Value in FineGolf

 

“The value of a fine golfing experience” by Nick Park.

 

nick park, randa holing out test, greenstester, course tracker,

Nick Park

Nick, recently sadly deceased had been a member of various Royal & Ancient GC golf course committees over the last 25 years, and some of you may recall numerous articles in various golf publications written by he and his father Eddie Park (both previously Chairman of Green at Lindrick GC) which were brought together into a book  ‘Real Golf ‘ that has as much enjoyable good sense about British golf courses as any other publication I have read.

Nick was among a number of people over recent years, who have been at the heart of helping The R&A’s initiative in developing some important ‘Tools’ to help golf clubs evaluate objectively the putting reliability of their greens, prior to improvement. 

FineGolf thanks him for the fascinating article below, that gives our readership an inside track on why the Holing Out Test and the ‘Greenstester’ have now at last appeared on the scene. 

Nick says:- 

“A year ago, The R&A organised a conference at St Andrews for Europe’s golfing Unions and Federations. Ostensibly, this was to look at issues facing golf course management – but, in fact, it broadened out to embrace all aspects of “the golfing experience”.

What do golfers enjoy? What don’t they enjoy? The answers varied between countries, and they were largely anecdotal. But enough common threads emerged to compile a list of likes and dislikes. The exercise also confirmed that most of these “value judgements” are related to the golf course. As a player or as a manager of club facilities, the better you understand these yardsticks the more you can monitor them to your own enjoyment and advantage.

Various golfing consumer surveys have shown that when choosing where to play, the two main issues which affect players’ choice are:

a) The condition of greens, fairways and tees – with greens by far the most important aspect.

b) The price of green fees or annual subscriptions.

Let’s come back to these two issues in a moment. Firstly though, let’s look at some of the ancillary concerns which also impinge on “the experience”.

Speed of play: most golfers think four hours is an absolute maximum for a round of golf. All sorts of factors are involved here – and if there were easy answers, then by now this would not be a problem. But rules which are too complex and a ball which encourages ever-longer courses have hardly helped. Neither have those courses which are designed and/or managed to make life too difficult for the recreational golfer. The average handicap in Europe (including GB&I!) is 25 for men (note: some European countries allow a maximum men’s handicap of even more than 28) and 30 for women. How many courses are really set up to cater for this average handicapper? Far too often modern ‘target-style’ courses are designed and/or set up only to suit low handicap players, thus failing the much more subtle (and commercially sound) test of satisfying a wide range of abilities.

I won’t go into all the other factors affecting speed of play. Suffice to say, various countries and clubs actually monitor this – but it isn’t getting any better. For younger golfing countries, the problem is seen as a huge threat to the development of the game; for more established ones, it is gradually eroding the game as an attractive leisure option.

What else comes into the golfing experience? Good company rates high on the list – but that is a personal choice and not something to be quantified. Fair weather is also on the wish list, but largely beyond control, unless you can follow the sunshine throughout the year.

Quality of the bar and restaurant facilities is important in many countries (Sweden in particular) and here is an area in which most of us would happily make a value judgement. Not always, of course, from a position of much knowledge!

All of which takes me back to the two main issues:

Condition of the course, and the cost of a round.

How do you make objective value judgements on these?

I first asked such questions almost thirty years ago in a series in Golf Monthly: “ …the management of the course does directly affect our game; it can be done well or it can be done badly and the golfer should be in a position to make a reasonably objective judgement of the result.”

Judgement about what, precisely? I listed three yardsticks which I wanted to measure: trueness, speed and softness of greens. (I also included colour in the list, but only in order to dismiss it as bringing anything sensible to the party).

The Greenstester , the RandA's Greenstester ,

The Greenstester

That was in 1984. At that time, speed of greens was the only value capable of measurement, courtesy of the Stimpmeter. It took another 25 years of agonisingly slow progress to fit together a suite of tools which could measure and monitor all three surface performance characteristics. In the last few years, some clubs have begun to pay much closer attention to these values on a year-round basis – and thus understand much better how to manage and produce surfaces which keep their golfers happy. (STRI have their own monitoring Programme for this at www.stri.co.uk/golf  which is to be commended  read Alistair Beggs’s  report for FineGolf -). Clubs can also arrange to carry out the tests themselves, for a modest investment in equipment. Such equipment is now very affordable, see www.greenstester.com.

holing out test, randa holing out test,

The R&A's 'Holing Out Test' Logo

These outcomes on greens are the final result of all the inputs, procedures and costs incurred by the course management team. They are the proof of the pudding – but it would be quite wrong to imagine that such outcomes are the only values which need to be measured and monitored. They give only a tiny, albeit critical, part of the picture – the part which golfers see and “consume”. It can be done well or badly but at least it can now be measured objectively (see the  Holing Out Test ) – developed by The R&A – rather than judged on how well you played that day or how many three-putts your round has delivered.

However, we cannot ignore the cost of the green fee (or annual subscription) which is used to pay for the surfaces we play on. The deployment of resources – staff, machinery, water, fertilisers, pesticides, top dressing  and so on – must be well managed year after year if good surfaces are to be the outcome.

And these impacts – financial, agronomic, environmental – can most definitely be measured. In most clubs, many of them already are, although you might not realise it. A précis of these factors appears once a year in the club accounts, listed in the income/expenditure figures.

So often, these figures produce little comment. They seem to support a de facto assumption that the outcomes on the playing surfaces are somehow divorced from resource management. Any poor outcomes are almost always blamed on the weather. (I once analysed a series of annual reports at my own club and found that over a thirty year period, twenty nine Captains had concluded that “the weather has been difficult for greenkeeping this year”). And just in case a club down the road is in better shape, there is always the other excuse: “they’re on sand and we are not”.

Good management rarely gets the credit it deserves.

To be fair, until very recently it was difficult to make sense of all this. Optimising playing quality according to availability of resources – creating a real audit cycle – has not been normal practice. But the arrival of the internet and high-speed broadband has changed all that. It is now possible to keep tabs on annual data from a complete range of impacts, and also benchmark them anonymously against similar clubs in your country.

The R&A introduced its CourseTracker in January this year ( www.coursetracker.org ) which will surely become just as essential for management of courses as the tests/data needed for surface performance monitoring. In fact, put the two together and the two issues mentioned at the start of this piece – course condition and the cost of a round – suddenly become much easier to evaluate objectively.

For golfers and for clubs, valuing the golfing experience is moving into a different era. Golfers will vote with their feet, and seek out clubs which can prove that their surfaces are delivering the goods all the year round – at an affordable price. And clubs which focus on an effective audit cycle – freely available through The R&A – will have the inside track.

Perhaps we might call it FineGolf.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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