Are Golf Courses too Difficult?

JOHN HOLDEN October 1 1930

Are Golf Courses too Difficult?

JOHN HOLDEN October 1 1930

Are Golf Courses too Difficult?


Admittedly designed for the expert, wherein do they provide joy for the man who plays with a hooker, a slicer and a misser? This profound study explains it all

IN CANADA golfing has become so popular that more than $100,000,000 has been invested in the game by about 175,000 players. Of these, about 250 are professionals; and, while no accurate figures are available as to the number of amateurs who are able to play par golf, it seems probable that not more than six or seven per cent of them can accomplish the feat with any degree of consistency. Perhaps as many as ten or fifteen per cent can get around an eighteen-hole course in 80-90 strokes and thus rank as fairly good players; but, even so, it is clear that an overwhelming majority of the men and women who contribute something like $500 apiece each season to support this costly game must be ranked as inexpert.

Why is it that in golf so many players lack proficiency? Such is not the case in other sports. In tennis, lawn bowling, badminton, billiards, bridge, and many other outdoor and indoor games, the majority are good players. One is tempted to wonder if it is true that the single game of golf has fallen under the direction of men who, expert players themselves, design the courses for experts only and thus deprive the great majority of their fellow players from deriving from the game the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from a good score.

NE does not have to listen to locker-room gossip very long to

realize that at least a few players think that such is the case and are not backward about saying so.

“Perfectly ridiculous,” is the burden of Mr. Protesting P. Dub’s complaint. ‘‘Here we are, enough of us dubs to dictate how every course shall be built and maintained, yet we don’t do it. Instead, we permit ourselves to be led by a small minority into outrageously unnecessary expense in order that they, the proficient, shall enjoy the game. Chaps like myself don’t enjoy golf half so much as we would if we used the same good sense in sport that we use in pulling teeth or drawing wills or selling groceries. How can we when every

time we step out on the links we demonstrate that as golfers we are fine croquet players? Why don’t we take over the reins of golf government, as we are perfectly able to do by reason of our unquestioned voting strength, and insist that our golf courses shall be built and managed for the benefit of ourselves and not for the benefit of a handful of professionals and a bucketful of expert amateurs?”

Mr. Dub, when he is in good form—talking form, not

golfing form—can advance additional arguments. He can, and on the slightest provocation he will hint that the professionals want difficult courses because without them they could not derive fat fees from rotund but hopeful gentlemen who can be cozened into the belief that they are embryo champions at so many dollars per cozen; that the few expert amateurs have little or no business to attend to, and therefore should be segregated on special courses which they can make as difficult for themselves as climbing the Matterhorn is for a legless human. Thus, maintains Mr. Dub, the common or edge-of-town golfing course can be preserved in a state of bunkerless sim-

plicity for the pleasure of himself and his 150,000 brothers who make the game possible, and for that reason should be enabled, once a year at least, and preferably on their birthday, to pencil a soul-satisfying sixty-eight on their cards.

Well, what about Mr. Dub’s argument? Is it logical and reasonable, or is it, as the saying is, all wet? Certainly he and his unskilful brothers are in tne majority. If it is true, as he claims, that all the dubs want simpler courses, why don’t they assert their voting strength and get them? Why does not Mr. Dub organize his followers, unfurl a few banners such as “Dub For Dictator,” ‘‘Par Golf For Everyone,” etc., and proceed to become the Mussolini of Canadian fairways and greens?

In an effort to learn whether or not our golf courses are designed for the expert minority, and, if so, why doesn’t the inexpert majority do something about it, the writer interviewed the professional of an old and very exclusive club.

“Our course was designed for good players,” asserted the pro. “First the ground was studied in order that we might take advantage of every natural difficulty, then plenty of artificial hazards were added.”

“Doesn’t that make it hard for the tyro?” he was asked.

“It does.”

“Do the tyros like that?”

“In this club they do. Why not? Our members are not the sort of people who are satisfied with mediocrity in any line, and our difficult course gives them something to aim at. They know that when they learn to do well on this course as they will if they keep trying long enough -they can visit any course in the world and do well on it.”

The writer asked if Canadian courses in general are as difficult as English or American ones.

“They are,” was the emphatic reply.

“Are they different in any way from courses in other countries?”

Continued on page 46

Are Golf Courses Too Difficult?

Continued from page 11

“Yes; they’re better.”

The man seemed to be quite sure that he was making no mistake, so he was pressed for details.

“The natural hazards are better,” he I explained, “and so is the soil. Water to keep the grass in prime condition is easily secured, and when it comes to landscape beauty—ah, man! That’s where we take the prize. No courses in the world are so beautiful as the Canadian ones.”

“You would say, then, that the outstanding feature of Canadian courses is their landscape beauty?”

“I would.”

Getting back to the problem which makes Mr. Dub all hot and bothered, however, it seems that, in this exclusive club at least, his brothers—and one could see that there were plenty of them—do not seem inclined to resent the fact that the course is difficult. They topped their drives with equanimity, they sliced into the brush with amazing good cheer, they foozled and fumbled and seemed to enjoy the game almost as much as the few lithe lads who sent their drives whistling down the fairway straight as an arrow and with bulletlike velocity and carrying power.

The Wearin’ o’ the Green

BUT, of course, this was an exceptional club. Perhaps its tyro members were kept within the bounds of conversational propriety by tradition and long established club etiquette and what not. The writer went from there to the office of an internationally famous golf architect, and again he received what is vulgarly known as an earful.

“Do we design golf courses for the expert players only?” A busy Canadian looked up from a bewildering array of blueprints as he repeated the question, and then he replied: “We do and we don’t.”

“Thank you,” said the writer, making a note of that important fact.

“What I mean is, we try to lay out as many holes as possible in such a way that they are difficult for the expert and yet easy for the novice.”

“How do you accomplish that interesting feat?”

The golf architect drew a rough sketch. “You see this big bunker, two hundred yards in front of the tee? Well, the expert will choose to drive over that obstacle because, if he succeeds, he can reach the green with one more shot. The wise novice will not try to drive over it because he knows that he cannot. He will drive to the left of the bunker and then drive again, thus reaching with two easy shots the position that the expert hopes to reach with one.”

“I see. But how many dubs choose two easy shots instead of one difficult one? Isn’t it golfing nature to try the impossible?”

The architect smiled. “As a matter of fact, most of the gentlemen whom you refer to as dubs do choose the difficult shot. But if they fail to make it, if they get caught in the sand and have to take four or five strokes to get clear, it’s their own fault, isn’t it? We gave them an easy way around if they would only accept it.” Regarding the difference between Canadian courses and those of other nations, the designer was practically in agreement with the professional.

“Regarding scenic beauty, I think it is true that Canadian courses are superior. In other respects ours are certainly as good, perhaps even slightly better, by reason of the fact that many of them are comparatively new and therefore embody all the modern ideas.

“New courses anywhere are apt to be better than old ones. The reason is that we architects are learning more about design all the time. More care is taken

nowadays with the location of holes. Natural advantages are better utilized. Traps are designed to suit all the different types of players. We try to make all bunkers visible to the players, too, by the type of mounding and the flashing up of sand.”

“Golfers weren’t so fussy in the old days, eh?”

“No. Often a course was located on a certain tract of land merely because the land could be purchased cheaply. Nobody bothered to think about the quality of the soil, or whether water could easily be secured, or whether the land had any natural hazards.

“Nowadays,” continued the expert, “golfing sites are selected with the same care that one bestows upon the choice of a site for a huge office building. The procedure is to obtain options on several tracts of land and then call in a golf architect to select the most suitable one. Convenience of location is still considered, of course, but in these days of motoring it isn’t half so important as it used to be.

“Well, the course is chosen according to the architect’s verdict, and then begins the job of developing it. Not so difficult, you may think; just pull out the obstructing trees and shrubbery and place a bunker here and there. But it is difficult. The old days of building hazards in haste and then relocating them elsewhere at leisure and much expense are past. The modern idea is to do the job right, at the start, so it won’t have to be done over. Planning the course is a science about which I could talk for hours and then not give you more than a rough idea of what it’s all about.”

The writer disclaimed any desire to go into the matter so deeply as that, but afterward read a book on the subject which was technical enough to give anyone a headache. From a brief perusal, it was evident that a modern golf course is about as easy to design as a skyscraper, and the job is tackled in much the same manner. Surveyors trot out their instruments, draughtsmen get busy with their little bow-legged pens, contractors contract to do this and that, a special kind of grass to fit the soil is selected from a hundred varieties—oh, it’s quite a job, all right.

The expert was asked: “If our golf courses are as good as those of other countries, why hasn’t Canada developed a Jack Guest of the golfing world the same as of the rowing world?”

“Largely,” he replied, “because golfing hasn’t been a popular sport for sixty or seventy years as rowing has been. Give us another generation or two and we’ll doubtless have many contenders on the world’s championship courses. The chances are slightly against us, of course, by reason of our not possessing either the population or the leisure of, say, the United States. Still, when a sport becomes popular with every class in Canada, as golf undoubtedly has, we have a way of producing at least an occasional world’s champion. Those chaps are born, however, as well as made; therefore a second Bobby Jones is as likely to bob up in China as in Canada or in England or the United States.”

The Thrill That Counts

ALL this was interesting, still it did not get the writer much closer to a solution of the problem which worries Mr. Protesting P. Dub, who says he wants an easy road to low scoring, much in the same way that some mythical king desired a royal road to learning.

The writer therefore journeyed to a golfing course that was opened on Dominion Day of this year and therefore should be free from tradition and hoary precedent.

Here, if anywhere, Mr. Dub should have been able to impress his views upon the committee. Few residents of the beautiful and historical district played golf to any extent before the glorious and somewhat showerful First.. Surely one or more members of the great Dub family were present from the beginning to bestow their growls and grumbles.

If any of them were, however, it seems that they made little headway, because this particular course is anything but easy. It is so difficult, in fact, that its sponsors expect that some day it will regain for the town the fame which was attached to the town nearly one hundred years ago; and, as one stands in admiring wonder at the first tee and notes the magnificent sweep of hill and dale, the unobtrusive but deadly traps, the century-old trees which look so beautiful but nevertheless can bounce a ball right back in your face, one is inclined to share their optimism.

The writer questioned the genial professional, Mr. Tom McGrath, who is young in years but old in golfing wisdom, and this time he got two earfuls instead of just one.

“What? ' said Tom. “You think the occasional grumbler about difficult courses is to be taken seriously? Not a bit of it. The chap who rails about such things this year is the very person who will wish next year that his course was still more difficult. Golfing, you see, is a game that grows upon a person. One can’t play it well the first month or even the first year, any more than one can sit down to a game of bridge, with no knowledge of the game, and expect to hold his own with experienced players.

“No game holds the interest of anyone permanently unless it is difficult. Easy games are easily mastered, then the player quits them and steps on to another game that is more difficult.

“But no one quits golf. No, sir. Not after they once get really interested in the game. They take pleasure in mastering the difficulties one by one, with or without the assistance of their club professional. Golf courses are built just as they are because that’s the way the members want them built. If they wanted them easy they’d have them easy. Don’t think for a minute that the minority governs in golf any more than in anything else.

“Of course there are many inexpert players in Canada today. Naturally there would be, with so many new players taking up the game. Those people knew when they started that golf isn’t easy, nevertheless they did start. In fact, in most cases that is precisely the reason why they started. Canadians don’t want easy sports. Nothing in sport or business or anything else is too hard for a typical Canuck. He may grumble a bit during the period when he seems to be making little or no progress, but watch that same fellow the first time he makes a really good shot, as he is bound to do sooner or later. Man, what a thrill he gets out of it! No more grumbling about difficulties. He wants the holes difficult now. Pretty soon he is making good shots frequently, then he is married to golf for life.”

The w’riter wonders if, after all, that doesn’t explain this whole business of socalled difficult golf courses and the grumbling of Mr. Protesting P. Dub. If Mr. Dub would only retain his cognomen permanently maybe something could be done about his sad case. But it seems that he doesn’t. All the while that he is grumbling he is also acquiring skill, until presently he has worked himself into the very class which previously he had denounced. Now he is known as Mr. Peter P. Expert and no course looks too difficult for him.