Editor's note: Based in Lakeland, Fla., Ron Garl has won national and international awards, from Golf Digest, the Audubon Society, Golf Magazine, Links Magazine and Southern Living, among others. He was named "Golf Designer of the Year" by the International Network of Golf in 1996.
In order for a golf facility to be both successful and be reasonably priced, many ingredients have to be present.
Two key factors that go hand-in-hand are value and course condition. Remember, the amount of rounds being played hasn't increased over the past few years. This means the competition for a share of the rounds is intense.
Today, service is more than gathering the golf bag from the trunk at the bag drop. It actually starts outside the course property. Part of the service is the signage. If the golfer has trouble finding the location, it doesn't set up a positive attitude about the course.
Once the golfer is on the property, there has to be adequate signage to get him/her to the parking lot, bag drop and pro shop. Once the golfer has parked their car and registered at the pro shop, there should be no question about where the practice area is located.
Also, if possible, it would be an incredible plus if the golfer is identified at the security gate and that information along with a physical description is relayed to the on course staff. Nothing is more flattering than hearing the sound of one's name. If the bag drop attendant welcomes Mr. Jones by name, Mr. Jones is more excited about the golf experience he's about to have.
Here's a tip that might help facilities under construction, particularly those in the southern regions. When you're designing your parking lot, design it so the parking spaces run north and south rather than east and west. The north-south parking spaces will keep the golfer's car 15 to 20 percent cooler by not having the sun beating on the windshield or rear window. Planting trees in the parking lot would be great.
Course condition and maintenance is definitely a determining factor in the success or failure of a golf facility. Listen to what the golfers have to say about your course's condition. Their first comment is usually about the condition of the greens. Then, it's fairways, bunkers and tees and most times in that order. This should prioritize your maintenance program. This is what is important to your customers.
There's more to golf course condition than the quality of the grass. There are the little things that are often never mentioned by the golfers, but are definitely a part of the total experience.
Are the tee markers set properly aiming the golfer to the proper landing area, or have they been haphazardly thrown on the tee? Are the tee diagram signs in need of repair? Is the golf course litter free? Are the flowers around the course being properly tended? While these things may seem to have little importance to the overall course condition, they are definitely factors in the total experience.
Remember, the longer a golfer stays at a facility the more he feels a sense of belonging and the more he will want to return.
During my 30-plus years in the golf business, there is a common thread running through all successful golf facilities. Playing these golf courses is ALWAYS a memorable experience and it's always memorable for positive reasons.
The best comment a golf facility owner/operator can hear is, "I really enjoyed the course."
When a golfer makes that remark, he's already committed himself to come back and play again. He's had a pleasant, positive experience and knows he will again on his return. All of these things are positive and they can be aided by the savvy golf course owner/operator.
A lot of times there's a temptation to build a course reputation on toughness. That's fine if you want to bid on a U.S. Open or PGA Championship, but when deciding on the course setup for the everyday golfer, use common sense.
If it's a weekend or your busiest weekday, don't set the pins where Tiger Woods couldn't get at them. This will ensure two things and neither is any good.
The first is you've added at least 15 to 30 minutes onto everyone's round. Let's face it, the weekend golfer is looking to knock the pin down 18 times and won't play to the safe spot on the green. Tucked pins mean two things-more missed greens and more putts.
The second negative is everyone's score is going to be higher than it should and will really detract from the positive experience you want the golfer to have. A golf course should always be challenging, but it certainly doesn't have to be presented as a brutally difficult track.
I realized that pins have to be moved around to protect the putting surfaces, but you don't have to toughen the challenge for the largest amount of golfers you'll have during the week.
Think about the last round of golf you played at other than at your home course. Do you want to play there again? Why? If you don't want to return, why? Then think about your home course and ask yourself why you want to play most of your golf there.
I believe golfers want good playing conditions, value for their money, to have fun, friendly service and interesting designs that are enjoyable, memorable and challenging.
July 11, 2005