology, it is down to 97 but, at the same slope avg. I play from the whites at 12 hdpc, I carry ½ to 1 doz balls in my bag even if I know that I could use the same one for multiple rounds.
If I go to a High-End course with a High Slope (135+), I'll bring no less than 2 doz balls and expect to lose most of them. If the course is too difficult for my level, I'll play it forward.

I envy people who can score low from the middle or tips at those courses.

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#11 Mschumacher

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 04:09 PM

I would say yes.  Especially for women.  I do not understand why a lot of ladies tee boxes are right in front of a marsh/lake/creek .  For most women distance comes from roll and not carry then they have to face a mental block with a hazard right in front of them.

#12 arlingtonz

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 04:45 PM

I personally seek out courses that challenge me and really get my attention. Shorter course, ones without hazards, in my opinion are not worth the time. I would prefer to just go to a driving range. When I play with my better golfing friends, we enjoy the challenge; even if our score is a little higher, we appreciate having to be creative with the shots.

I completely disagree that all courses should be rolled back, along with equipment. There is only one time a year we expect the pros to shoot par (US Open); beyond that it is red numbers or bust. For me, I like being able to hit the ball further, and generate more spin thanks to improve materials. I wouldn't want to see Federrer and Nadal playing with wooden rackets to ensure a 'fairer' competition; nor do I want to see slower cars in F1. Improvements in equipment are just as much a part of the game as is the skill. Making courses that keep up with the materials should be part of the game as well (this is not to say I agree with changes to St. Andrews or other iconic courses/holes). Give designers the ability to make more challenging courses by providing players better equipment - feeds a viscous yet fun cycle.

I do, however, agree with the 'forward' tee issue, and that they should minimize forced carries out of them. I think the tees in general need to be spread out more, but the egos of those who play would never be willing to move up to their appropriate box if so.

#13 raynorfan1

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 04:55 PM

View Postzakkozuchowski, on 28 November 2012 - 01:53 PM, said:

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.

Widow's Walk?

You'd have to be a masochist to enjoy that one.

#14 schneidm10

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 05:08 PM

Great picture of an awesome golf hole! The floating green at the Coeur d'Alene is so cool. So awesome to see it every summer when I'm home and happen to be on the lake.

#15 sunbeltgolfer

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 05:11 PM

View PostJim Clark, on 28 November 2012 - 03:44 PM, said:

They're perfectly fair if you play the right tees based on your ability.


What he said.


#16 MadGolfer76

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 05:16 PM

Harder = fun...to me. I love fast greens and I love tees where you have to play a shot. I would pay for that and not think twice.
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#17 wobgon

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 05:32 PM

i think if you take everything into consideration,  balls, clubs, how new courses are built, i think the game is without a doubt easier than it used to be.  Just one mans opinion. I am 58 years old and started playing when i was eight.  On the courses that i have played for years, i average around 2 clubs less on approach shots than i did when i was 25.  Not because of the irons, but because of the driver and the ball.    I think one thing that makes the game seem harder now is the expectation. Years ago it was common knowledge that golf was a game that took a few years to become even ok at.  Now days it seems people want to become single didget thier first year. Also, alot of new young player do nothing but play in 4 man scrambles which does nothing to promote a sound golf game.

#18 MtlJeff

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 06:15 PM

playing the correct tees is a good point. I do think that technology has helped the better players a bit more then the hacks. So courses can stretch out to 7000yds fairly easily. Guys play the 1-up tees thinking they are at the right distance but really they have no business playing from 6600yds either. Doesn't matter what kind of ball you are using if you are hitting a 175yd slice
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#19 SurfDuffer

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 08:02 PM

My home course is nearly 100 years old.  It is a very difficult course to shoot low scores on.  I find it easier to score on modern courses.  We will see what happens when the tour guys hit Merion next year as it is another similar difficult old course.  Golf was never supposed to be easy.

#20 Sean2

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 08:05 PM

View Postraynorfan1, on 28 November 2012 - 04:55 PM, said:

View Postzakkozuchowski, on 28 November 2012 - 01:53 PM, said:

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.

Widow's Walk?

You'd have to be a masochist to enjoy that one.
Yes, Widow's Walk. :-)

Edited by Sean2, 28 November 2012 - 08:07 PM.

Hey...be nice.

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#21 Sean2

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 08:13 PM

In an interview earlier today on Golf Channel, Ted Bishop president of the PGA, said that more and more golfers are leaving the game because it is proving too difficult.

It's a game. It's supposed to be fun. The golf swing is hard enough as it is. Wouldn't it benefit the industry as a whole if more people played the game? Does anyone want to see golf courses close, people lose their jobs, equipment sales decline? There are plenty of challenging courses out there. All I'm suggesting is that more people might stay and/or be attracted to the game if it were a bit more "user friendly".
Hey...be nice.

#22 MtlJeff

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 08:21 PM

View PostSean2, on 28 November 2012 - 08:13 PM, said:

In an interview earlier today on Golf Channel, Ted Bishop president of the PGA, said that more and more golfers are leaving the game because it is proving too difficult.

It's a game. It's supposed to be fun. The golf swing is hard enough as it is. Wouldn't it benefit the industry as a whole if more people played the game? Does anyone want to see golf courses close, people lose their jobs, equipment sales decline? There are plenty of challenging courses out there. All I'm suggesting is that more people might stay and/or be attracted to the game if it were a bit more "user friendly".

I agree with you, but what's really difficult IMO is the fact that overall there are less people playing, however there seems to be more good young players then ever before who make the game look ridiculously easy. Golf is a very stuffy sport and this doesn't sit well with a lot of people, for example the people who happen to be the designers or a lot of these new courses. Every new course i see pop up is 7300yds with a slope of 140, elevation changes or forced carries, deep greenside bunkers etc etc. Even from the front tees they slope at the high 120's.

I played at Stowe Mountain last year in vermont. One of the best new courses in the USA from 5-6 years ago. It was a 143 slope with cliffs or water on every hole. A 15 handicap would lose 38 balls on that course.

People design courses for the good player, only there aren't many good players. I don't really know why we do this....I guess it's so the good young players don't shoot a lot of 61's. God forbid

Edited by MtlJeff, 28 November 2012 - 08:23 PM.

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#23 Sean2

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 08:25 PM

View PostMadGolfer76, on 28 November 2012 - 05:16 PM, said:

Harder = fun...to me. I love fast greens and I love tees where you have to play a shot. I would pay for that and not think twice.
You aren't average. Plus, you're Mad. :-)
Hey...be nice.

#24 Guia

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 08:30 PM

If you don't over estimate your game and play the correct tee's the courses are fair.

#25 mdgboxx

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 09:28 PM

People design courses for the good player, only there aren't many good players. I don't really know why we do this....I guess it's so the good young players don't shoot a lot of 61's. God forbid
[/quote]

Architecs design courses from the tips. They couldn't care less about the other teeboxes. They will/can suggest a location to the owner(s)but, it's not their primary concern. The forward tees are set up by the local ruling bodies, IIRC.

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#26 Sean2

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    Wait...what?

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 10:17 PM

View PostMtlJeff, on 28 November 2012 - 08:21 PM, said:

View PostSean2, on 28 November 2012 - 08:13 PM, said:

In an interview earlier today on Golf Channel, Ted Bishop president of the PGA, said that more and more golfers are leaving the game because it is proving too difficult.

It's a game. It's supposed to be fun. The golf swing is hard enough as it is. Wouldn't it benefit the industry as a whole if more people played the game? Does anyone want to see golf courses close, people lose their jobs, equipment sales decline? There are plenty of challenging courses out there. All I'm suggesting is that more people might stay and/or be attracted to the game if it were a bit more "user friendly".

I agree with you, but what's really difficult IMO is the fact that overall there are less people playing, however there seems to be more good young players then ever before who make the game look ridiculously easy. Golf is a very stuffy sport and this doesn't sit well with a lot of people, for example the people who happen to be the designers or a lot of these new courses. Every new course i see pop up is 7300yds with a slope of 140, elevation changes or forced carries, deep greenside bunkers etc etc. Even from the front tees they slope at the high 120's.

I played at Stowe Mountain last year in vermont. One of the best new courses in the USA from 5-6 years ago. It was a 143 slope with cliffs or water on every hole. A 15 handicap would lose 38 balls on that course.

People design courses for the good player, only there aren't many good players. I don't really know why we do this....I guess it's so the good young players don't shoot a lot of 61's. God forbid
I know what you mean Jeff. I go to many junior tournaments and see some excellent players...who do make the game look easy. As to your other point, my home course, for example, has a slope of 127 from 6000. Regarding Stowe, how much fun would it be to lose 38 balls? :-)

But, the part I highlighted in your post was what I was addressing.  The good players represent a very small percentage of the golfing public. Golf is hard enough for everyone as it is, why make it even more difficult for the average golfer?
Hey...be nice.

#27 Sean2

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    Wait...what?

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 10:19 PM

View Postmdgboxx, on 28 November 2012 - 09:28 PM, said:

People design courses for the good player, only there aren't many good players. I don't really know why we do this....I guess it's so the good young players don't shoot a lot of 61's. God forbid
[/quote]

Architecs design courses from the tips. They couldn't care less about the other teeboxes. They will/can suggest a location to the owner(s)but, it's not their primary concern. The forward tees are set up by the local ruling bodies, IIRC.
Then they seem to forget who brings in the most revenue. :-)
Hey...be nice.

#28 mdgboxx

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 10:31 PM

View PostSean2, on 28 November 2012 - 10:19 PM, said:

View Postmdgboxx, on 28 November 2012 - 09:28 PM, said:

People design courses for the good player, only there aren't many good players. I don't really know why we do this....I guess it's so the good young players don't shoot a lot of 61's. God forbid
[/quote]

Architecs design courses from the tips. They couldn't care less about the other teeboxes. They will/can suggest a location to the owner(s)but, it's not their primary concern. The forward tees are set up by the local ruling bodies, IIRC.
Then they seem to forget who brings in the most revenue. :-)

That's where the ones footing the bill come in.
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#29 HoosierHacker89

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 10:41 PM

I always find it interesting when i play harder more modern courses vs the older more traditional ones. I think courses are just designed to go with the way the game is played. Guys are flying the ball to the hole with lob wedges around the greens, drivers are going farther than ever before, and guys are carrying the ball and hitting it much higher into greens than they used to 30 years ago. I play more traditional courses most of the time because they are cheaper and the allow you to miss the green short and roll it up onto the green or play bump and runs around the greens, and greens are pretty flat. You can also miss the fairway and be fine. I'll go play newer course which is much more difficult and shoot the same while my dad and my uncles really struggle. I hit the ball farther than they do which helps a bunch, but i think it really comes down to the fact that i fly the ball to the hole all the time (or i am trying) and they are still hitting it low and letting it run. I am 23, and i am really playing a different game than my dad plays. We can both shoot 78-80 but we do it totally differently. Just a new generation of golfer here that has never seen a pin he didn't want to go at.
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#30 mdgboxx

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 10:54 PM

View PostHoosierHacker89, on 28 November 2012 - 10:41 PM, said:

I always find it interesting when i play harder more modern courses vs the older more traditional ones. I think courses are just designed to go with the way the game is played. Guys are flying the ball to the hole with lob wedges around the greens, drivers are going farther than ever before, and guys are carrying the ball and hitting it much higher into greens than they used to 30 years ago. I play more traditional courses most of the time because they are cheaper and the allow you to miss the green short and roll it up onto the green or play bump and runs around the greens, and greens are pretty flat. You can also miss the fairway and be fine. I'll go play newer course which is much more difficult and shoot the same while my dad and my uncles really struggle. I hit the ball farther than they do which helps a bunch, but i think it really comes down to the fact that i fly the ball to the hole all the time (or i am trying) and they are still hitting it low and letting it run. I am 23, and i am really playing a different game than my dad plays. We can both shoot 78-80 but we do it totally differently. Just a new generation of golfer here that has never seen a pin he didn't want to go at.

In my mind, I can hear your dad say exactly the same thing some 25 years ago. :cheesy:  :cheesy:

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