#Accessibility

I have accumulated over 30 000 fly miles in January alone. I have visited 5 countries and flown over many more just this past month. My schedule for the next 2 months seems much the same.

For every country I have visited it’s obvious the game of golf sits a distant 2nd behind more popular sports like soccer or cricket. In a way this is understandable. In cricket all you need is a bat (a piece of wood or plastic) and ball to go with a hard surface and some mates. Soccer the requirements are much less complicated and the rules much easier to follow…..

Golf is never going to have the participation popularity of #soccer or #cricket. These games are accessible through affordability and lets face it they are also fun to play. Golf on the other hand is an expensive sport and because of this it’s seen as a privileged sport….even if it does top the fun factor stakes.

The majority of people around the world just can’t afford to play the game. You could attribute this to the high cost of equipment and the fact that membership or day rates are extreme when compared to other sports….well at least most other sports. It does not help that most of the golf courses today have been over-designed, over spec’d and are over-maintained which automatically equates to high fees just so they can stay afloat. Furthermore Golf, in most parts of the world, is a business and since many golf clubs (at least the majority of those outside of North America) are making a profit why change the model.

Fair enough but if we are to grow the game then we are going to need to make it more accessible to the masses – at least some of those people who can’t afford to play the game right now. Imagine tapping into the billions of people currently living in Asia or the hundreds of millions living in Africa and parts of South America.

How do we do this?

We all have a role to play to make this possible. As a start there needs to be a drive for more affordable golf courses open to the public, short courses and short game facilities. You could argue the profit margins wont be as high as an 18 hole Championship golf course but imagine knowing you giving back to the community and helping grow the game. How about that as a legacy.

I am saddened that I never see enough Short Courses (Executive, Par 3, Chip and Putt) on my travels or that some clients never talk about them or wanting them. These are the breeding grounds for future champions and budding players. Gosh I remember my introduction to the game….. it was a nine-hole chip and putt course, next to Durban Country Club, with holes ranging from 50 yards to 200 yards. I also remember vividly the chip and putt golf course I would play regularly in Johannesburg, called Roosevelt Park. It was there that I built the confidence to head out onto the bigger, more intimidating golf courses. Most important these short courses were affordable and hence accessible even if their condition was average at best….but why should we care about that.

windsor-park-mashie-course

Windsor Park Par 3 Course – Durban, South Africa

It’s not just the owners of these clubs that have a part to play. We in the Design and Construction business have as big a role to play.

Lets educate others about the true value of having more affordable golf. Lets design with the words #accessibility and #sustainability in mind. Lets do away with this modern drive to over spec our work even if it means less in terms of design and construction fees. Lets do away with designs that have an excessive number of needless features that plague modern golf courses – yet add excessively to the cost of maintenance. Lets start selecting the right grasses for long-term sustainability. Lets start to design responsibly.

Here is anther case study to ponder regarding sport accessibility….I enjoy my skiing and have ever since I lived in Switzerland. When in Canada, over Christmas and New Year I headed up to some ski slopes about 2 hours north of Toronto. I was most perturbed to find that some of the resorts were private /members only. I had never seen this before to be honest. The one resort open to the public was greatly over priced given what they had on offer. How do I know this because my wife and I would take the opportunity most weekends, during the winter in Switzerland, to frequent some of the ski resorts in the French and Swiss Alps. There the prices were affordable (half the Canadian price) and the variety of ski was incomparable. Now you speak to most people living in Ontario and they will tell you they don’t ski. On the other hand you speak to people living in Switzerland or France (bounding the Alps) and they will tell you that they do ski. Canadians ice skate or play ice hockey and I suspect, much like soccer or cricket, this is because it is more #accessible.

I often use certain Scottish examples when talking to people in the business about golf #accessibility. I recall a couple of years back visiting Nairn up in Northern Scotland which has 2 golf courses – one of which has hosted a Walker Cup. Back then the locals could enjoy the Nairn Golf Course for as little as £200 per year from recollection. Sure the ground staff was small (it had to be) and the course condition was not perfect (define perfect anyway?)…..but the golf course was fun to play and the design was as a good as any I have seen.  There was nothing over the top, over designed or over maintained. No one was out to make a fortune and everyone could enjoy the game  – be it the guy working in the local shop or the person who owned the shop.

Now make no mistake I am not against having high-end style golf courses that serve a certain niche market – there is a place in the market for these types of golf developments albeit they are not as much in demand as they once were. Instead if we are to #growthegame and make it more #accessible then we need to review how we have been going about things. We need to look at golf less in terms of it being a business. Our designs should be more sensible, responsible and sustainable. We should be building shorter courses and courses that are open to the public. We should care less about how well maintained these courses are rather that they give people (with lesser means) an opportunity to enjoy the game in some shape or form.

If we can tick these boxes then there is every chance we can improve golf’s image and make it more of a game for the masses. Just imagine this GOLF:THE PEOPLES GAME.

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