By Jeff Danner

A Golf Course Architect is critical to the success of any golf course project. We are responsible for creating an aesthetically pleasing, strategic, functional project conducive to return on investment (ROI). Designing something that looks good on paper, glows at sunset, or plays firm and fast is not enough. We must spend the money as if it were our own to succeed. That last part is something I learned early on when Golf Course Architecture became more than just a hobby. The mantra to Think Like An Owner arose from and was fortified by:

  1. Working in over 30 plus countries under highly varied physical, climatic, and cultural conditions
  2. Learning varied Owner dynamics (From mom-and-pop daily fee courses to well-established private clubs; and local municipalities to high-ranking, international government officials; From local developers to chairpersons of multinational corporations)
  3. Collaborating with a wide range of other Golf Course Architects (From the local gurus to innovators, to the more extensive design shop, and finally, celebrity designers)
  4. Solving design problems under widely varied circumstances
  5. Engaging with specialized entities who study the business of golf.

“Thinking like an owner” means understanding that a golf course is a significant investment. Golf courses require substantial capital to construct, maintain, and operate. The owner expects the golf course to provide a consistent revenue stream. As such, Golf Course Architects must consider the long-term financial viability. “Thinking like an owner” means considering the course’s maintenance and operational expenses. But it also requires the long-term outlook for potential in the market based on location, demographics, competition, climate, and physical site constraints. The Golf Course Architects who crack this code win the day.

How the owner markets and brands the golf course is also essential. A golf course is a brand, and the design plays a significant role in establishing that identity. Courses should create a unique and memorable experience for their patrons. The design should be innovative and attractive, which can help the golf course stand out.

What about Sustainability? The definition has many variations and gets thrown around like a beach ball at a Jimmy Buffet concert. Sustainability refers to the ability of a system or process to self-perpetuate without depleting resources or causing harm to the environment or society. In the context of human activities, Sustainability involves meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. A holistic approach considering economic, environmental, and social factors is required. Sustainable golf development achieves this balance by promoting intelligent use and conservation of natural resources, benefits the community (even non-golfers), and thrives as a business.

Related to Sustainability, we must embrace resilience. I see resilience planning gaining traction in our profession. The argument for resilience is that in our complex, fast-changing world, how can we anticipate the needs of future generations when we struggle to sustain our own? Resilience planning refers to the ability of golf courses to adapt and recover from unexpected stresses, such as extreme weather, disease outbreak, or economic disruption. A resilient golf course bounces back from these and continues to provide a high-quality golfing experience. The Covid-19 pandemic showed us that golf as a social activity is already incredibly resilient. It is a game that has endured for hundreds of years, but what is sustainable now may not be in the future. “Thinking like an owner” means using drought-tolerant grass, conserving water, and minimizing pesticides while building-in contingencies to withstand unexpected stressors.

Lastly, “thinking like an owner” is understanding the golfer’s journey as well as the entire community served. Participation is the lifeblood of golf and crucial to success. We consider every step of the golf experience:

  1. Creating awareness
  2. Committing to the decision to participate
  3. Experiencing the arrival and what happens after (i.e., warm-up, purchase food or beverages, etc.)
  4. Golfing experience (i.e., strategy, playability, aesthetics, the pace of play, etiquette, etc.)
  5. Finishing (i.e., what are they doing post-round? Leaving? Returning carts or rental equipment? Spending more money? Purchasing food, beverage, or merchandise? Practicing?
  6. Outreach opportunities to welcome new golfers and even non-golfers.

These may be management questions, but Golf Course Architects are typically hired before management companies or to work with the current management. Either way, studying the customer journey well in advance means you think like an owner to create a golfing experience that commands repeat business.

Above all, Golf Course Architects must strive to create a viable and profitable golf course. The course needs to attract golfers, generate revenue, and remain competitive in the market. While also considering the course’s environmental impact and benefit to the greater community. Doing so creates success for ourselves and, more importantly, our clients. In conclusion — Think Like An Owner