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Home GOOD THINGS STILL COME IN SMALL PACKAGES:

Golf has forever been obsessed with distance. Equipment companies promise to give players more with each new product introduced, even as they grow older. Golf courses have become longer, which some believe is in reaction to the distance players now hit the ball. The professional tours may have this issue, but in the real world distance isn’t the problem. Yes, people would like to hit the ball further. But recreational players, who are passionate about the game and aspirational by nature, are simply looking for enjoyment. More often than not they’ll settle for the occasional drive that travels farther thus making it the exception rather than the implied rule.

Since golf courses, in general, have followed the trend of enlisting distance as a means to defend it from casual players, its incurred additional costs. To begin with maintenance expenses are greater due to it. But the real danger is losing players who often can feel embarrassed or humiliated after being humbled by playing the long distance game. It was a large part of Barney Adams’ theory, introduced in 2011 and supported by the PGA of America, on why recreational players should Tee It Forward. Hard to believe that was four years ago!

There is ongoing concern that golf isn’t attracting enough people to the sport and one day down the road it will come back to bite it hard. A byproduct of what can be termed the go-go days of golf course openings is that they are now too long in many cases for an overwhelming majority of people that pay the right to play the game. Jack Nicklaus joined several of golf’s leading organizations, including the PGA of America and USGA, to encourage out-of-the-box thinking to attract new players to the game and retain those already in it. Among the ideas that surfaced was to play 6, 9 or 12 holes instead of 18. In large part this was an attempt to offset the time it takes to play a 18-hole round. The Golden Bear got behind the idea and implemented it at Muirfield Village. That was also back in 2011. It’s hard to believe that was also four years ago!!

So with the best of intentions, we see just how much progress or lack there of, has been made. One man is on a crusade to try and get the word out to save municipal golf, which he feels, can keep and attract people to the game. Harry Bowers, principal of Signature Golf Design Services  (http://www.signaturedesignservices.com/), is the exclusive golf course design firm of World Golf Hall of Famer Raymond Floyd. His work includes Old Palm in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Turnberry Isle Resort in Miami and the Palm Beach Par 3 in Palm Beach, Florida, which is recognized as one of the nation’s best par three courses. Bowers believes common sense is the way to approach solving the challenges golf is facing. By making a course user friendly, it enhances the odds that paying customers will enjoy their experience and happily revisit it more frequently. He believes by undergoing a restoration of sorts to make a course friendlier will pay off in the long run.

A good example is the 18-hole Palm Beach Par 3, owned and operated by the Town of Palm Beach. In 2009, his firm renovated the par three course for less than $2 million. The facility went from an operating deficit to profitability in less than two years and is now considered one of the top municipal golf courses of any size in the state. “Public golf in the U.S. is suffering, overall golf participation is down and rounds are down for public play. Most municipal courses are in need of updating and better playing conditions,’’ Bowers said. “The funny thing is that most muni courses are set up to compete at a lower price point than privately owned daily fee courses. They are typically shorter in length, have less hazards, more economical to maintain, are friendlier to play, and are walkable, typically taking less time to play.’’ Bowers added that most if not every municipality is simply looking to breakeven financially. “Most people don’t care about the shape of bunkers. Price point is what matters to them. For their $18 to $20 give them an enjoyable experience. It can be easy to sustain and courses can be profitable,” he added.

Bowers thinks that the U.S. Golf Association and other golf organizations have it wrong by recently showcasing U.S. Open courses such as Chambers Bay and Pinehurst No. 2.

“What person in their right mind is going to look at Chambers Bay and want to take up the sport?’’ Bowers said. “In addition, the notion that 12-hole golf courses or larger cups is the answer to new golfers is misguided. If the USGA and others would get behind an effort to save the existing short courses that we have, the sport would flourish. Preserving golf courses that are shorter and more enjoyable to play is the key to getting more people to play. Municipal courses need to make a comeback.’’

Bower’s company is working on Granada Golf Course (pictured above) near downtown Coral Gables, Florida and the renovation is budgeted for under $500,000. The executive course originally designed by Donald Ross in 1923 is getting a new look, which will help to keep it relevant in today’s world. “Granada is an iconic golf course that is at the center of an old historic community,’’ Bowers said. “When we are done, it will look like a new ‘old’ course; an enjoyable test of play for golfers of all ages and all abilities.’’ Keyword is enjoyable and its too bad more courses don’t adopt this policy too!