You explain that there are one or two anomalies: the opening and closing hole are the easiest in professional golf; there are only two par three holes and the pros will be able to drive four of the par fours. And the most difficult hole on the course is no longer difficult enough which has required the tee box to be placed out of bounds on the driving range. Mr Dawson politely shows you the door, allowing you just enough time to say that you were describing the Old Course at St Andrews, and venue for the Open Championship every five years.
In order to defend itself from big hitting professionals the Old Course has been lengthened to 7,255 yards and there are controversial plans to alter bunkering and some of the greens for the next Open to be held there in 2015. And the majority of new courses in the UK and continental Europe appear to have followed suit, creating huge tracks in order to put the word ‘Championship’ in front of the course’s name which curiously appears to be considered a ringing endorsement of the quality of the golf.
The problem is that, for the majority of club golfers, these courses are often far too long on which to have an enjoyable round.
Let’s look at just one example in Portugal, designed by Sir Nick Faldo and owned by the Irish development company, Oceanico. The original concept was to provide a five star hotel alongside luxury villas around two courses, one designed by Faldo and the other by Christy O’Connor jnr.
Whilst both courses are up and running the hotel never materialised and much of the completed property stands steadfastly empty. And both courses are far too long for the average golfer, especially given the prevailing winds.
Faldo’s track stretches to 7,215 yards off the back tees and is a daunting 6,885 yards from what the scorecard describes as the ‘Amateur’ tees. Seniors can move forward but their task is to complete 6,406 yards over sloping terrain. In short it is just too difficult, which is reflected by the number of golfing visitors playing it.
There are plenty of other examples where ‘Championship’ courses are either struggling or have closed. The wildly eccentric Monte Mayor, in the hills outside Estepona on the Costa del Sol, was well nigh unplayable at times and the real estate considered too expensive to attract overseas’ buyers. It closed in 2011 and so far there have been no backers keen on resuscitating what was trumpeted as one of the most exciting schemes in the region and could now be bought for a song.
Despite the advent of new technology on golf club and ball designs the average club member plays off a handicap of 18.4 and does not want to be hitting a rescue or fairway metal club into every par four green on the course or forced to take driver on par three holes. And the situation is even worse for many women golfers who may only hit drives around 150 yards. Faldo’s first hole on the most forward ladies’ tee at Amendoeira is 350 yards up a steep incline. A par four has become a par six.
So let’s get some reality back into the game rather than moving tees ever further backwards. If professional players are good enough to break 60 around a course then so be it, there can still only be one winner in the end. And aren’t birdies and eagles more exciting to see than a run of pars and bogeys?
Meanwhile club players will have the far more enjoyable experience of being able to complete their round more quickly and also the opportunity to take away some happy memories rather than simply recalling ruefully how many balls were lost on what was more of an obstacle course than a golf course. At a time when fewer women and young people are being attracted to the game it makes sound commercial sense too.