Course Characteristics
By Snyper on 12/30/10
Matt is an opinionated* golf enthusiast from Pennsylvania. He coaches at the high school level, molding the minds and swings of our next generation. His column will appear each Monday on ClubSG. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts and opinions of Matt in the comments. Don't hold back- because Matt won't.

Every time I head out to play a course for the first time, I experience anxiety similar to Christmas morning. There is nothing more enjoyable than finding another course to add to the favorites list and nothing more disappointing than realizing by the third hole that I wasted my money on a dog track. However, I am always amazed at how some people like courses that I hate and vice versa. You would think that the things that make a course enjoyable are pretty standard, but I contend that there are actually a lot of different things that people consider before passing judgment on a course. And, in addition, the importance of those characteristics is most likely what determines someone’s final impression.
The art of putting is difficult enough on its own measure, so when I actually make a good stroke, I expect it to go in.

For me, the course has to have greens that are in decent shape. I absolutely cannot stand playing a course with greens that are bumpy. Whether it is because of damage or just the fact that they don’t roll their greens often enough, greens that don’t roll true are a deal breaker for me. Now, this hatred probably stems from my obsession with score. If I hit a putt that doesn’t go in because it hit three or four imperfections in the green, I am livid for the next 20 minutes. The art of putting is difficult enough on its own measure, so when I actually make a good stroke, I expect it to go in. I can deal with my lack of ability being the reason that the putts don’t fall, but when it is the trashy condition of the greens that inflates my score, the makes me pretty angry. So, the first thing that I look at when judging a course is the condition of the greens. Notice, I didn’t say that the greens need to be fast. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE fast greens. However, as long as they roll true, the speed isn’t enough to sway my judgment about a course.

After the condition of the greens, I look at the geography of the course. Like most golfers, I absolutely hate playing the game in the middle of a housing development and I love to play golf in the middle of the forest. When I look around and all I see are trees, I’m a pretty happy golfer. Rarely are courses quite that remote, but as long at the trees outnumber the houses, I can usually deal. I am also not a big fan of roads located next to every hole. Of course, there are usually going to be a hole or two next to a road, but courses should be doing their best to hide those areas. Plant a row of trees or high grasses so that there is some barrier between the course and the highway. It’s not that hard or expensive to create natural barriers and it goes a long way towards upgrading the experience of the course. Speaking of upgrading the experience, if you can manage to have some wildlife living on your course, that is a big bonus! Seeing some deer make their way across the fairway, watching ducks float on a pond, or even seeing the occasional squirrel searching for some nuts, nature in action increases my golfing experience exponentially. That is, of course, excluding geese and ground hogs, both of which make me think more about violence than golf!

My x-factor, if you will, for judging a course is the number of shot-making opportunities that exist. In other words, how many times can I stand over a shot and have to make a decision about how I want to hit it. Things like, how much of the corner do I want to try to cut off, how much water do I want to try and carry, is there a place that I absolutely can’t miss this shot, how much will the elevation change alter my club selection, or should I go for it or lay up. All of these are questions that I love the opportunity to ask myself during a round. However, one question that I do not want to ask over and over again is “where should I aim?” I despise blind shots like I despise terrible greens. In fact, flawless fast greens in the middle of a forest would not be enough to outweigh a lot of blind shots. I like to watch the ball from the time I hit it till the time it lands. I can’t stand wondering if I hit a good shot until I find the ball. The optimal layout for me is one that is straightforward with plenty of choices. You can see the entire hole and you have options on how you want to play it.
My x-factor, if you will, for judging a course is the number of shot-making opportunities that exist.

The last, but certainly not least, important characteristic of a golf course that weighs significantly on my decision to ever play there again is the customer service. As I have written about previously, I want to feel good about my decision to give the course my money. It is not asking too much for the golfer to feel appreciated and to be treated more like a guest than a servant. I’ve worked in the industry long enough to know that people want to be treated well and they will not come back if they aren’t taken care of by the staff. In fact, I routinely play courses locally that I am not a big fan of, but I love the people there. So, I go back. That is what business is all about. And, unfortunately, some pros don’t understand that running a course means running a business.

So, what is it that you look for when you play a course for the first time? Is it the conditions of the greens, pace of play, distance, fairways, the number of bunkers, the view, or maybe the quality of the cart? I have heard guys who point out all kinds of interesting characteristics that they consider before deciding if they like a course or not and it always intrigues me to hear what different players judge to be important about a course.

* Matt's views and opinions are his own do not necessarily reflect those of SkyGolf.

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