I envy people who judge the quality of a golf course only by its conditioning. It is such a simple and binary way to measure one’s enjoyment of the game.
Assessing the turf requires nothing in the way of imagination or thought; one simply observes the quality of the playing surface and you’re done.
Like ignorance, this is a state which would be blissful to live in and for many – perhaps even the majority – it is the reality.
The reason I envy these people is because at heart I am lazy and not having to consider anything beyond the grass quality requires the least ‘work’.
There is much less mental energy expended deciding if one has a perfect lie in the fairway than, for example, contemplating why a bunker has been placed in a certain spot – and whether it enhances or detracts from the strategy of the hole.
The truth is that, in many ways, having an interest in course architecture ruins one’s enjoyment of the game.
Unless you’re lucky enough to be a member at a club that boasts an architecturally interesting layout or you spend a lot of time travelling and playing good courses, you’re kind of doomed to a life of golf misery.
"But does this obsession with conditioning stand the game in good stead over time? Does placing more importance on how the grass is mowed than the interest of the holes themselves make the game more sustainable?"
There is no such penalty for the lover of the good lie, however. For them, the world is a much simpler place – just find a course that’s in good nick and stick with it.
This attitude was brought into sharp focus recently when chatting to a mate who is a member at a club in another city.
Like many, his club has seen an increase in member numbers and social play during the pandemic and – as he proudly noted – the most common reason cited was the condition of the course.
Apparently many of the other local facilities are looking less than their best for whatever reason and hence his club has come to be seen as the place to play.
At this point it is important to say there is nothing wrong with courses that are in good condition nor with members and staff who are proud of their course being presented as well as can be.
And as my mate’s experience suggests, there is a market ready and willing to pay for a product that values style above architectural substance.
But does this obsession with conditioning stand the game in good stead over time? Does placing more importance on how the grass is mowed than the interest of the holes themselves make the game more sustainable?
The answer depends on why one plays golf.
"I believe the game is better served when more thought and resources go into the designing of the holes than the mowing of them."
There are millions of golfers who never give any consideration to why holes are designed the way they are.
The reasons behind the placement and nature of various hazards is of no concern, they are simply obstacles to be avoided.
For these people condition takes precedence.
But for those in the latter camp the game is a more cerebral pursuit and the time spent reflecting on why certain golf holes appeal more than others brings as much joy as the actual playing of those holes.
(Equally, poorly designed holes rankle and can make the playing of the game a frustrating and less pleasant experience.)
Golfers from both camps are taking from the game what they want and there is no right or wrong way to do it.
But speaking as a member of the second camp, I believe the game is better served when more thought and resources go into the designing of the holes than the mowing of them.
Conditioning is a moving feast no matter how big a course’s maintenance budget but interesting golf holes endure based on more than just their condition.
Capture the golfer’s interest and you capture them for life; capture only their eye and they’re likely to move on to something else if and when conditions fall away.