There are few more telling fights in Australian golf right now than established, suburban golf facilities battling governments and anti-golf crusaders who are poorly informed of the broader benefits of the sport and the green space it utilises.
Integral and important Victoria Park in Brisbane is facing closure hot on the heels of Hudson Park’s demise in Sydney and, in the same city, Marrickville Golf Club’s struggle to remain as an 18-hole entity. We get it – golf courses in cities take up space that superficially looks under-used. But promoting reduction or closure is a truly erroneous argument.
Without completely rehashing the opposing viewpoints being fought both in and out of golf circles, one aspect of the debate perhaps being overlooked is the calibre of the courses under the microscope. None of the three courses mentioned above is a national treasure or a threat to any of those ranked on our biennial Top 100 Courses list. Yet you get the feeling if the courses were of a higher standard, they’d be much harder to close. And that notion of better is multi-dimensional…
Mike Clayton made a great suggestion during a recent “State Of The Game” podcast. His idea was for our national governing body, Golf Australia, to employ a course architect – or perhaps several, maybe one per state – to visit every golf course across the country to make recommendations that would improve the layout and potentially ease the time and expenditure devoted to maintenance. As a course architect himself, such a concept might initially seem self-serving, but Clayton wasn’t referencing his own company but rather the broader need (and greater good) of the game in Australia.
Likewise, golf writer Jay Revell recently made the point that municipal, or public, golf must become more interesting.
“In the next 20 years, the greatest opportunity for golf-course architects will be the re-imagining of municipal golf,” he wrote of the American scene, but in a way that eerily translates to Australia. “Let’s face the facts – there just aren’t many new courses being built these days and that trend has no end in sight. Course architects must partner with municipal governments as a means for rethinking how golf is offered as a service to taxpayers. There is a growing list of projects… today that provide a blueprint worth following.
“Municipal golf should be interesting and diverse. There needs to be more short courses and nine-hole offerings in urban areas where land is limited. The biggest opportunity is renovating existing courses that either under-perform or simply don’t deliver a compelling layout. The future of municipal golf is directly tied to the prospects of the broader game. Architects need work, the game needs new players and citizens need great options for recreation. If we can reposition how governments offer the game then we can reach millions of potential players. Municipal courses can become the breeding ground for golf’s next generation and a godsend for architects.”
“Fewer golf courses isn’t necessarily a bad thing if we’re fortifying the ones to be kept.”
I like that thinking. Amid this battle, having fewer golf courses isn’t necessarily a bad thing if we’re fortifying the ones to be kept. And even if the war is partially lost and 18 holes do become nine, then upgrading the surviving nine into something special can certainly produce a net gain.
Greater emphasis should be placed on supporting our elementary and middling layouts as much as highlighting the top-echelon tracks – and we in the media are guilty of it to a degree for turning the spotlight onto our elite courses so frequently. But if we strengthen the offerings of our so-called lesser courses, particularly by improving them and/or adding to their facilities, they’ll become less vulnerable whenever non-golfers start questioning their relevance.