My general understanding for how the game of golf started was to entertain sheep herders while they relocate herds to other parts of the land. Sheep herders used a “crook” that had a curved end – this was used to help guide sheep in the right direction. They would use their crook to hit pebbles around the fields. Scotland was unique in the seaside grasses maintained a level in which required no mowing (outside of animals grazing) and still allow a golf ball to be found with ease. Trees tended not to grow on these land forms as the ground make-up was sand. Creeks and ponds didn’t form due to the sandy soil draining so well. Natural sand hazards were formed by the significant, steady and often aggressive wind that blows off the coast.
As the games popularity grew, neighbors, sometimes as few as 5 – 7 guys, would get together and build golf courses for their community. The courses came to be the centerpiece of the community. The idea of playing to the outskirts of the property and looping back inland, or “playing back into town” became the norm for Scottish courses. Some courses would have 18 green finish in the city center! Courses were viewed and used as community green-space – folks would go for a stroll and bring a club while walking their dog. Golf became the community meeting place. Every family had a membership and every family member had a regular game on Saturday. The golf course was the Scottish community’s backyard.
Courses were designed with a few simple philosophies. These were the questions the designers would ask:
- What is the most interesting way to walk around this property that is reasonably walkable?
- Where can I play golf without moving dirt?
- What are the key natural features that make this property unique?
- How can I route this course as to make each hole equally unique but also play well together?
- Is it fair and is it fun?**
**Hint: this is the most important one.
These course builders didn’t have heavy machinery. They didn’t have artificial turf – hell they didn’t even have lawn mowers. But they made it work. Some of the first ever golf courses built are still the most notable and influential today.
Golf has moved away from it’s roots as a community-driven activity. Courses are routed where they shouldn’t be. Augusta National became the model of what golf should be due to TV time – Augusta has the highest maintenance budget in the world and only sees 3-4 months of golf per year. Augusta is one of the most private golf course in the world. Augusta is an unobtainable goal for any club besides Augusta. Was Augusta good for golf? Yes. Does it have some significant negative consequences? Yes.
The American Country Club model was adapted. Exclusivity. Elitist. Unapproachable. It became a big hat contest. Who can have the most grand clubhouse? Who can have the most expensive joiner fees? Who can have the most ponds and fountains and have the greenest, most pure golfing conditions. Unsurprisingly, the best golf course sites in the world went to the highest bidder or to other money making ventures. The best courses in the world are modeled off the ideas and questions asked by the Scottish. To have great golf, one must discover or create a great site for golf. Both of which are expensive. Great golf can be public, but it’s expensive. No first timer will pay $150 for a round + $800 set of clubs to play this game they don’t even know that they like.
What does that leave the common man? Boring, cheap sites for golf with low maintenance budgets or courses routed through neighborhoods used to sell lots. However, the common man still has Augusta in their head as what a “good” golf experience should be. These courses are designed and routed on uninteresting land – usually old crop fields. Boring, bland, and a box.
To make the course look more like Augusta, trees were planted along the fairways. This was a huge mistake. Trees grow and take away from the turf conditions. Their large roots suck up all the water. Their stretching branches stop air circulation. Their long trunks cause shadows on turf that needs sunlight to thrive. The turf suffers and maintenance staff either needs to throw money at the problem, or let the turf stink. Even more concerning, trees make for tighter playing confines for the people that play these courses. The average golfer in America take just under 100 hacks per round. When you make the confines of a golf hole tighter, golf becomes more challenging for the average golfer. High scores = no fun = I’m not coming back.
To conclude, golf has moved away from it’s roots as a community activity – it can actually divide communities. The ethos of how golf courses are to be built has been drastically altered with highly manufactured golf courses, expenses unrelated to how the course plays (ex. fountains, cement cart paths, flowers, need for GREEN GREEN GREEN), and an unfounded need to have an 18-hole championship test of golf. All the fun and interesting courses belong to the elites. Golf is not approachable. High expense to begin playing the game when you do not even know you like it. Golf is no longer rooted in fun – the reason the game became popular in the first place.
The Some Guy’s Backyard Solution:
We want to bring golf all the way back to the roots of how it started and grew so popular in the first place. We want to use BCN as a proving ground to show that it is possible to take a raw piece of land and make a fun and unique golf experience that is cost free (within reasonable parameters), community built, and community maintained. With a little creativity and a tolerance for playing conditions, BCN can prove to be an approachable and FUN way to play golf for good players and new comers’ side by side.
BCN can transfer to so many different settings. Neighborhoods with two undesirable corner lots nobody wants to buy can build a short course with a bobcat and an imagination. Dad can pop out and hit a few wedges while the kids swim in the pool. Same with parks, nature areas, and schools. We could make a bar and grill with a BCN in the backyard and dudes can bring their girlfriends to play golf with them for the first time while grabbing a glass of wine. Think disc golf courses – those are community built and community maintained.
Proper agronomic decisions can lead to low to no maintenance turf that is very playable – no more maintenance required then maintaining any other open space like a park or sides of the highway. This is how golf started and why it grew in the first place. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be hard. It can be fun for veterans and first timers alike. It can be approachable. Most importantly, all facets of golf can become a community activity once again – we are proving this by building Brough Creek National.